When I lost my mother in March of 2012, it set a lot of things into perspective for me. For one thing, I decided that I was no longer going to give energy to insignificant matters. That included toxic relationships, the past, and at that moment, my hair. For my entire life, my hair was an integral part of my identity. As a kid, my mom always stressed how important it was to take good care of it and so, she dutifully did.
I remember people always acknowledging my hair before they acknowledged me. It was almost as if it was what made me pretty, interesting, and worth talking to. Of course, I didn’t believe that, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that everyone else was more emotionally tied to my hair than I was. I was often reminded that I had “good hair” — thick and dark, resembling that of the girls on the perm boxes when it was pressed out — and I needed to be grateful for it. And I was: I proudly wore it like a crown every day.
I could never shake the feeling that everyone else was more emotionally tied to my hair than I was.
For most, big chopping or going natural is a decision that’s made after choosing to have healthier hair. In fact, that’s partially why I cut my hair off in October 2012. The other half of the reason I attributed to my new outlook. I felt that life was too short to try and hold on to scraggly, damaged ends just to say I had hair. I was done being tied to something that defined me for so many years, something that could and would always grow back.
I was a junior in college and had just dyed my hair back to black after a root touch-up gone wrong, which resulted in a brassy, orangey-blonde situation. Naturally, my hair was damaged, so much that even the black dye couldn’t disguise it. I resorted to box braids to hide the sad state of affairs my hair was in, and they were cute until I had to get rid of them. I remember taking down those braids and, as I saw the damage once again in full, thinking, "It can't get worse than this."
To be frank, my hair looked a confused, hot mess. At the roots, it appeared healthy with new growth but at the ends, it looked like hay — brittle and stringy. Given this fact, coupled with my hair already growing out from an inverted bob, I figured, “Shit, might as well cut it all off.” And the next day, I did.
I can’t lie — the physical feeling of having my hair cut off was freeing. It felt so satisfying hearing the shears slice through my distressed strands. It was like my hair had been born again. I felt so light, so exhilarated. That afternoon, I left the salon on a high. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last for long.
I got a lot of positive feedback on my hair — initially, at least. My immediate friends understood what it meant to go natural, so most of them respected the journey above all. Some actually felt that I looked great with my TWA (a.k.a. my "teeny-weeny Afro"). It wasn’t until I went back home that I was reminded of how much my hair meant everyone else.
Instantly, my new chop caused a controversy. In fact, I had relatives who were damn near offended that I would do such a thing. Others said they didn’t like how short hair looked on me. I even had one relative text me from across the country to ask if everything was okay. When I assured them that I was fine and simply desired to cut my hair, they stated that they were afraid that I was acting erratically because “that’s what women do when they’re going through stuff.” I’m assuming they were referencing Angela Bassett's character in Waiting to Exhale, when she cut her hair off after a nasty divorce, but I wasn’t getting a divorce and this was no movie — it was just hair.
My family’s pushback was only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the slew of emotions I was dealing with over my mom’s death, I was struggling with a whole new set of insecurities I never had before. I always had self-confidence, but for the first time in my life, I truly felt insecure, and it was because of my short hair. It is a strange thing to not feel accepted or have your looks affirmed by your family.
Plus, having no hair to hide behind was downright scary, and I felt exposed in the worst way, similar to how I felt without my mom. I realized that a lot of the emotions I was dealing with in the absence of my mother — sadness, anger, doubt — were parallel to the ones I acquired over the loss of my hair.
One thing my journeys — both with my grief and with my hair — has taught me is the importance to keep pushing.
Nonetheless, I persevered. I worked through my insecurity with the length of my hair, though I have to admit: it wasn’t fun. Going through any awkward stage in life can get pretty uncomfortable, but I always held onto the idea that life is a marathon, not a race. My hair has grown since 2012, of course, but there have been plenty of highs and lows. I’ve had stints where I’ve neglected the health of my hair or found myself comparing my texture and length to some of my favorite YouTubers. (We all have those moments of "weakness.") And I still cry now and then whenever I think about just how much I miss my mother.
However, there's one thing that my journeys — both with my grief and with my hair — have taught me, and that is the importance to keep pushing through it. I’ve withstood tons of breakage, both inside and out, figuratively and otherwise. But in the end, I wake up every morning and make a decision to keep going and to keep growing.
Check out these hair stories:
- Getting Box Braids Showed Me That People Ask Black Women Questions They Wouldn't Ask Anyone Else
- Beyoncé's Hair Choices Showed Me All the Possibilities for Black Hair
- Why I'm Never Picking Up a Straightening Iron Again
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