Alyssa Writes

Black Women: Don’t Fear the ‘Big Chop’

I practically dont recognize myself here ha!

I believe it was Coco Chanel that said “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life”. I also believe that Coco Chanel didn’t have a Jamaican grandmother.

I cut my hair a couple years ago into a supercool Rihanna type style and my grandma was like, “Why did you do that? Your hair is your crown,” and so on and so forth. Naturally, I went all India Arie and said “I’m not my hair!” but she didn’t understand. She’s traditional, you know?

There are a lot of politics to black women’s hair – more than I can deal with in one post. There is a lot of pressure in the black community to have long (and especially, straightened!) locks to be considered beautiful. Unless there is some kind of mitigating circumstance, cutting off a lot of your hair will result in people thinking you’re making a statement or that you’re crazy – as was demonstrated when Solange did the big chop.

It’s sort of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, uptown fade, dontcha think? 😉

If you’ve been thinking about cutting your hair, just cut it.

I did the ‘big chop‘ last week and it wasn’t because I went insane (though my recent life changes might say otherwise) or because my hair was damaged; I’m not hiding it under a weave and waiting for it to grow back. So, after people say how lovely it looks and other nice things, the first question people ask is Why?

I hate this term because it denigrates the varieties of black hair and is often used to stratify black women in terms of beauty, but I’ve been told by many I have ‘good hair’ – it’s thick, curly, and grows relatively quickly – surely it didn’t have to go? As I was leaving the salon I cut my hair at, the owner came out after me to ask me why I made such a drastic change.

“I see that you’ve decided to make a big change. Is there a particular reason why?” she asked.

I gave her the party line: I just wanted a change. But the truth is…

I resented my hair.

I resented having to moisturize and comb my hair every night;

I resented spending hours washing, painfully detangling, braiding and drying my hair;

I resented not wanting to go swimming because I would just have to start the process all over again;

I resented people making value judgements about me based on how long & straight my hair was;

I’ve resented having to go to the hair salon and spending money every other week;

I’ve resented burning the crap out of my scalp when I was chemically straightening my hair.

I felt trapped.

I took my braids out – just let to let loose! France, 2009

Sometimes I loved my hair, but most of the time I found it frustrating. I didn’t want to chemically straighten my hair or wear extensions again after watching this documentary.

I didn’t want to go to the hair salon every week for someone else to do it because I felt it was a waste of money. I also didn’t want to be that woman spending all day at the hairdressers on a weekend. I had better things to do and I simply wanted to subvert this ideal of black women with long, straightened locks. I’m not judging people that do it, but it wasn’t for me anymore.

Maybe dreadlocks were the solution?

I considered dreadlocks but even that required far too much maintenance for my liking. I would still have to get the new growth twisted on a regular basis and with the thick head of hair I have I can only imagine how long that would take.

That said, after a month of just washing my hair and not detangling it, I had a matted mess back there anyway. So there was my realization: if I had let my hair go that badly I clearly didn’t care about it that much. I booked an appointment at Afrotherapy Salon in Edmonton Green for the big chop.

Living in London has definitely given me the confidence to do it

In Canada, more black women have straightened hair and braids and extensions and weaves and such. Short, natural (i.e. still in its original curly form) styles are very much a statement. I always felt like I didn’t look professional and that I wasn’t treated the same when I wore my hair in its natural state.

Then I moved to London and it was huge afros, teenie weenie afros, Lupita Nyong’os… all kinds of hair! I wore my hair as is 95% of the time and no one was like, “Ooh, cool can I touch your hair?” when it was natural or “Is that your real hair?” when it was straight.

Final word

While the way my hair looks is important me – I want to look presentable after all – my hair itself isn’t so much. If I’m honest, I think I look more mature (and in fact, my partner’s mum mentioned that my hair looked a bit ‘student-y’ before), more professional, and strangely, more feminine. With short hair little ears and the curve of my neck are more prominent; when I’m not hiding behind a giant mess of an afro, my face and eyes shine through.

Are we still doing no makeup selfies?

This is me now and it’s awesome. I feel free – when I get up in the morning, I wash or wet my hair, put some gel in it and pat it dry. It looks like I put effort in and I didn’t! Plus, when I do cute stuff like tie a giant bow it just looks stylish instead of ‘ridiculous’!

So what do you think, folks? Have you made drastic changes that were seemingly out-of-character or didn’t fit in with cultural norms?