Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Taking it all off

Beware of her fair hair, for she excels
All women in the magic of her locks;
And when she winds them round a young man's neck,
She will not ever set him free again.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The hair is the richest ornament of women.
- Martin Luther

Yo mama hair so short she curls it with rice.
- Thousands of "dozens" players

- Tami

In the natural hair community (What? Yes, there is a natural hair community.), there are two ways a black woman can shake a dependency to unnaturally straight hair. She can "transition," gradually clipping off chemically straightened ends as her natural hair grows. Or, she can do "the big chop," hacking off all her processed hair, leaving a TWA (That's teenie weenie afro.).

It is hard for any woman to contemplate cutting off her hair, but I submit that it is even tougher for black women. If we are honest, most of us try to minimize the ways our appearance departs from mainstream (read: European) beauty standards. And standards say that part of our beauty lies in our hair—hair that should be long, silky and preferably flaxen.

Currently, the ethnic hair care market is about $1.5-2.0 billion per year in the United States. Black hair care products make up the largest single group of this market. For a population that lags behind in accumulating wealth, we spend a whole lot of cheddar on frying, dyeing and weaving in hair that once belonged to women of other ethnicities.

Most sisters will tell you only a mad woman would cut off perfectly good hair. And to cut off straight hair to reveal a natural head of coils and kinks? Doing that takes a pair of brass ovaries.
So, I walked into the salon one Saturday morning in August 2006, having made the decision to reclaim my natural locks (Read more about that decision here.), but adamant that I would hold on to my length for as long as possible. I reckoned I’d just have my stylist blow my roots super-straight to match my relaxed hair. And, yes, I knew this was potentially damaging to my tresses, but vanity…

I held on to this idea at the shampoo bowl, even as water hit the strands of my natural roots and they began to wind and coil, creating an impenetrable foundation.

My stylist, who, by the way, wears awesome looking dreds, frowned. “Uh-uh. I can’t do anything with your hair like this. You’re going to have to cut the perm out.”

I whined something about my head being too big for me to wear my hair short. I’ve been thin and I’ve been…er…not thin, but one thing never changes: my chubby cheeks and round face. I could see myself rolling out of the salon looking like a bald bobble head. Leave it to a black hair stylist to tell it like it t-i-tis.

“Look, when I went natural, I just cut the permed hair off,” she said. “Yeah, I know I have a big head and a pie face, but girl, it’s not like folks can’t see that when my hair is long.”

So true.

I took a deep breath and said, “Cut it off.”

I sat, my back to the mirror, and watched straight hair rain down around me, as my stylist cut first with scissors, then with clippers, whose buzz sounded as ominous as a dentist’s drill. Finally—a little moisturizer and a dollop of gel—and I was whirled around to face…me…with barely an inch of hair. I loved it!

There is something I have always found beautiful about African women with close-cropped hair. Look at the footage of those little girls at Oprah Winfrey’s school in South Africa. You see them and focus on their expressive, beautiful faces. You can look into their eyes—the windows to the soul, y’know—unhindered by anything that obscures where their true beauty lies.

Without my hair…and without unnaturally straight hair…I felt liberated and, frankly, more beautiful.

That was a year and a half ago. I can pull my coils down to reach my shoulders now. I can twist my hair, pull it back into a puff or let my BAA fly (That’s big-ass afro). I love the versatility of my longer hair, but I will always cherish those early days of my natural journey, when I took it all off.


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