It's been nine LOOOOONG years since my big chop. That's what the African American natural hair community calls it when someone cuts off most of their hair in order to start a new hair journey. I'd been thinking about growing out my chemical relaxer for some time, but I had so many questions. I could try growing it out and slowly cut off the chemically treated ends but the idea of managing two different hair textures seemed like too much. When my then four year old daughter told me she wished her big curly hair was straight like mine, I felt like I was failing her. I felt I was lying to her. I told her I chemically straightened my hair and she asked why. I just couldn't utter the words "because it's more manageable when it's straight." I didn't want to introduce to her the idea that curly hair was hard even though that's what I believed. So, I cut it off and the subsequent questions were way more than I bargained for. And the questions were my own.
Would my husband still find me attractive?
Full disclosure, my husband was not a fan in the very beginning. When we discussed my goals prior to my chop, he said he didn't care, and it was just hair. I don't think he understood just HOW short it was going to be. I don't think I did either. He never said anything negative to me and thought it was silly that I wore a hat inside for about two months. I tried a wig once, but as a Zumba instructor, the probability of it flying off mid-class was very high.
What if the curls aren't cute and springy and bouncy?
My texture, my texture, my texture. While I had dreams of defined curls and bouncy ringlets, it was never meant to be. And because I have an allergy to tree nuts, natural hair products that promised such springy coils didn't have me in mind. Hello Shea butter, Almond Oil, Macadamia Oil...that's a no for me. So, hello dryness. I had to LEARN about my hair. I thought about how I always talk about listening to your body and appreciating it for what it CAN do, not being upset about what it can't. Well, my hair was on my body and this was going to be a lesson.
When will it grow long enough to get into a ponytail?
It took about 2 years for me to reach this milestone. Honestly, that entire time, I just kept waiting for it to happen. I focused so much on it, that I really didn't enjoy all the joy that could've come with having super short hair. I felt I had to dress it up with earrings and makeup every single day to feel good about myself. I was using these accessories to hide, not enhance. I regret how I thought about myself during this time because the issue truly was in my head and not on it.
What if I hate it?
This hurts my heart to write because I almost feel shallow for thinking so negatively about hair. How could I have such feelings over length. Seriously. Hair length. But, I also know that it was new to me. The only time I saw myself with short hair was in my baby pictures. I knew that I had some learning and some un-learning to do. Since when did hair length become so tied to my self confidence? Why was I using such strong word, like hate, for something that wasn't permanent? If I didn't like it, it would grow back. I remember about seven or eight months after my big chop, I talked to a friend about how I was thinking about going back to chemical relaxers. AKA "the creamy crack." I was tired of product shopping. I was tired of not being able to slick it back. I was tired of the dryness. My girlfriend asked me how long did I use chemical relaxers. I replied about sixteen years. She said if I spent sixteen years straightening my hair, surely I could give going natural at least one. That was my turning point.
If I straighten it, will people think I'm ashamed of my culture?
I didn't chemically straighten my hair because I didn't like being African American. I did it because when I walked into my first dorm party with my untreated, naturally flat ironed hair and walked out with an afro, I didn't know what to do. I was so used to going to the salon every two weeks for a hot comb press and curl. That's before flat irons became the norm. Before I went on school trips, my mom scheduled a hair braiding appointment. I didn't have a car in college to maintain that routine, so I went to the mall and received my first chemical relaxer. I don't regret that. It was one less thing to worry about being away from home in a new city. There was no self hatred based on my ethnicity, but there definitely was a self hatred that evolved from not knowing how to take care of MY hair.
But something happened in the late 2000's. Going natural was becoming a trend. More research was coming out about the harmful ingredients in many chemical hair treatments. YouTube hair gurus were sharing their journeys and it was incredible to witness their growth and their struggles. My hair was lifeless and limp. It only grew to just above my shoulders before I'd have to trim it again. Other women were rocking wigs, and weaves, and afros, and braids and living their best life having fun with their hair. It took a conversation with a toddler to encourage me to embrace my true self without judgement. My hair journey revealed insecurities that I was too afraid to face. The growth took patience. The results took acceptance.
My daughter is a full blown teenager now. She prefers to wear her hair straight. We have a nice rhythm going where she'll wear it straight for two weeks, then back to curly to give it a rest for a week. She usually wears it in a bun most days because she plays basketball. She doesn't seem to have any feelings about her hair quite frankly. (Although she wants to dye part of it green and I'm just not ready for all that yet.) But, if she prefers to wear it straight, it's just a preference, not a cultural or emotional statement. It truly is just hair. As long as I treated it as such, without attaching judgment, it could actually be a lot of fun.