I’m going to be extremely honest when I say, until now, I have had very few moments where I genuinely liked having big, curly hair. Yes, as much as I tried to love my afro it just wasn’t sitting right with me. I have previously written about my complicated relationship with my hair and how my commodification of the natural hair movement was a wake-up call to a more fundamental need to practice self-love. So you could consider this something of an update, but almost three years after my revelation and five years total since going natural I can say that it’s hardly gotten easier.
When Black women talk about how our hair often transcends our personal experience, it’s easy to point out the general struggle: the vilification of our texture at work, school, and in the media. We can commiserate over the anger that bubbles up when a twist out doesn’t go as planned and empathize with the searing pain coursing through your arms after wash day. But one thing we don’t talk about enough is the harmful emphasis placed on length. It’s likely you’ve heard the debate about what constitutes “good” hair, and just outside of the texture talking point lies the insidious expectation that your natural hair journey should end in length checks that continue to inch down your back.
Long hair as the pinnacle of beauty is rooted in a foreign beauty standard that not only reduces our access to self-expression but can also put both figurative and literal strain on our follicles. Recently, a video went viral on Twitter — which has since been removed — where a mother showed off a potentially damaging product concoction she used on her toddler meant to encourage hair growth. The replies were full of Black women pleading with each other to release themselves (and their children) from the pressure to achieve length. Reminding us all that while it has not always felt as if we had agency over our hair and how we wear it, we finally have a unique opportunity to rework our perception.
Like this mother caught in social media’s crosshairs, I ascribed to the same notion for most of my life. I worried that short hair would make me look less feminine and accentuate the parts of my body I would rather hide away. But as I crept closer to my previous length goals, I grew increasingly more uncomfortable with my reflection. Big hair never really felt like me, so instead I slicked it back into severe “girlboss” ponytails and chignon top buns. I complained about my lack of styling options often and, seemingly, joked with friends saying, “If only it was just a *little* shorter, then I would feel better.” That disclosure was usually met with soft chastisement on how grateful I should be for my beautiful, long hair.
Then one day during the pandemic I sat up in bed and realized that I could cut it all off. It suddenly became obvious that I could just remove the coat I was wearing now that it was too hot. I scheduled an appointment for the following week and told very few people, anticipating a less-than-supportive response. My mother fought me on it and several of my friends asked if I was going through a crisis. All jokes aside, the smothering doubt I felt around me spoke volumes for how precious hair length can feel. I knew there was a possibility I would regret the cut and be left with no hair to hide behind, but was also nearly consumed with general disdain for any other option.
So I BIG chopped. And after getting over the initial shock of such an enormous transformation, I’ve found myself having more good hair days than not. I still have moments when I frown at the mirror, but have gained an overall sense of freedom I didn’t bargain for. I feel more like myself and any qualms I had with my body were neither lifted nor exacerbated by the change. Most importantly, I feel wholly content in the knowledge that I am not beholden to any unspoken beauty rule and have the sole power to dictate how and with what I style this avatar.