I cut my hair last weekend. While I understand this isn’t earth-shattering news, the big chop was momentous in my world. Not momentous in the getting married or having children kind of way, but momentous in its own way. It was an outward sign of my personal growth — of my decision to be myself with less trepidation about what others think.
You see, I cut my shoulder-length hair after years of hemming and hawing and worrying about what everyone would think. Would people hate it? Would they tell me so? Would they think I was ugly? I cringe a bit to admit how superficial my concerns were, but it’s true. So what changed? One day last year I sat in meditation and thought about when I most feel myself. And image of myself with my hair tightly coiled appeared in my mind’s eye. That image was different from the one I was presenting to the world. Though my hair grows from my head in teeny tiny afro coils, I usually manipulated the texture by braiding and unbraiding it so it appeared wavy, or wore it hidden away in ponytails and buns. This was partly because braiding and protective styles like buns prevented my tangle-prone hair from turning into a nest of knots and split ends. But the hair manipulation also made my hair look more tame and, to some, more presentable. After many years of braiding and unbraiding, I grew bored of that 15-20 minutes a night spent on my hair. I wanted to see my natural coils in daylight. Just as importantly, I wanted to be seen.
With short hair, I knew I couldn’t hide behind Dutch braids and ponytails and wind-swept hair. It would just be me and my coils and my personality. That’s it. Perhaps that’s why, for a brief moment in the barbershop parking lot, I thought about turning around and going home with my shoulder-length hair intact. But I didn’t. I stayed. I decided that this was something I wanted to do and that, for once, I’d do something that I wanted to do just because I wanted to. And I love that I did; as with any change, this hair change has already taught me quite a bit:
1. Short hair is easy.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but I really didn’t know what I was missing. With short hair, I’ve gained at least 15-20 minutes of time in my day. My coily hair required lots of maintenance and protective styling to prevent knots and split ends as it grew longer. Most days I was just too tired to give my hair what it needed, and my hair grew dry and damaged as a result. Now, my hair is healthy and requires less than five minutes of my attention each day.
2. The weather doesn’t bother me.
Coily peeps know that humidity can wreak havoc on a carefully styled mane, and West Texas peeps know intimately how howling winds can turn a head of coils into something resembling tumbleweed. But with short hair, I can appreciate sunny days as well as windy ones, and I don’t no longer dread the rain. I keep telling people that I don’t worry about good hair days or bad hair days anymore. Because my hair looks pretty much the same every day, I just have “hair days.”
3. I get to explore my femininity in ways other than my hair.
My haircut gives me more of an androgynous look, so I’ve been loving experimenting with makeup, earrings, dresses, skirts, florals, and other ways women in our society have traditionally communicated femininity. It’s fun, like creating a work of art every day. However, I’m also realizing that:
4. Femininity isn’t everything.
One reason I hesitated to cut my hair was that I was afraid of being mistaken for a man. I think this stems from a message I’ve absorbed somewhere in my upbringing that a woman being mistaken for a male is somehow shameful. But why? What’s so bad about looking androgynous? Why does one always have to signal one’s gender and why must our value be dependent on others acknowledging that signal? I keep thinking of Paul’s words from the Bible that in Christ, there is no male or female. So why should I worry about some kid in a grocery store mistaking me for a boy? Addressing my deep seated fear head-on has been pretty refreshing. It unburdens me of the need to wear earrings and makeup and skirts every single day to signal my gender to everyone else.
5. I love my coils.
It has taken me many years to get to this point. I used to long for hair that fell to my shoulders in silky waves, or that spun around in fat sausage curls. Instead, I have coils that are as tight as pen springs, thick as a forest, and soft as cotton. Protecting these delicate coils from single strand knots and split ends meant braiding them while wet to prevent tangles, and wearing buns often to help keep my hair healthy when it grew. As a result, my hair appeared less kinky than it was, and I grew accustomed to this more loosely curled look. In fact, this became my “look.” I increasingly began to grow uneasy with this being my “look”, since my hair didn’t grow out of my head that way. I felt as though I were hiding, and that all it took was a rainy day to show everyone how I really looked. I decided I’d rather look the way I really look all the time. With short hair, I don’t need to do protective styling to preserve length — it’s short and it’s staying that way for a while. Now I can just appreciate my hair as it is, including those amazing, perfectly spiraled pen spring coils. It’s as though I am seeing myself with fresh eyes, and finally able to appreciate the beauty in the short thicket of coils that adorn my head. Finally, I am allowing myself to be seen.