Finding Confidence in “The Big Chop”
It was almost time to begin my 2nd semester of freshman year at Morgan State University so, of course, I had to go to the hair salon for a fresh new sew-in. What I did not expect was to walk out an hour later with absolutely no hair on my head – I was mortified. All the years of chemicals, heat, and a lack of knowledge on how to care for my natural hair left me with damaged, dry, and brittle follicles. The healthiest thing to do, according to my stylist, was to cut it all off and start over. I tried to convince her of alternate solutions, but at this point, there weren’t any – I was absolutely devastated.
Here I am, just getting comfortable in my skin, and I have to start all over way outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to hide forever, but that was not an option, so I resulted to YouTube for natural hair and makeup tutorials. I experimented with products, makeup, earrings, clothing – you name it. I was trying out everything to make myself feel more comfortable with this new reflection. By the time classes began, I learned how to do a decent wash n’ go as well as what I thought was an exceptional “face beat.”
As I walked out of my dorm and across campus to my first class, familiar faces smiled, stopped, and threw compliments my way. My friends were beyond excited, and even strangers whom I never spoke to before embraced my new look. I received all this love but still felt insecure. Why is that? How is it that others could see the beauty and I couldn’t to save my life?
By the start of sophomore year, my hair had grown back to a decent length and I was all about protective styling from box braids, Senegalese twists, intricate updo’s, and full sew ins. For the first time in more than five years, my hair was prospering. I began to experiment with tapered cuts and had a blast with that until the start of junior year, but for some reason, I couldn’t stop looking back at old photos of myself with the short cut. I had finally began to see the beauty that everyone else did. How come it was just hitting me almost two years later? Were the photos deceiving me? Was I just that good at capturing the perfect angle and filter? I was conflicted.
Finally a day came where I went to my barber, Carlton, for the usual tapered cut that I had grown to love. I sat in his chair and before I could think about it, the words “cut it” slipped from my mouth. ( Fortunately, Shy Glizzy hadn’t dropped his hit single ‘cut it’ yet, or the shop would’ve been full of jokes). I did not know what came over me but I didn’t want to stop myself. All this time I was trying to run from a bad memory, something I felt I was forced to do. I wanted to finally feel free from my own captivity. I felt my strength grow with every chunk of hair that fell to the ground, the story of Sampson reversed. I had come to a place where I felt my power for the first time and it was an incredible feeling.
It has been two years since the last time I big chopped and have not looked back. I have tried numerous times to grow my hair out, but nowadays I only feel like myself when I have a fresh cut. Still, I wonder and ask myself every day: what brought me to a point where I did not feel comfortable unless I had a perm paired with hair that was not mine? For most of high school into college, I used hair as a type of veil: a way to keep the attention away from who I really was – I didn’t feel beautiful without it.
How many other young women felt this way? I spoke with a few ladies who also went through with the big chop or natural transition and I was shocked to find out how many harbored similar feelings when it came to getting comfortable in their natural state.
The beauty standards set for young black women are honestly heartbreaking, especially when it comes to hair. If it’s too nappy or too thick, you need to perm it so it could be “manageable.” If it’s too short, they refer to you as “bald head, small head.” If it’s locked, then it’s unprofessional and dirty. If it looks like “good hair,” then it’s most likely not yours or you’re mixed with something that is not Black – you’re either not good enough or too good to be true.
All these rules and expectations from every angle in society and we never got to set them for ourselves – until now. It is not a secret that black women everywhere have become increasingly unapologetic in the way we choose to express ourselves when we wear our hair – whether it be an afro, box braids, pixie cuts, or even a head full of weave. There are now a multitude of bloggers, websites, and social media pages that cater to every type of hair you can think of. Whether you want to know how to style your locs, construct a wig, do a twist out, or look for an idea for your next trip to the barber, the information is now easily accessible. We have become comfortable in our versatility, no longer interested in maintaining the status quo of a certain “type” of hair as long as it is healthy!
I’ve been inspired within the past year to watch black women rise up on every major platform, while unapologetically defying beauty standards that have damaged young Black girls all around the world – women such as Viola Davis, Issa Rae, Symone Biles, Gabby Douglass, Serena Williams, and Lupita Nyongo. All of those women, and tons more, have been phenomenal in displaying what it means to be unashamed and confident.
This is to every girl that went out or is planning to do something drastic like cut your hair or go natural for the first time: GO. OFF. It may seem terrifying at first, but there’s absolutely nothing like finally going into a room you thought was filled with monsters, and finding treasure instead.
Featured below are a few queens who went through the big chop or natural hair transition. Hopefully this may inspire anyone who is thinking about taking that step or uplifting anyone that may be discouraged after having to take that step.
“I was terrified, but I knew I needed to. My hair didn’t feel like how I knew it should. I ended going to a friend who I knew would give me an honest opinion and she agreed it needed to go. And within five to 10 minutes after that conversation, my hair was all gone. I looked in the mirror and started tearing up. I couldn’t quite understand why, but it was then I realized how attached to my hair I was. I stared at myself for hours trying to remind myself I was beautiful without it. I had great friends who made me feel better and helped me start fresh. Next thing I knew, I loved it. I felt free. Like I can do wth I want with my hair and know it’s not what defines me. It helped me love the things about myself aside from beauty.”
“I hated it when I first cut it because was so used to having longhair my whole life. I thought that my hair made me, but I realized a month into my big chop that I was beautiful with and without hair and that my hair does not make me. When I became confident wearing short hair, I loved it! I really want to recut it!”
“My first big chop was May 2015. I had been natural since my junior year in high school but I did the cut as you go. I decided to perm my hair in the beginning of 2015 after five years. I loved it, but I learned I didn’t know how to maintain it and I hated how it felt. I started to hate how it looked and I didn’t feel like myself. I went to the bathroom in May and saw some scissors. I literally just started cutting then asked my mom to even it out. All my hair was gone, I couldn’t even grip it. Now, my hair is 100 percent natural. A year in, no heat at all, no chemicals, and I love it.”
“In short, making the decision to return my hair to its natural state was an experience that changed my life completely. I have never felt so liberated than the day I cut my hair after months of hiding under head wraps because my hair was so severely damaged. Today I have locs. I have had them for about two years, and yes – I am still feeling liberated, allowing my hair to interlock freely the way it chooses. Sometimes, I reminisce on the years I spent with chemically processed hair and all the maintenance it required and am thankful for the stage in my life where I realized it was all pointless. I would never dedicate so much money, time, and energy damaging my hair again.”