On December 20th, 2015, I tweeted that “I honestly see myself shaving my head at some point in 2016.” It was a statement without any weight, as for most of my life, I’ve desired long, flowing hair. As long as my memory serves me, my hair has been a huge part of my identity. My hair was finally at a length I’d dreamed of. A length and thickness that was also tiresome to maintain. “Be careful what you wish for,” I’d roll my eyes trying to pick through my knots.
The next day, I scheduled an appointment with my hairstylist.
“Do you cut hair? I’m heavily considering chopping my hair off and starting fresh.”
“Yes I do.”
“I think I’m crazy enough to say I wanna do it.”
In the year 2001, 9 year old me would have flipped. After being called “bald-headed” by our class terror, Emmanuel, I wasn’t instantly hurt. I retorted with “And! At least I have more hair than you.” 8 year old Chantal is proud in this moment for just a few seconds until she realizes it doesn’t matter what she says. First of all, this kid is a boy. He’s allowed flexibility in his hair length! Emmanuel is right and she’ll spend years resenting the fact that she doesn’t have those long, luscious locks she didn’t know she wanted until then.
Emmanuel is the first person that I can remember that judged me for my hair or lack there of. The truth was, my hair wasn’t incredibly short. But just like so many in my community, he was measuring his personal scale of beauty through my hair.
A few years earlier, I’d taken scissors to my own scalp during playtime. My sister vividly remembers my mother’s screams and anguish as she examined the fresh patches. I don’t remember the act, but it’s probably the last time I felt as free when it came to what was on my head.
On the drive over to the salon, I’m filled with nerves. Happy nerves. I don’t dread what I’m about to do, but feel change is upon me. Hair has been my sole mark of confidence for most of my life. In 9th grade, my classmates gave me a nickname that still haunts—Mushroom. I was still relaxing my hair at the time, and my tendrils were rejecting the chemicals in the form of breakage. My short do barely went past my chin and my my mother did her best with the curling iron each morning at 7 am before school. I never felt pretty; I always wanted more to work with.
My senior year in college, I transitioned to “natural.” While it seemed all the rage at the time, I was over my hair falling out. Tired of the psoriasis. Exhausted of feeling chained to a beauty standard that was never meant for me. This was a time of protective styles—Senegalese twists, box braids, buns. I was feeling myself for the first time in a while, and I embraced every second.
I walk through the salon doors with almost 2 years of growth. An Afro that can barely be tamed. I smile and make small talk with my stylist who will soon be my barber. It’s an eery calm before the storm and I’m still deciding if I should make a break for it. To leave before it’s too late. But she starts snipping and buzzing, and black balls of fluff are falling all around me.
If only Emmanuel could see me now. I am just a little bit “bald-headed.” But his words wouldn’t have much impact anymore. Physically and emotionally, I feel the weight evaporate as I walk to my car. Hair, for me, serves a less dramatic purpose. For it used to be my center of femininity. I could hide with it my insecurities, but thankfully, that’s no longer an option.
Cutting my hair wasn’t meant to be some radical act. I was a lazy sloth who couldn’t be bothered by the thick, kinky mop I had just yesterday. But what I’m interested in now is an opportunity to find myself in a different light. To be me without this co-dependence on hair. No more putting my self-worth in the hands of 9 year old boys, or anyone—just me. I’m in the dark for what’s ahead, but I’m almost overly excited to see what it is.