While my decision in the moment felt impulsive and wrong, as I reflect, it was neither of those things. This was something I’d been considering for a while but I always feared I’d lose my community, desirability, and sense of self. Could I survive that? My hair had never been this long, and I received so many compliments. I worried I’d never feel attractive without it. As a woman, what value would I have, if men didn’t find me desirable?
The moments leading up were the most nerve racking. Growing up, a little girl cutting off her hair was grounds for severe punishment. So even at 22, as I was home alone, looking in the mirror, I felt like a kid causing problems. I told no one about my plans so no one could plant seeds of doubt in my mind, or suggest I was hysterical, emotional, or making a huge mistake. I made this decision and I sat with myself, the only feelings that existed or mattered in the world were my own.
I graduated college months prior with no job prospects, no place of my own, and no motivation. I imagined the job applications I submitted were sitting at the bottom of a black hole. My social life had been virtually non-existent, my bank account was holding on for dear life, and my mountains of student loan debt were breathing down my neck. However, my situation could have been much much worse. I was grateful for the support I’d been given while I figured things out, but I was also objectively far from where I wanted to be, and from what I knew I was capable of.
I’d been grasping desperately for something in my life I felt was in my control. Something I didn’t need permission or approval for and didn’t require the money I didn’t have. So, I cut my locs.
Day after day would pass, and I felt I had done nothing of significance to move my life forward. I’d been grasping desperately for something in my life I felt was in my control. Something I didn’t need permission or approval for and didn’t require the money I didn’t have. Something that didn’t depend upon me being on a list, invited, picked, or chosen. I could greenlight it for myself, not worry about who it would affect or who would disapprove, and see immediate results.
So, I cut my locs.
I expected to be extremely emotional after cutting off 6 years worth of loc growth. Instead, I found that others’ reactions were much more intense than my own.
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry. I felt free, physically and mentally lighter, empowered, and more like myself. I likened my hair to baggage I didn’t even need. Now that it was gone, I could go much farther, much faster, and look cute while doing it!
I want to emphasize, however, while I was happy with my decision, it was far from an easy one to make and to sit with. After initially cutting my hair myself, I got it cut again at a salon. This time felt a bit different. The scissors were in somebody else’s hands. I watched more and more of my hair fall to the floor and was shocked by the results. I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake and would never feel attractive again. But I had to trust the Universe had provided me with everything I needed to thrive in this world, and there was nothing I could do to change that. I had to trust the world was not ending, but a new and more exciting one was being formed.
Even now, there are moments where I feel insecure and want my locs back to act as a shield.
When I’d feel less confident in myself, I thought the more feminine I presented, the better my chances were of being accepted. Growing up a black girl with short, kinky hair felt akin to growing up in debt. I could only attempt to improve my social credit by making my hair as long and as straight as possible. So, when I was 16, I felt the most accessible way for a black girl with no money for constant hair appointments or weave to appease the male gaze was to start locs, constantly retwist and manipulate them, and grow them long. So that’s what I did. Overtime, I realized the money, time, and energy I spent stressing about my hair were finite resources being poorly invested. I saw very little return.
Growing up a black girl with short, kinky hair felt akin to growing up in debt. I always felt I owed the world “femininity”, but interestingly, the world owed me nothing back.
I was fed up with this narrative that “pretty hurts” and femininity equaled discomfort, pain, and tension. I always felt I owed the world “femininity”, but interestingly, the world owed me nothing back. This psychological debt was holding me back. What our current society has defined as femininity was and still is corrupted and it was time to get back to the basics. I feel the most beautiful when I’m comfortable and when I don’t feel like I HAVE to put in so much effort externally to be seen as beautiful. The “work” it takes to be beautiful is largely internal, and that work is then reflected outwardly.
After cutting my hair and being happy with my decision, I started thinking about other decisions I’ve made or wanted to make that I previously deemed “crazy”, and started to think they might not have been that crazy after all either. I was tired of feeling like a helpless victim to my own life as opposed to an active participant. While cutting my hair did not solve all of my problems, it did help me build more trust in myself, more courage, and more confidence in my decision making.
I am making more space for the things that really matter to me in life, but that means removing the traditional things that have always provided me with comfort, security, and validation. This process is terrifying as I seemingly have nothing to fall back on, but what’s more terrifying is living a life that is not my own. I’m holding on to the John Burroughs quote, “Leap and the net will appear.” I’m in the process now of building a foundation for myself that encompasses my true values and could never be taken away from me. And I hope I will look back on this time in my life and be proud and thankful for the risks I took, the foundation I laid, and the grace I gave myself in the process.
About the Author:
Naima Cooper is a writer, filmmaker, and black feminist with a passion for storytelling and facilitating radically honest conversations that foster increased understanding, compassion and collective healing.
Find them here: storiesbynaima