“When I cut my hair, I wasn’t thinking about how I’d look. For me, I just wanted to transition into a natural hair girl.”- Adeola, 26.
This phrase is one that has prefaced a thousand youtube videos and even more photos and reels as Black women across the country document their relationship with hair. This journey of self-exploration and freedom relating to hair isn’t singular to Adeola. In fact, through out history and across cultures, hair is often associated with identity, expression, divinity, beauty and of course, transformation. In many cultures, cutting one’s hair or changing it drastically is used to signal cultural transitions, usually from girlhood to womanhood or periods of grief or jubilation. Much of that social context might not be relevant in today’s world but the intent remains. When a person drastically changes their appearance and specifically their hair, it is often significant and personal.
“I grew up with the mentality that cutting your hair as a woman was not the Christian thing to do but one day, it seemed like I was probably interpreting it all wrongly. So I went for it.” Adeola explains when we ask her about her relationship with her hair and her decision to undergo the ‘big chop’. “I’ll say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made because I felt something. I felt free. Like I hit a new level of realization. Like I could do any hairstyle and not feel bad about it. And the best part, the style really suited me.”
Making the decision to cut off all your hair in a culture as obsessed with image as ours is often tied to a personal journey. We asked 6 women why they decided to get the big chop, their decision to stick to short hair and their relationship with their hair now.
“I didn’t want to relax my hair but I needed to make it bearable for me…I needed to meet myself halfway.” – Ese, 22
Sometime last year, very recently actually, in October I cut my hair.
I went natural in 2017 and have been so all this while. I still am. But last year, it dawned on me that I was no longer making my hair. I don’t have a specific reason for doing it but it was a combination of not having money, not finding stylists that could handle natural hair neatly or do the styles I wanted, not going out and just being tired.
But I could say not going out and being tired were top tier reasons. I didn’t think there was a reason to make my hair any longer as I was always at home. When I made my hair previously, it would feel wasted and I would wish I waited till my life got busier which was typically around March, Summer and December.
When I started this natural hair journey, I was more dedicated but anyone who has or handles natural hair would know that it can be thick and tiring to manipulate alone. Although I wasn’t making my hair, I still had to make it look good and do protective styles that didn’t need a professional. My wash day would take me about 4 hours and I did it all alone. Let’s just say that was my origin story.
I didn’t want to relax my hair but I needed to make it bearable for me. As much as I loved it, I got tired so I cut my hair to ease that. I had thought about it every day for weeks. I kept questioning myself, will I miss my hair? Will it fit me? Will I regret it? I thought about how it took me two years to pass the length of my relaxed hair. But I had two weeks of my life where I was just irritated.
I literally woke up one day, looked at my hair in the mirror, it was scattered and hard. It was looking hungry and dirty. And I didn’t have enough money in my bank. I said nah, this hair has got to go and there was nothing I could do about it. I took a pair of scissors and asked my sister to chop it off. I wanted it very low and didn’t want to think about hair for at least 6 months to a year because I knew my hair won’t grow that fast. Wild approach, I know. But it cutting it like I was on cloud 9 and I fell in love with my hair all over again.
My hair used to be the length of my collar bone and my density was crazy. Very lowkey still is but something had to give for the other to be manageable. I had to meet myself halfway.
I do wish I had someone maintaining it for me though. It’s challenging doing it alone and the consistency and maintenance required can get tiring…and expensive. If I had the budget to be doing this with a stylist, the chances of me cutting my hair would have been -1 but I didn’t have that. So, I cut it.
I don’t regret it but I’m well aware of how I got here and I’m filled with gratitude still.
“I’ll say now I know better and cutting my hair is not the key to feeling better mentally, I have to do the work,” – Ibifubara, 25
The first time I cut my hair, I was having a mental health breakdown and cutting my hair usually helps me feel at ease. It’s like that feeling when you’re wearing braids and you take them out and you just feel like your head is freer and not in a knot – that’s how it translates in my brain when I have hair and I’m going through a rough patch.
My hair grew out but I cut it once again. This time, I was pretty much in a place where I was not getting enough from my job and it was affecting the state of my mind. I broke down so bad, I couldn’t live my life. Prior to cutting my hair, I had loc’d it. However, my mental state at the time started showing in my hair that I wasn’t okay because I would go months without reloc’ing and I didn’t have the energy to call someone for a home appointment. In fact, I didn’t even have enough money. It just felt like the state of my mind was reflecting on my hair and that wasn’t okay because I wanted to look like I was okay to the world. So, I began wondering what to do because I had already given out all my wigs.
In the past, when I cut my hair, it helped me to feel relief. So I thought of trying it again to see what comes out of it. I’d tried everything. I’d gone to see a psychologist, I’d seen a psychiatrist and even a neurologist. I’m not saying they didn’t work because they helped me with certain things but my environment was not conducive for my healing. It wasn’t facilitating my healing and I just didn’t want to see how I looked any more.
Cutting my hair meant I’d force myself to wear a wig or look better in public so people would not ask me what’s going on. For me, it was easier to manipulate low cuts than it was to manipulate my locs. So I did it.
I must say, I did not feel relief when I cut it. I would say the reason for cutting was different. The first time it was out of anger and frustration and I didn’t know I’d feel that relief. But now that I was anticipating that relief, I didn’t feel it. So, it was like one thing was gone. The only thing I felt was that this step is over and the next step is to figure out how to look better. But I’ll say it felt like an obstacle was gone.
Right now, not many people have seen how my hair is. I don’t have any special attachment to my hair because it grows fast. I love it. I love how soft it is. I love that it grows in the same texture. This is about the fourth time I’ve cut it and I can’t wait to do braids. I’ll say now I know better and cutting my hair is not the key to feeling better mentally, I have to do the work.
“My low cut became my trademark. It’s not like I could grow hair anyway.” – Tessa, 32
Some parents do this thing where they cut their child’s hair at a certain age because it’s not growing as it probably should. I believe the intention behind that was to grow a full head of healthy hair, I’ll have you know little me disappointed them big time. I didn’t have a full understanding of what that routine activity was, I only grew up getting used to cutting my hair at a given time. I never let it grow past a certain level before I cut it again.
One day, I decided to let my hair grow and test the length. It wouldn’t shock me to realize that my hair didn’t grow past a certain length – as in, it couldn’t even make tiny puffs. I started to wonder if this is why my people did what they did when I was younger. I used hair products. I tried natural combinations too. Even those women who sell like wayfarers offered me a product that’s guaranteed to make me grow hair. I was very close to making the purchase but I changed my mind.
I began rocking my hair as it was. On some days, I play with wigs (it’s a blessing we have these). I didn’t bother googling anything till this day. Sometimes people tell me what they found but that’s cool. I just know going on these searches make things worse and could introduce me to unhealthy beauty standards. My low cut became my trademark. It’s not like I could grow hair anyway. Three decades and counting, maybe I’ll do a transplant if I’m coveting longer hair from my scalp. I guess we’ll never know.
“If you rid the stores of hair dye, I might actually grow my hair back” – Ify, 42
My hair currently isn’t the shortest thing out there but you can call it a low cut. If it wanted to braid it, I could. If I wanted to weave it down, I possibly could if the stylist is that talented. I was about 24 when I made the move to cut my hair. I spotted one girl who had her hair dyed in something like burnt orange and I fell in love with the look. I’d seen women dye their hair before but for some reason this short one looked different and better. That was it.
I started with bleaching my hair which I quickly discovered wasn’t the best approach. Then progressed to natural dyes which I use now either home-made or store bought.
Once upon a time, people would say, “Don’t you want to know what you look like with hair?” But what’s the big difference when I can braid and wear wigs? Have you ever noticed that most Nigerian women rarely wear their hair out? It’s often wrapped in braids and weaves as well (except some natural hair girls, for the most part) so what are we talking about?
I would often joke and say if you rid the stores of hair dye, I might actually grow my hair back. But that’s something impossible so the answer is right there.
Some people wonder if this is a practice I should still be on, you know, given my age (lol) but I wonder what that has got to do with anything. They say I’ll probably lose all my hair by the time I’m 50 but hey, they said that I’ll lose it by 35. For me, life is less about the worries and more about living in the moment and doing the things I like while I can. I won’t say I’m closed to all the advice, because some are people close to me who genuinely wish me well and are scared by the stories they find on the media but I live a life where I’m deliberate and up to date with information concerning my health and the world around me.
Hair is like a living thing and responds exactly how you treat it. If you’re negligent towards your hair, it will show. If you’re consistent and caring, it will show. I’ve always been the latter and dyeing my hair forced me to a chronic carer, if that makes any sense. I don’t know what the next decade will look like for my hair but I know I can always say I’m proud of how my hair is and I feel great about it.