I went to the hairdresser two days ago and decided to get highlights in my hair. This was a big step for me as I have always been afraid of change, especially when it comes to my hair. I can still remember when I was a child, every Sunday my mom would wash our hair and blow-dry it. Then she would take my sister and me into the kitchen where she would have a chair sitting next to the stove. She had her little “station” set up on the stove and the countertop. Sulfur 8 hair grease; the hot comb on the stovetop; a plastic comb and a towel; I hated Sundays. My mom would make my sister and I take turns. I usually went first, as my hair wasn’t as “bad” as my sisters. She would put the hot comb on the stovetop, take the Sulfur 8 and rub it around the edges of our hair, and then take that hot comb off the stove and press our edges. This was done between relaxer treatments to make it last longer. I can still feel the heat that the comb gave off, the sound of the sizzle at it came into contact with the grease. My sister’s edges and hair overall was worse than mine, so her session usually took longer. My mom said it was all necessary to get our hair to grow. My mom took great pride in making sure her girls had “good hair”.
Then one summer when my sister and I were off visiting our father in Bermuda (my parent’s split when I was very young and every summer my sister and I went to visit him for 2 months), the unthinkable happened. My mother would always tell us not to let our stepmother cut our hair while we were down there visiting. My stepmother is white, and according to mom, she knew nothing about black hair. It was the summer before my 6th grade year, and one day after coming home from swimming, my stepmother chimes, “we need to get you girls’ hair cut”. I boldly exclaimed, “My mom said for us not to get our hair cut”, to which my stepmother replied, “Well, your mother isn’t here”. The war was on. A couple days later my stepmother was taking us to the salon to make an appointment for both my sister and I to get our hair cut. The appointment was made, but neither my sister nor I could have been prepared for what was in store for us. I remember on the day of the appointment I spent the ride in the car combing my hair out in an effort to make it be seen that my hair didn’t need anything done to it. My plan didn’t work.
At the salon, my stepmother spent time looking through magazines to pick out styles for both myself and my sister. The styles that she picked out were for old people, not girls heading into the 6ht and 7th grade (my sister is a year older than me). The style she picked out for me was…an afro. Cut it all off and make is a short fro. No other way to say it. I remember sitting in the chair as this man cut off all of my hair. I was hysterical. I cried as he cut it. I cried sitting under the dryer. I cried as he styled it, I cried and cried and cried for days. I was so upset that even as we went to a barbeque at my aunt’s house days later, I locked myself in my cousin’s bedroom and hid because I felt so ugly. A couple of weeks later when we finally returned back to my mom in NY and she caught the first glimpse of my sister and myself with our “new do’s” you could see the look of furor on her face. All I could say was, “She made us get our hair cut”. To which my mother replied, “That is the last time you will go to Bermuda”.
I remember my mom getting on the phone and giving my stepmother a verbal ass-chewing about our hair and her “role” in our lives. Nonetheless the damage was done. My sister and I were to start school in a week with afros. My 6th grade year was horrible. I was ridiculed by my classmates. They used to sing “afros in the house” whenever they saw me. I was teased, they drew pictures of me and my hairdo, and they even threw rocks at me while I was walking home from school. By the end of the school year, my hair grew out enough so that my afro became a short bob. But this incident really defined how I viewed my hair and how I feel like my hair defined me.
After that year, I became very protective of my hair. I went through a period where I refused to get my hair cut. I needed my hair to be long enough to be able to pull back into a pony tail. Even getting my hair trimmed was a process for me. I would watch the hairdresser like a hawk to make sure he or she wasn’t taking too much off. To this day, I still have that problem. If I go to the hairdresser, I will only ask for a trim. I refuse to get layers because heaven forbid the layers are too short for a ponytail. I won’t do bangs for the same reason, plus I never know what to do with them during that awkward growing-out period. I have found that I lack “hair confidence”. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. I don’t feel confident in myself without having longer hair. I don’t feel like I can be sexy to a man, or be able to impress an employer with short hair. My hair defines my confidence and my life.
I am turning 35 years old in less than two weeks and I am afraid of my hair. My highlights came out great and I am surprised at myself for being bold enough to put my faith in my hairdresser to make that change, but I still couldn’t bring myself to get more than a trim. My hair is still long enough to pull back into a ponytail. It’s still one length, with no layers. To me, that incident of having the afro back in the 6th grade made me feel that short hair is ugly. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many women who can rock a short do, and I applaud them and are envious of them as for me it makes me think that they have a confidence that I will never know. But for me, I could never do it and still feel pretty or confident, because of my prior experience. I don’t know if I will ever get over that experience or know that “hair confidence”. I think I will always need to have my shoulder length or longer hair.