When I wore a natural at my consulting job, I was on a covert cosmetic mission (the image in my mind is making me crack up): keep the naps out of sight at all cost! I want to reflect on a comment I made yesterday about my constant attempts to make my natural hair more palatable to others: “What a waste of time and energy! Given that other women have confided in me that they’ve also engaged in such activities, I can only imagine the loss of mental energy and productivity in the workplace. When people feel that they have to constantly strive to attain an image that is not naturally attainable, such striving cannot lead to their best performance at work or in life.” Strive. That is a perfect word to describe how I related to my hair. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/strive), strive means: 1) to devote serious effort or energy, and 2) to struggle in opposition and the word originates from Middle English to quarrel, contend, fight and is similar to the word “strife”. WOW!!!!
I was in a constant process of looking in the mirror, groaning and then doing whatever I could to fight my hair’s natural tendencies. I kept trying to get my hair to comply. Bind it up. At some point, I realized that my striving was futile. If I wanted to wear natural hair, I had to learn how to work with it and stop fighting against it. This poem by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg (http://www.endarkenment.com/hair/poetry/rosenberg/unbound.htm) captures this sentiment.
by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg
My unbound hair turns
on itself, coiling
knots and tangles.
the locking loops.
There were no knots
when my kinks were
But I’m Unbound:
and thanking God
Image found at: http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/conferencecenters/unbound%20logo.jpg
Equipped with a new desire to go natural, I now had to figure out what exactly I was going to do with my hair. Was I going to transition with braids, a weave? Or, was I going to just do the big chop? I am the kind of person who loves to do research, gather input and then conduct more and more research. BUT, once I make a decision, I go for it. I’d spent years thinking about my hair and now I was ready to do the big chop. One of my girlfriends in Baltimore had just done the same thing and she recommended that I go to a barber shop on Charles Street to get the deed done.
I was nervous when I sat in the chair. It’s funny, I remembered tons of women draping salon capes around me when getting my relaxers and now a young, black man was draping one around me, only this time to chop off my hair into a short natural. I was nervous that a man was cutting my hair. I did not want to look masculine. That was a big fear. I am just under six feet tall and I can range anywhere from a size 12 to a size 16. I am bigger than some dudes so the last thing I wanted was to walk out of the barber shop and be mistaken for a guy. Maybe that’s the main reason that I always wore flawless makeup and chunky jewelry during my short natural days (hmm, had I just exchanged one beauty standard for another?). So much (i.e., my self-image and my feminine pride) was tied to my hair. But, I know I’m not the only one. That is why this is such a big deal.
If I recall correctly, the barber first combed out my hair and then took scissors and cut off the bulk of it (does Locks of Love take relaxed hair? I should have thought about that then). I had my girlfriend snap a shot and I looked like Don King. Straight up. Thank God we used regular film back then because if she’d shown me the digital image I might have lost my nerve. The process didn’t take too long and before I knew it, the barber turned the chair around and I gazed at my new image. My stomach sank. Oh my GOD! What in the world had I done? I looked like a dude, a cute dude, but a dude nonetheless. Ok, maybe I didn’t look like a dude but I had NEVER seen my hair that short in my entire life. It was going to take time to adjust. I noticed that my facial features looked different, my cheekbones stood out, so did my eyes. It was pretty amazing to see how much a hair cut can transform you (I guess that’s why Tyra Banks has those makeovers on America’s Next Top Model).
I got up, paid the barber and walked out of the shop. I had no idea how my family was going to respond.