Do you remember when you were younger and you’d put your shirt over your head and let it fall down your back pretending the dangling fabric was a long mane of swaying hair? This was my favourite part of getting undressed for bed or bath time. I could fantasise about how those locs would one day be growing out of my own head, all the way down to my butt. I’d tuck it behind my ear and speak in my best English accent - because, you see, with long hair I was a rich white woman with the world at my feet. With long hair I could make anything happen.
Cut to a few years later and I’m in that sweet (read: sour) stage of puberty when I’m not quite grown enough to not play outside in the dirt, but I’m developed enough to have an attitude about it. My hair is a matted mess in pigtails or cornrows, but if you look closely enough you can see that it’s chemically processed with relaxer. Being the opinionated pubescent teen that I am, I declare to my mom that it’s time I decide what to do with my own hair. A few days later, I’m in my hairdresser’s chair with clippers buzzing in my ear as she shaves off every last strand. And thus began my natural hair journey.
My mother loved that I made the decision to go natural. Back in my child pageant days she would dress me up like a doll and put my afro into neat puffs that would steal away the judges’ hearts. She had her baby doll back. She knows a lot about natural hair care, so it was easy for me to upkeep my fro. With the S.A climate and a semi-pro hairdresser im my mom, it was easy to keep my hair growing and glowing. I was proud of it. It gave me the same feeling I had with that shirt over my head - I was feminine, strong and beautiful.
I loved my hair so much that it soon became my signature look well into adulthood.
Some growth happened, for my hair but mainly for myself, and I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad. I set off in the middle of NYC’s winter, and like any forward-thinking natural girl on a budget, I put my hair in a protective style that would last me at least a month or two. For those first couple of months I didn’t have to worry about my hair at all. Even once the style was exhausted, a quick bun and some MPL Hair Gel took care of my messy front and kitchen. Eventually, the time did come to get my hair out of the braids. My afro didn’t disappoint. It came out looking good and bouncy, after all I had all of the hair products that my mom had stashed in my toiletry bag.
Then things got real. I started running out of the products I had brought from home and I had to make do with the closest brands I could find on the streets of New York. The weather was becoming more harsh, and being a student, I simply couldn’t afford to get new braids and didn’t have the time for my regular hair care routine. So my hair began to break. Luckily, I had a trip planned to go home, so when my hair was on its last breath, I was able to save it and stock up on products again. I continued this routine for a while until my hair just had enough. Between the climate change, the many product trials and errors, and the stress of school, it was just too much. So, it came time to cut it. This time, not by choice.
I sat, once again, in a stylist’s chair and whispered the words, “Shave it all off”. The sweet man looked at me and asked if I’m sure. Before I could even answer, he had made the first big swipe with his clippers. There was no turning back.
When he was done brushing the hair off my face and neck, I opened my eyes and looked at myself in the mirror. I was still feminine, strong and beautiful - simply because I decided I was. I channeled that teenage girls’ courage, who chose to cut her hair, and I declared myself once again. I could have stood up from of that chair and cried about having to let go of the big hair I so loved, but instead I stood up tall with my head held high. I had a new look. That’s all. It was just a new look, and dare I say, I LOVED IT.
This was the beginning of a new journey. My short hair journey. I’ve since changed barbers a few times, had all sorts of cuts and often get stylised lines cut in. Has anyone ever said ‘short-haired girls have more fun’? If not, tell them you read it here first.
Beauty and femininity mean to me what I decide they mean. And as I write this article in the middle of yet another NYC winter, I decide that today my beauty and femininity mean having a bare face and a light fade.