How My Life Changed After Doing “The Big Chop”

By: Candace McDuffie

Despite all of the thoughts surrounding ‘The Big Chop,’ or shaving off all of your hair to start anew, I didn’t anticipate for it to be as cathartic as it was. Even though there is constant pressure on Black women to aspire and ultimately assimilate to Eurocentric beauty standards– to have lighter skin or thinner frames or finer hair–I’ve always considered my hair my God given crown of glory.

From braids to press and curls to afros to straight up weaves, I’ve embraced the versatility that my Black hair has. My decision to shave it all off wasn’t a political move as much as it was a practical one: I damaged my hair beyond repair from dying it too often. I’ve rocked a pixie cut for years (most recently I had an interesting foray into faux Marley twists) and thought the ‘big chop’ wouldn’t be that much different from anything that I had ever done. It turns out that I wound up learning a few things about myself because of it.

Although it may sound a little cliche, cutting off all my hair meant blatantly rejecting the predisposed societal expectations that came along with it. The association of femininity with long hair is still a dominant narrative among women. And despite the fact that it’s 2016, I have discovered that having short hair  means that I am treated as a novelty (“Wow–that actually looks good on you!”) or a gratuitous dumping ground for someone else’s insecurities (“I could never pull off short hair–it just wouldn’t look right on me”).

I am also frequently told that getting rid of all of my hair was a great move to get it to grow back healthier. But to my surprise (and the chagrin of others), that idea has barely crossed my mind: I have become enamored with maintaining this short, natural cut.

Long before white women were obsessed with being victimized as “Beckys with good hair,” Black women have been (and still are) navigating a system that punishes us for having straight hair, having curly hair, having long hair, having short hair, having natural hair, and having fake hair. Our hair is constantly linked to our self worth.

When our hair is not being dissected or replicated or fondled, it is being used as a tool of oppression. And again, although it’s 2016, archaic notions about black hair are still being reinforced at exorbitant rates. Young black girls are being reprimanded in school because their natural hair–the hair that grows out of their heads–is viewed as unkempt. Black women are being fired from jobs because their hair is seen as unprofessional.

We are fit enough to serve in the military but our hairstyles often violate regulations that are meant to expel Black women. When we wear afros, it is a volatile political statement; when we straighten our hair we are trying too hard to adhere to white beauty standards. If it’s not long enough, we should grow it. When it’s too long, there is no way that it could actually be our real hair. While this type of scrutiny is exhausting and infuriating and unjust and unwarranted, sadly for Black women, this is our reality.

I didn’t think shaving my head would mean so much to me, but it did. I cling so strongly to my independence, stubbornness, and ability to brush off the opinions of other people; the big chop reaffirmed those qualities. Although stereotypes about Black women and our hair abound, it is vital for us to rise above them while still being true to ourselves.

Hopefully other people, particularly the young black girls I work with, can see that we can try out different aesthetics as much as we want and still be beautiful. We define how feminine and beautiful and powerful we are, not our hair. I learned to embrace my natural texture as well as ways to take better care of it. The only standards of beauty I aspire to are my own.

My hair, in its current state, ignores all of the pressures and ridiculous rules that are literally attached to the heads of Black women. I don’t see my ‘big chop’ as the end of my spontaneous and fun journey. In fact, I see it as only the beginning.

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