I Cut My Waist-Length Black Hair, and My Mother Took It Very Personally

We need to take the pressure off of Black women’s hair

Photo: Adrian Fernández/Unsplash

I have good hair.

At least, that’s what I was told growing up. Thick, long, and fried straight to the point where it didn’t actually matter what my curl pattern was — no one ever saw my curls anyway. Throughout the entirety of middle school, high school, and most of college, my hair was pressed flat to reveal its full length at all times. My White friends were confused by my utter aversion to rain and swimming pools.

At its longest, my hair fell down past my breasts and tickled my waistline. It was undoubtedly the part of my body that I took the most pride in, unable to suppress smiles when women in the salon would look at me and say, “Lord, what I wouldn’t do for all that hair!”

I embarked on a hair journey to reprogram everything I once thought about my hair: that it had to be long and straight in order to be acceptable, presentable, and pretty.

As I entered my early twenties, I was self-aware enough to know that my obsession with length and straightening was the result of a lot of internalized racism built by over two decades of explicit and implicit messages I received about Black women’s hair. Most people around me, Black and White, didn’t know Black girls with hair as long as mine. From a young age, I was used to the way my mom and grandma would smile when someone would say, “She’s got such long hair!” They would thank them the way you do when someone compliments your work. They were proud of what was growing out of my head, so I learned to be proud of it too.

My hair wasn’t just long, it was real — another thing to be immensely proud of, I learned, and a key teaching that kept me far away from weaves and extensions. “They do that because they can’t grow hair like yours,” I was told. By keeping my hair long and straight, I was trained to think I was somehow being a better kind of Black person. (Hellooo, respectability politics.)

As I worked to unlearn this racist fuckery, I embarked on a hair journey to reprogram everything I once thought about my hair: that it had to be long and straight in order to be acceptable, presentable, and pretty.

Unfortunately, the culmination of that journey was a haircut that damn near broke my mother’s heart.

Part 1: Maybe it doesn’t have to be straight, but it definitely needs to be long

It started in college. I began experimenting with “going natural” which, as someone with virgin hair (i.e., hair that’s never been chemically treated), meant not straightening it immediately after every wash. After years of long and taxing nights spent by my grandmother’s stove with a hot comb, my curl pattern was completely unrecognizable. My hair was limp, lifeless, and difficult to work with. Nothing like the 3C beauties that were the face of the natural hair movement.

I began thinking that maybe I didn’t have good hair after all. After a few weeks of a strained relationship with SheaMoisture products, I gave up and picked up my flat iron.

It wasn’t until a few years later in 2019 that I decided to try again, this time by declaring my intention to go a full year without straightening my hair. I was ambitious. I became a product junkie, stocking up on Aunt Jackie’s, Carol’s Daughter, and Cantu. I kept a hair journal where I recorded each product use and result. I was completely and totally hyperfixated on my hair.

Even away from some of the Eurocentrism of explicitly White beauty standards, natural hair media continued to stress that having as much hair as possible was ideal.

Still, things proved easier said than done. Where straightening my hair used to take up half my waking hours on a wash day, it was at least remarkably low-maintenance afterward. Natural hairstyles, I found, were often multiday processes—at least with as much hair as I was dealing with. Without blow-drying, my hair could take up to two days to dry completely. If I had my heart set on a particularly complex style, I often had to plan it out days in advance. A wash-n-go, as it’s deceptively named, only served to highlight the massive line of demarcation where my dead strands met my healthy ones. Twist-outs were impossible because the ends of my hair were so limp that they wouldn’t stay wound together.

For a long time, I refused to cut them. I reassured myself with numerous articles and videos that The Big Chop wasn’t necessary and that I would just snip off little bits here and there as it grew. Even as I was overcoming the need to fry my locks, I wasn’t over my length obsession.

The natural hair movement is ripe with messages that promote the importance of “length and retention,” from product labels to YouTube tutorials, all assuring naturalistas that they can achieve waves of curls down their backs if only they follow the proper 15-step routine. It seemed like everything was either geared toward growing your natural curls or keeping them long and strong. Even away from some of the Eurocentrism of explicitly White beauty standards, natural hair media continued to stress that having as much hair as possible was ideal.

After a few months, I was growing frustrated and tired of dealing with my hair. I didn’t want to spend any more long hours in the bathroom prepping a style just to look decent for work in the morning. I could feel myself growing lazier, shirking the responsibilities of proper Black hair care. I told myself that at least I had made it over six months this time. And I had managed enough decent hairstyles to know that I could still look pretty without straight tresses—as long as they were long and full.

So I gave up and picked up my flat iron.

Part 2: Wait—why does it have to be long?

Photo: RootedColors/nappy.co

In October of 2020, I was overcome with the intense desire for a haircut. A real haircut.

I had just moved into a new place and hadn’t yet worked out how I was going to manage a wash day in my new bathroom. The thought of it exhausted me. I considered going natural again just to save myself the work of having to blow dry and flat iron, but I knew the prospect of sleeping on wet braids didn’t seem like much of an improvement. I had a lot of hair, and no matter what I decided to do with it, it was going to take forever, and I wasn’t going to be satisfied with the end result.

After having spent so much time with natural hair, I realized that I wasn’t as thrilled to have my straight hair back as I thought I would be. My brain was trying to figure out which style looked more “like me” and found both images unsatisfactory.

For a while, I was stuck in limbo. But then I was scrolling on my phone one night and landed on an image of a gorgeous woman with perfectly tousled locks. The feeling hit with such clarity and precision that I immediately knew I wanted a bob. Specifically, I wanted a bisexual bob, which is my divine right as a bi woman. I also knew I had to get it soon while I was confident and unwavering and full to bursting with blatant queer energy. I searched for the nearest hair salon (with good reviews) and scheduled an appointment the next day.

When I arrived, before the stylist could usher me over to the sinks, I told her I was going shorter. A lot shorter. I showed her a picture of what I wanted and suggested she cut off a good chunk of it now before she wasted time washing any hair that was destined to be separated from my head.

I was worried that as an older Black woman, she’d try to talk me out of it (an experience I’d definitely had with other stylists). Instead, she picked up her scissors and a moment later handed me a 10-inch fistful of hair.

“Do you wanna keep it?”

I laughed and chucked my former tresses in the trash. For the rest of the appointment, I couldn’t stop smiling, marveling at the weightlessness of it and the pleasant snip-snip sound of the clippers.

Part 3: Why is my mother crying?

I have a habit of springing things on my mother.

The day after my haircut, she came to visit, and I opened the door with a spring in my step, prepared to shock and awe her.

“You cut your hair?” I had been expecting surprise, but I wasn’t prepared for the way her face dropped.

“Don’t you like it?” I turned my head this way and that to show off how light and bouncy it was. Sleek and elegantly curled, my bob was giving off old Hollywood glamour vibes that I had been giddily sneaking glimpses of in the mirror.

She stared at me. “Casira…” She reached out to touch the tips and heaved a world-heavy sigh. “It’s been a long day, and now you do this.”

I deflated. Do what? As my joy turned to dust, she just kept shaking her head at me and picking at the ends of my freshly trimmed bob. She was acting like my haircut had done something to her. Like I had made her day worse by making a stylistic change to my own body. We were silent for a while, the way we always are before we argue.

“Why didn’t you at least tell me before you did it?” Her voice was already beginning to raise.

“Would you have tried to talk me out of it?”

“Probably!”

She didn’t understand that, after over 20 years of working up the courage to detach my self-esteem from my hair, I didn’t want to be talked out of it.

Truth be told, I didn’t tell her because my mother, like so many other women in my family and like so many other Black women I know, is plagued by the same internalized racism that kept me shackled to my own hair for so long.

I shouldn’t have to think about anyone else’s feelings when I get a haircut. … I can’t go on having other people’s emotional investment and hang-ups tangled up in my head.

To this day, I’ve never seen my mother’s natural curls. Or my grandmother’s. Or my great-grandmother’s. I’ve lived among generations of Black women who have relaxed and straightened their “nappy” hair beyond all recognition, afraid to be seen without it pressed perfectly. On one of my early natural stints, my mother told me, “I don’t have hair like yours. It’s like my hair wants to be straight.”

My haircut didn’t make sense to her. From her perspective, it seemed like I had a full head of hair most Black women would be envious of, and I carelessly cut it off with no regard for how much time and money my family had spent trying to get it that way.

Her voice caught a bit as she fought (and failed) to suppress a few tears. “It doesn’t just affect you. Your hair has been a family effort.” That much was true, at least. But the hair on my head should only affect me. I shouldn’t have to think about anyone else’s feelings when I get a haircut. As much as I love the commitment my family had in helping to manage my hair throughout my youth, I can’t go on having other people’s emotional investment tangled up in my head.

The rest of her visit was strained as we both tried to temper our feelings of betrayal.

“Did you at least keep the hair?”

Part 4: I’m cute AF though

Photo: Viajero/Pexels

Truth be told, I still have a lot of hair by many people’s standards. Chin-length in its natural state, slightly past shoulder-length when straightened, and still thick as hell.

For the entirety of my youth, I was convinced that I was only pretty with long straight hair. I felt restricted by it — afraid to experiment, unwilling to try new styles, scared I would do something wrong and it would fall out and never grow back. Convinced it was the only thing that made me attractive (at least, from the neck up).

Now at the ripe age of 25 and with a ’do that still feels brand new, I am liberated.

These days, I’m equally comfortable wearing my hair curly or straight. Sometimes I’m plagued with indecisiveness because it looks so good either way. And my mother has since come around to how undeniably well it frames my face.

Now that I’m looking back, it seems like a hell of a journey to reach the conclusion that hair is just… hair. It doesn’t have to be a statement or ideology. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be straight. It doesn’t even have to be there at all. I don’t know if my hair will ever grow as long as it was before. But I do know that I’ll be just fine if it doesn’t.

In fact, I’ll be better than fine. I’ll be cute as fuck.

Bisexual Black Feminist | BLK INK Editor-in-Chief

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