Years ago, I decided to stop relaxing my hair, decided to cut it all off and wear a short afro. This was huge. It was long before there were lots of women around with natural hair, back when a short afro meant ‘militant’ or ‘lesbian,’ or ‘militant lesbian’ to most people, long enough ago to be considered unattractive by lots of people, not least among these being members of my family.
“You can’t cut your hair. You’ll look terrible!” I was told. “You don’t have the face for such short hair.” “You’ll look like a man.”
That last one was pretty funny to me. There is nothing about my extra-plush hourglass body that is even the least bit mannish. Anyone looking at me with any hair and seeing a man would definitely need to get their eyes checked.
But I was determined. I stopped doing anything with my hair other than pulling it into a ponytail, waiting for it to grow out so there would be enough un-permed hair to make a nice little afro.
When I was finally ready, I found a salon that did black hair and made an appointment. Everyone in the place went nuts when I said I was there to cut out my perm. “No! Look how long and thick your hair is, you can’t cut it off!” “No! No one will hire you with that hair.” “Everyone will think you’re angry all the time.” Whatever. I was determined.
Mario, the man assigned to the creation of my new do, didn’t exactly try to talk me out of my plan, but he clearly had his doubts. “You have a lot of hair,” he said. “There’s a lot more you could do with it. You’ve really thought about this?”
I assured him I had, so he got to cutting. I didn’t watch, figured it was better to wait and see the finished product. I turned my chair away from the mirror, but I could still see all the hair floating down to the floor. That was hard.
At the end, Mario gave me some careful scrutiny before turning me around. He liked the job he’d done, but I sensed he wasn’t sure how I’d feel.
“Ready?” he asked as he started to turn the chair. “Now you’ll have to wear lots of big earrings and some nice red lipstick.”
He said this last as I looked up at the mirror … and saw some bewildered young man looking back at me. It was all I could do not to cry.
“Of course I’ll have to wear makeup and jewelry,” I said, “I look like a man!”
Both Mario and I had little breakdowns then: me, convinced I had somehow erased all my ‘girl,’ and Mario swearing up and down that he’d meant no such thing.
I paid. I went home. My room mate — my sister, Fox — took one look at me and vowed to go right out and cut off her own hair. She loved it immediately. I was still mourning the loss of my hair. That carried on for the next two days. On day three I woke up and looked in the mirror and saw that I was still me, and saw that I had shockingly, magically easy-care hair.
And look at the way it turned people’s heads on the street …
And look at what interesting conversations got started because of it.
And look how cute Fox and I looked running around town with our matching heads … (And look at the funny expressions on people’s faces when they learn that we are sisters, not lovers …)
And look how beautifully my earrings are showcased (Mario was right!) …
I was in love. There was the added bonus of the racism and self-hatred conversations I got to have from time to time, but mostly it was just flat-out love.
I miss that hair. I see ladies with close-cropped hair now and I’m unutterably jealous. I love my current hair, love the versatility, love my big-ass, Cleopatra Jones afro, but I still feel the pull of that easy, gorgeous, low-maintenance, quietly-in-your-face hair.
Cross-referencing update: I finally figured out the issues with my scanner and posted some photos of short-afro me.
is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.