A Hair Story

After
After

About a week before the dawning of 2009, I began encouraging Larry to cut his beard and mustache. I wanted to see him clean shaven in the New Year. He wasn’t sure about it at first, but my powers of persuasion won him over. Somehow between our conversations about his proposed new look  (he doesn’t look that different with no facial hair), I proclaimed that I wanted a new look too. I pledged to cut my locs off completely. Initially he blew me off. I’d made this declaration a couple of times during the last couple of years. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense in the context of my recent job transition. The act of cutting my locs had a ring of symbolism. It was time to make room for new growth and expansion.

Before
Before

Larry agreed to do the honors at my request. He is such a fabulous husband whom I trust implicitly. When I was trying to decide how I was going to do my hair for our wedding, he helped me color it. He has greased my scalp a couple of times and taken down the elaborate buns and up do creations given me by my stylist.  Never has he looked at me incredulously when I have asked for his hair assistance over the years. This time was no different. Yesterday he took scissors and then clippers to my hair and volia! It feels so good and freeing. I loved my locs, but this was a much needed change.

This is the third time I have completely shorn my hair. The first time was in 1996 during my junior year in college. I’d been toying around with the idea of “going natural”, but could never quite get up the courage to make that big step. That fall semseter I was invited to attend a recruitment conference hosted by the Society of Biblical Literature for racial and ethnic minorities who had been identified as talent and ability for PhD work in biblical and/or theological studies. I was forever changed by this weekend at Union Theological Seminary in New York. I was introduced to renowned scholars of color who were pioneers in womanist theology, black theology, and liberation theology. I experienced new ways of reading and interpreting biblical texts from the perspective of marginalized people. The interpretations I had always accepted as authoritative, I learned came from a distinctly white, male, patriarchal worldview. This weekend not only had profound implications for what profession I might pursue, but also how would understand myself and the world around me.

The monthly dose of chemicals applied to my hair seemed like shackles. I now had the courage to cut it off and eagerly embrace the kinky. I was happy to be nappy! I was sure everyone else would dislike it, though.  In all my new found bravado, I was not bold enough to shave all the permed hair off immediately. I bought myself a little time by adding extension braids. After about 6 seeks of growth, I cut off the extensions that were braided into my straight hair. I wore head wraps for awhile, and then started wearing twists, cornrows, or a puff ball. To my pleasant surprise, the vast majority of people loved my natural look. Three close friends took the leap and 86ed the chemicals. I found myself being approached by black women for natural hair one-on-ones. I noticed a wistful look in some of their eyes when they expressed a desire to “go natural” but for whatever reason, they couldn’t find the courage or they didn’t know how to manage it.  Many of these women didn’t even know the texture of their natural hair having had chemically processed hair from adolescence through adulthood.

Through the remainder of college and into seminary, my hair grew very quickly. I experimented with varied styles and hair accessories. Caring for my hair was becoming unwieldy as my styling time increased.  Over two years later I started itching for a change. I began going to a stylist to get my hair straightened. This was not permanent straightening using chemicals, but temporary straightening compliments of the innovation of  Madame C. J. Walker.  After braving the heat of an extremely hot straightening comb, any form of H2o–humidity, misting rain, steam– could turn the hair back to cotton in seconds. After a couple of months of intermittent straightening, I decided to get a perm after almost three years of naturaldom. A short time later–maybe two months–I knew what I had to do. I missed my natural hair and decided to dispense with the straight hair.  This time I didn’t care about letting it grow out first. I visited a friend’s hair stylist and instructed her to take it all off.  She was skeptical and continued to ask me if I knew what I was about to do. I assured her of my decision, and she complied, finally. I had a short Afro just in time for graduation.

I graduated seminary and moved back to Atlanta, GA sporting my fro. After about a year, my hair story took another turn. I decided to loc my hair. Going natural was one thing, but stepping into the realm of locs was a raising the bar. The process of locking is not for the faint of heart.  Even if a professional stylist begins the locs for you, the transition time is the hardest part. Most people want their hair to lock instantly, but it takes time. The dreaded (excuse the pun) transition has caused many to forgo locs all together. The transition marks the time of limbo when your hair is actually locking. You have to continually twist it to facilitate the bonding of the hair which can take between 6 months to a year depending on the hair texture.  It was during the time I started my locs and my loc transition that I met Larry. Years later while getting my locs groomed at the salon, I recounted this story to a woman was conflicted about locs. Her mom believed she would have a hard time finding a man who would accept her locked hair.  I told her that I met Larry at the beginning of my locs. She listened in wonder as I mused, “He wasn’t courting my hair.”

My aunt suggested I use a professional to style my locs for the wedding. That is how I was introduced to Venet Charles. She became my permanent loctician and introduced me to the versatility of my locs. She did buns, intricate up dos, roller sets, and countless other style variations. She truly had magic hands. If I had a dime for all the hair compliments I received, I’d have a nice sum.

As my locs grew, I could no longer groom them myself and especially not like Venet. Grooming locks is like tending a garden that is overgrown. In a tended garden, everything is neat and you can see where the flowers begin and end. When a garden is overgrown, everything is twisted and twirled together. Gardner Venet would tend my hair masterfully, separating the new growth and twisting it into the already established locs after a good head washing and the addition of moisturizing oils and cremes.

Those days are over as of yesterday. I looked at all the hair Larry cut from my head. It is hard to believe the hefty lot of it grew from that small space!  It is a little mystical to witness how the hair swelled over time as it grew.

I can’t predict the next part of my hair story.  Thus far it has been an exciting adventure. In closing, I’ll share two songs about hair. The first is “Cloud 9” by Donnie from his album, The Colored Section. The other is “I am not my hair,” with India Arie and Akon.

Cloud 9

Lyrics:

We live from the head down and not the feet up
And I’m adorned with the crown that’s making this up
And I’m fine under cloud 9

Yes I wear the lamb’s wool, the feet of burned brass
And the wool defies gravity like the nature of a gas
And I’m fine under cloud 9

Twist my cloud and it rain
And when it rains it pours
And the energy will absorb
Power for the metaphysical one

Happy to be nappy, I’m black and I’m proud
That I have been chosen to wear the conscious cloud
And I’m fine under cloud 9

I be a chameleon and wear it bone straight
But it’s so much stronger when it’s in its natural state
And I’m fine under cloud 9

Twist my cloud and let it rain
And when it rains it pours
And the energy will absorb
Power for the metaphysical one

I am not my hair

Partial lyrics

Little girl with the press and curl
Age eight I got a Jheri curl
Thirteen I got a relaxer
I was a source of so much laughter
At fifteen when it all broke off
Eighteen and went all natural
February two thousand and two
I went and did
What I had to do
Because it was time to change my life
To become the women that I am inside
Ninety-seven dreadlock all gone
I looked in the mirror
For the first time and saw that HEY….

[Chorus]
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I ma not this skin
I am a soul that lives within

[Talking:]
What’d she do to her hair? I don’t know it look crazy
I like it. I might do that.
Umm I wouldn’t go that far. I know .. ha ha ha ha

[Verse 2]
Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
At the turn of the century
Its time for us to redefine who we be
You can shave it off
Like a South African beauty
Or get in on lock
Like Bob Marley
You can rock it straight
Like Oprah Winfrey
If its not what’s on your head
Its what’s underneath and say HEY….

[Chorus]

[Bridge]
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person?
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better friend? Oooh
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity?
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
I am expressing my creativity..
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)

[Verse 3]
Breast Cancer and Chemotherapy
Took away her crown and glory
She promised God if she was to survive
She would enjoy everyday of her life ooh
On national television
Her diamond eyes are sparkling
Bald headed like a full moon shining
Singing out to the whole wide world like HEY…

[Chorus 2x]

[Ad lib]
If I wanna shave it close
Or if I wanna rock locks
That don’t take a bit away
From the soul that I got
Dat da da dat da [4x]
If I wanna where it braided
All down my back
I don’t see what wrong with that
Dat da da dat da [4x]

[Talking:]
Is that India.Arie?
Ooh look she cut her hair!
I like that, its kinda PHAT
I don’t know if I could do it.
But it looks sharp, it looks nice on her
She got a nice shaped head
She got an apple head
I know right?
It’s perfect.

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5 thoughts on “A Hair Story

  1. Love, love, love it! You look beautiful. Do you think you’ll keep it short for awhile? I also enjoyed reading your Hair Story. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. GASP!!! You did it! OMG! 😀 You go!! I can imagine how freeing this feels. I think about it sometimes but I’m not ready yet.

    I love both of these songs also.

    Holla atchu soon!

  3. I’ve always always had long red hair, and it’s been how people associate me, my beautiful. red. hair. I want to cut it short and rock a new style, for so many reasons, and I’m so frustrated with myself because the sole reason I am hesitating is because I fear I won’t be as beautiful. Ugh! I’ve been journaling a lot about it, and I do think I’m going to do it, and prove to myself that I am still beautiful, and that, I, am not my hair 🙂

    I love those lyrics.

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