Monday, April 25, 2011

Hair-raising Tales Part I: The Long and the Short of It.

"Because it was time to change my life
and become the woman that I am inside. . . ."

~ from "I am not my hair" by India.Airie

Hair is a funny thing, isn't it? So many things are wrapped into how folks feel about hair. Childhood experiences. Cultural background. Gender and gender-identity. Religious beliefs. Geographic location. Access to competent hair stylists. All that.

Today I am reflecting on the story behind me and my short hair. . . .

May 2001. I remember vividly walking into this fancy salon in Cleveland approximately one month before my big move to Atlanta. In my hand was a picture I'd printed out of Halle Berry from the internet rocking her infamous pixie haircut. I'd always been known for my longish bob and had admired that haircut for a long time. I'd turned thirty earlier that year and had finally worked up the nerve to go for it.

"Cut my hair like this," I said, proudly passing the photo to the stylist.

I had chosen this stylist for two reasons. The first was that I heard that she was a short hair "master stylist" and was allegedly a wiz with shears. But the second was because I'd heard that she wasn't the least bit shy about cutting all of your damn hair off if you asked. Now. Let me clarify a few things for a moment. By now (unless you are visually impaired) you have probably realized that I am a black woman. And let me tell you--as someone who has the authority to say so--getting your hair cut all off (especially) if you are a black woman is kind of a big deal.


So back to the big makeover. I hand this woman the picture as she runs her hand through my then shoulder-length bob. "Is your hair chemically treated?" she asked. "No, I just straighten it," I replied. She studied the ends, ran a comb through it, and even looked at my scalp. Then she narrowed her eyes and looked perplexed.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Your hair," she answered while still raking her hand through my thick locks. "Your hair is healthy. And it's so thick and heavy. If I didn't have my hand in it, I'd think it was a weave."

Really? Coming from a "master stylist" (which was what her card said) that sounded like a good thing. "Well, that's good, right?"

"Well. . .I'm just. . .uuhhh. . .so why are you cutting all your hair off if it isn't damaged? I mean. . . .I am happy to cut it. But you have nice hair. I guess I'm just confused."

Of course she was.

This is where the cultural thing comes in. How dare you consider cutting hair that isn't "bad?"  It seems that if you are fortunate enough to have hair that a.) grows long, b.) has not been damaged by chemicals, c.) has not been strained by braids, oh, and d.) that you are planning on tryin' to wack all off, you'd better be ready to do some sho' nuff 'splainin' about why if you also happen to be a black woman up in a black hair salon. For real.

"I just like that hairstyle," I answered her matter-of-factly. Because that was true. I just liked the hairstyle. Simple as that.

"But to wear your hair this short in this style, you'll need to get it chemically relaxed. Your wave pattern would never allow it without getting a relaxer."

Hello? She wasn't the only sista in this conversation.

"I know that." I tried to keep cool but this was frustrating. Mostly because I had thought of all of that before. I had already shadow boxed in the mirror and pulled all of my hair off of my face and even palpated my head for lumps and bumps. I'd surfed the net, called my sisters, imagined what it would be like if I hated it and was forced to grow it back and all that. I had even practiced new makeup techniques and found a few cute pairs of dainty earrings. See? I was ready. Super ready for a new beginning and a new look. I was moving away to a new city with new faces and new adventures awaiting me. "Cut it off," I said emphatically. "Cut it all off."

Instead she just kind of stood there staring at me for a few moments. Then she cocked her head sideways and ran that comb slowly through my hair once more.

"How are things going in your life right now?" she finally asked pausing to fan my hair out under the comb.

Aww hells no! No she di-in't!

"Life is great. No, more than great. It's peachy."

"Gina says you are moving to Atlanta next month?" Yeah. Didn't you hear me say "peachy?" Get it? Peach-y? As in Atlanta?

My roommate, Gina, was the one who had referred me to this therapist, I mean stylist. Unless she had some Delta skymiles she was preparing to give me, I could see no reason for this line of questioning.

"Yep. Life is good. Got a great job in Atlanta. Can't wait. And am so psyched to get my hair cut today."

Take that. I ain't depressed. Just shut up and cut my hair, you "master stylist."

"Well. . . . " she finally said in this way that immediately gave me a sinking feeling. She lifted the comb and watched my hair cascade down toward my neck and shoulders. Like I was one of those Barbie doll heads. "That's a lot of life changes, don't you think?"

Aww, hell naw for real. This b*tch cannot be serious. (Yes. This is exactly what I was thinking.)

"It is and I thought of that. And while I appreciate your concern, I gave this a lot of thought. Do you want to cut me first or relax me first?" I figured I'd make an attempt to get this thing moving along before I ended up cussing her out for trying to psychoanalyze me.

She looked at the picture and then at my Barbie head again. "This is really drastic, sweetie," she finally said with a melodramatic sigh. I immediately considered dropkicking her for calling me "sweetie." I stared at her dryly and waited for the inevitable. "I mean. . . .okay. . .I tell you what, sweetie. If you come back in two weeks and you hand me this same picture and you still want your hair cut all off like this. . . .I will do it. But you need to be absolutely sure, sweetie. Come back in two weeks, okay?"


But I was absolutely sure. Right then. Right there. She was treating me like that thing on that Google instant messaging system the med students told me about that makes you answer a math question before drunk messaging someone. I was not drunk. I was not depressed. I was not going through a crisis. I was just grown, and dammit, I just wanted a new look.

Where was Tyra Banks and her top model make over team when you needed them?

So . . . .as the story goes . . . .despite my best attempts to convince her to go on and cut my hair anyway, in the end I left there with my tail between my legs and my (healthy) hair upon my shoulders. For two more weeks.


Two weeks later, you'd better believe that I marched right back in there and slammed down that picture like, "BAM!" Arms all folded, hip jutted out, lips all curled with my eyebrows raised like, Cut my hair, dammit. And that's exactly what the master stylist did.


And I'm sure you are wondering, "Why did you even go back to her?" Two words. Cleveland. Ohio. (Beggars can't be choosy, y'all.)


So that was the start of me and my short hair. Now, if this post hadn't already gotten kind of long, I would tell you about the elderly woman in the salon that day who threw the dryer hood up, got OUT of her chair and ALL UP in my face with her hair still in the roller set to wag her finger in my face and say, "You jest UNGRATEFUL!" She kept looking at my hair hitting the ground and then back at me with the grandmama version of the hairy eyeball. She poked her lips out, turned her mouth downward and shook her head so hard that I thought her neck would become dislocated. Then she repeated with extra venom and extra fire and brimstone in it--just in case I didn't hear her the first time. "You UN-GRATEFUL!! Jest UNGRATEFUL!!!" Straight up blasphemy, I tell you!

She sounded a lot like those poster-carrying evangelists on the corners of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. You know, the ones screaming at folks during Mardi Gras and informing them that they're going (straight) to hell? Yeah, like them.  As far as she was concerned, cutting all that "good" hair off for any reason other than illness was right up there with taking shots and doing those things folks do for beads. Oh, and that grandmama was serious, do you hear me? Serious as a heart attack.

Yeah. . .I would tell you about that part, but that's a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother time. . . .

Short hair? That would be me.
"I looked in the mirror
and for the first time I saw that
Hey. . .I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am the soul that lives within. . . ."


Now playing on my internal iPod. . . . .


So. . . .what kind of crazy hair sagas have y'all had in your neck of the woods?


  1. Oh, wow, that IS a saga. I have to admit, while I would've been pretty furious in your shoes, I think it's a little sweet that she was worried about your emotional well-being. (All I get from my haircutters are lectures about how I should be buying much more expensive shampoo.) That's really interesting about all the cultural expectations going along with hair, though. I can't think of an analogous one for Asian hair (which I have). That sounds really frustrating to have to come back 2 weeks later!

    And I love your short hair! So chic.

  2. Oh, Kelly. I wish I had been mature enough to see it as "sweet" back then. But I must say in her defense. . .I was much more sure when I came back two weeks later. Ha. . . you always see the bright side! :)

  3. Just got back from the bach today - I've missed so many posts! Can't really say that I've had any hair sagas, definitely none that I'd been able to retell as well as you. :)

    You rock the pixie, girl. You're looking so gorgeous and edgy. I'd totally do it but I'm terrified I won't like it. I think I'll wait till I graduate so I can girl it up a bit (most schools in NZ: uniform and no make up)...

    Loving the music too. India.Arie is definitely one of my favourite artists! :)

  4. Thanks for the inspiration to do something about my hair. I have been taking baby steps towards the "big cut" - not too short but something different. The grandma in the beauty shop sounds like my grandmother who would always tell us that "your hair is your glory" - to keep us from cutting our hair.

    You style looks great on you. I've given myself two weeks to choose a style.

  5. I love this. I love you for being strong in your desire to cut it all off. I've had that thought so many times and yet, the one time I did, back a million years ago, I hated it. I am just not a short-haired woman but I look upon those who are with great admiration and respect.
    Your beauty is from within and your hair just frames that perfectly. And yeah, your beauty is from without, too.
    You're just a beautiful woman. Let's face it.

  6. I feel you on all accounts!

    I've gotten lectured from stylists when I: cut layers in my hair, cut my hair into a bob, cut it into a shorter bob, decided to go natural, decided to lock it up...who knows what lecture is around the corner next?

    My favorite? "Oh, you have such nice hair, why would you lock it up?" (And this was from the lady who started my locs!)

    Um, I'll still have nice hair. It'll be nice and locked.

    By the by, I think your hair is marvelous!

  7. It is amazing to me how much hair plays a role in the life of an African-American woman. We have all had the "leaving the salon in tears" moment because your hair was cut too short, relaxed too long, not relaxed long enough, got the wrong color...and the list goes on. Even to this day if my hair is not "whipped" it affects my mood until I snap out of it and realize "it's just hair." But the reality, particularly in our culture is that it isn't just "hair." We are still judged in so may way, by our looks. Particularly if you were born in the 50's, 60's or 70's, hair and complexion issues were and are, still real. the biggest thing is how do we teach our daughters and sons that this isn't an issue and that you are so much more than the physical part of you. I don't have all of the answers but I am certainly doing my part with my son and daughter to help them through these very difficult issues.

  8. I rocked the short cut in 1998 because after my "process" my hair was indeed damaged. I got a ton of love for it, but at the end of the day, it was more upkeep and I was unwilling.

    So I'm long and relaxed again. It's the way IIII like it, but people always want to tell me to change it up or go natural. Sorry, simply not interested. My hair is thick, people think I'm natural even when I have it relaxed. LOL.

    But as I tell folks who are always "trippin" on hair...IT'S JUST HAIR! Calm down. LOL

  9. You like like you with short hair, know what I mean? But I am kind of curious now... do you have any "before" pictures you wanna share?

  10. That was supposed to be "look" like you :)

  11. Well, you know I think that short hair rocks!

  12. Some time ago you wrote a post about Zachary (I think it was Zachary, but forgive me if I'm wrong, I'm pulling this from my med-school-overloaded memory) finding a magazine with Halle Berry on it and thinking she was you! Not that we needed any further proof, but your kids are clearly brilliant. The haircut is definitely "mission (more than) accomplished"!

    And for what it's worth, I would be far, far more excited at the prospect of meeting the beautiful you than the beautiful Halle Berry. (I am not just saying this to flatter, I am being 100% honest. No offense to Ms. Berry, I simply have no idea whether or not the total sum of her beauty - inner and outer, is anywhere near the total sum of yours.)

  13. Having grown up with curly copper, I would have said I know exactly what you are talking about. When I was in college, I had a stylist cut my hair in stages from my waist to a short shag bob. But after chemo, my hair came back kinky white. All the stylist that I knew just stared at me not knowing what to do. If it wasn't for my African American daughter-in-law, I'd have been lost in the woods. She took me to stylist who knew how to cut it and helped me pick out products to moisturize it and control it. But from this experience we both learned about Locks of Love. It is a donation system to give natural hair wigs to children going through chemo. Nina has donated twice, and her hair is a premium, because it is African American hair, and I think you understand that. My hair can't be used for children, but can be sold to support the charity. I have donated 4 times. I'm glad that someone was concerned about your decision. It never hurts to have a moment to reconsider.

  14. I love your short hair... absolutely love it. When I see your long hair pix it looks crazy! But I'd take that long, thick hair in a minute! My favorite hair story is when you were talking about growing your hair out when you became a mother... because you couldn't spend time at the shop every week? And Harry said, "Nah, nah playa... we'll figure it out. You keep that hair short & go to the beauty shop!" LOL!!! Too FUNNY!

  15. LOL @ djdjd04 story! Before my daughter was born I decided to braid my short hair because I neither had the willingness nor time to "sit up in" the shop all night long! (I totally LOVE my stylist, but she takes soooo long.)
    Therefore, I had to "grow out" my short style so the braider would have enough hair to "catch" to put my hair into braids. For those who don't know how it looks to be 8 months pregnant with hair that's in's NOT pretty!
    But as soon as she was 4 weeks old, I was able to get back to my sassy short do!
    I love my short hair!


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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