“I see you've had your little Waiting to Exhale moment."
That was the comment my sorority sister made when she saw me with my haircut for the first time. The thick, kinky-curly locks that went past my shoulders had been sheared off in favor of a much shorter tapered look.
I wondered if she really thought that my new 'do was man-inspired. I didn't blame her. It's common for a woman who breaks up with her boyfriend or husband to cut off nearly all her hair like Bernadette did in Waiting to Exhale.
But me? I'd been single for quite some time. I just wanted the 'fro gone because it was too much work! Or so I thought...
It wasn't until many months later I realized that deep down, I'd wanted a break from the past, too. And I got much more than that.
I didn't expect to undergo the mental transformation that I did. After my haircut, I questioned myself in ways I hadn't since high school.
Am I beautiful without long hair? I wondered.
Thoughts like that made me panic. Did the self-esteem I'd spent over 23 years building really shatter in an hour's worth of hair cutting?
Sure, I found pride in the numerous compliments my bold curls would garner, but I never saw myself as attached to my hair. Frankly, I'd hated my hair, not because I didn't think it was beautiful, but because it took entirely too long to style. (I'm lazy.)
I thought the freedom to wake up and go for once would cancel out any reservations I'd have about the new cut. Having an edgy cut would be more fun and unique; no longer would I blend in among the sea of afros. I knew I'd absolutely love it.
However, it took me quite a while to get used to being “near bald-headed." Sometimes I'd even wake up, look in the mirror, and go in shock over what I'd done.
So…why do I want this for you? Why insist that every woman question her beauty, as if the media doesn't give us enough cause for that already?
In the end, the unencumbered freedom, greater sense of self, and symbolic emotional healing I gained made me wonder why all women don't cut their hair!
Read more about the positive effects I experienced after cutting off my hair.
We all know that women, black women in particular, spend entirely too much time and money on their hair. I mean, have you seen the hair care aisle? Men have a few shelves. We have an aisle.
Black women have entire beauty supply stores! The Black hair care industry is even valued at almost $500 billion!
We're constantly inundated with hair ads and shampoo commercials and videos of gorgeous, extension-laden celebs. Hair, hair, hair!
Before you go on a date, what do you have to worry about? Makeup, outfit, and hair. Before a job interview? Outfit, interview prep, hair. Before you leave the house in general? Hair is always a concern!
That's not to say that having short hair is a walk in the park, either. But when I had short hair, I cut my wash day to a mere wash hour. Styling time went from an hour and a half to 15 minutes!
I wasn't overly worried about how to tame her (my hair is a she) or what impression she'd help me make because she was barely there, unlike my can't-ignore-it 'fro.
Having the ability to wake up and go most days caused me to lessen the importance I have on my hair. You don't realize how much value you place on your hair until you don't have any.
I gained a sense of freedom I'd never had. I'd always had too much damn hair.
I felt freer, lighter and not just in the physical sense, but in the emotional sense because I had more room to just focus on me, the real me, sans luscious locks, which brings me to my next point.
Actress Amandla Stenberg after a big chop
Greater Sense of Self
Men love long hair. That's no secret. Here's a secret: so do you.
It's not your fault. Society conditions men and women to go heart eyes over long, flowing hair. It's the standard of beauty.
Most of us won't realize how deep-seated this love for long hair is. A lot of us will even deny this internalized European standard of beauty, claiming that we love ourselves regardless of if our hair is two or twenty-two inches long.
“I am not my hair," we will say. And then we shear off our beloved hair and later that night, gawk in disbelief at our reflection as ridiculous worries seep out:
Will my hair ever grow back? Am I still attractive to men? Is my curl-free, short, natural hair beautiful?
Am I still beautiful?
Questioning your beauty makes you question your inner self. Maybe you had a good grasp of who you were before, but now you must reconfigure yourself as someone who is able to find her beauty with or without long hair.
Will you be someone who finds her power in her hair or will you reject that notion of womanhood? Are you someone who has the courage to go against what nearly everyone considers “beautiful" or do you readily go with society's standards because that's what's comfortable?
Cut off your hair and see. Because not only will you gain this clearer picture of yourself, but you'll gain a newfound strength and confidence in your femininity. And that's not even the best benefit…
Actress Keke Palmer smiles in a new cut
Symbolic Emotional Healing
It's a peculiar feeling to watch your hair float to the floor, and then study it as it decorates the tiling, while coming to the sobering realization that it's no longer connected to your head. I am now a bald-headed bitch, you think. Or, for those less ratchet, I really don't have hair anymore.
I can only describe it as a mixture of fear, excitement, worry, but one other emotion is most prominent: relief. Oh what a great relief!
Maybe you're like me and don't even notice when you're lugging around too much emotional baggage until you see your strands severed, and with it feel simultaneous severing from past pain and emotional healing. Or maybe you're more in tune with your emotions and revel in your now unburdened back. Your load is almost weightless. It's light.
Here's the thing: that long-standing joke that women cut their hair when they're going through something–it's true, but those women get the last laugh. There are very few material things that you can shed in such a short amount of time and with it feel the immediate, deep impact that cutting off your hair gives you.
We talk about cutting off toxic people and things every New Year. It's easy to delete a phone number or throw away those brownies (mostly), but how easy is it to cut off the memory of the one you love telling you it's over or the deep-rooted self-hatred that drove you into a depression or the image of a text message with words that disrupt your entire world or the echo of your family members' voices saying you'll never be any good? Now imagine it being as easy as a snip!
Cutting off your hair won't heal the wound in its entirety, but it will pour on that soothing balm and get the healing process started. It's been a time-worn, crucial first step for countless women and take it from me, it feels damned good!
*Originally published on The Next Train's Coming
Layla A. Reeves is a 20-something freelance writer, copy editor, and ESL teacher who's still trying to figure this life thing out, never mind adulting. She's lived overseas in Spain, but only mentions that when she wants to feel better about not knowing what she's doing. Read more of her musings on her blog.