Black Moms and the Big Chop: "Don't Do It"
A huge COVID-19 trend has been DIY haircuts. With salons and barbers closed for huge chunks of the year, people have been faced with cutting their own hair. And others, drudging through countless days in the same space, doing the same things, and talking to the same little people have been pushed to shake up the routine by creating change in other places. Like their heads. And I have finally joined the pack.
A month ago, my hair was the longest it had been for a long time. For my birthday, I straightened my hair for the first time in months, and it was almost at my waist. My mom marveled at the length. “Look at your hair, Aliya! It’s sooo long,” she admired proudly. I, however, was over it. After all, I was the one either putting the tangled mess in a high bun every day or struggling with a detangling comb for an hour trying to tame the beast.
I told her I wanted to cut it. My mom insisted I just give it a trim. This isn’t new. Ever since I was little, my mom – like a lot of other black moms – has been obsessed with length.
There’s something about a black woman’s hair that equals beauty in some people’s eyes, particularly older black moms. In my mom’s generation, there’s something about straightening our naturally curly hair into sleek, long styles that is SO important to them. And to threaten that perceived connection between long straight hair and beauty by chopping it all off is inconceivable to them.
A few years back, after I gave birth to my son, I dealt with the common issue of postpartum hair loss. Every time I washed or styled my hair, clumps of it would just come out into my hands. I called my stylist for an appointment and told her I wanted to cut a lot of it off.
Plot twist: my mother and I shared the same hair stylist. When my mom came for her appointment later that week, the stylist casually shared with her my upcoming appointment. My mom called me on her way home to try and convince me not to cut my hair. I paid her little attention. She then called the hairstylist back and asked HER not to cut my hair. Interference be damned, my stylist eventually gave me the hair cut I wanted, and we went about our business.
My mom – who has permed, shoulder length hair by the way – while definitely crossing lots of boundaries, meant no harm. In her view, she was doing her best to protect what she thought of as one of my “best assets.” A signifier of who her daughter is. A beauty standard that was too important to rebel against.
But, I am not my hair. And, if I would like my hair short, it will be so. And now, in the middle of a pandemic, I simply ordered shears off Amazon, straightened my hair to get a straight cut, and chopped the inches off.
I’m working my way toward an eventual big chop. I don’t have the confidence in my own ability to do it myself, so it may have to wait until the pandemic is over. (Will it ever be over?)
And although my mom gave me a dramatic “What have you done?” today when she saw my short hair for the first time. I know she loves me regardless of the length.