The Haircut I Never Thought I'd Get

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
It was early afternoon on a Wednesday when I found myself in the chair of hairstylist and Hair Rules salon cofounder Anthony Dickey with 70% of my hair sprinkled at my feet. What the actual fuck was I thinking? I said to myself as I looked down in sadness at my fallen strands, which have seen me through my 25 years of life. Fuck, fuck, fuck, shit, was what went through mind as I stood up to admire my new, tapered 'do in the mirror. Welp, what’s done is done.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind a bit.

When I decided to go natural almost a year ago, I naively thought it was going to be an easy transition process that I would be able to wing my way through — I read the blogs, I watched the videos, I talked to the experts. I channeled my inner Kanye and was all, Psh, I got this. For the first couple of months, I tried to mask my chemically straightened hair and my new growth coming in by, basically, treating my hair like it was still relaxed and getting regular blowouts (bad move numero uno). As a result, I started to experience serious breakage and tangling at the point where the relaxed ends met the new growth.

While I know my hair was at the lowest point health-wise than it had ever been, a part of me still wasn’t ready to let go of my scraggly-ended security blanket (bad move numero dos). I’ve always had semi-long hair and the idea of cutting it was, as trivial as it seems looking back, pretty terrifying. I’m THAT girl you’d see crying in the salon when I had to get a trim of any kind — and, no, not a drastic cut by any means, just a simple snip to rid my hair of split ends. So, I bought some time by getting box braids for a couple of months and, afterwards, wearing a hat every day for a month and some change (I wish I were kidding).

It wasn’t until I had a movie-like epiphany after my mother commented, on maybe my 20th day donning said hat, “You do realize you can’t wear that thing for the rest of your life.” Let’s be honest, my initial reaction was: You don’t know my life; that’s totally doable. But, after my mid-twenties angst subsided, I realized that (gasp) she was right (cue the "mother knows best" comments). It’s only hair, after all, and it’ll grow back eventually…right? RIGHT?! I had just turned 25, moved into my first big-girl apartment, and was itching for something new. Plus, I’ve always been pretty conservative when it comes to my appearance, and this was the perfect time to shake things up a bit. So, I picked up the phone and booked the earliest appointment I could get to schedule what’s known in the natural hair community as my big chop.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, which I took as a good omen — although it did start raining once we left the salon, so take that as you will — when I arrived at Hair Rules’ chic and welcoming HQ. I’d spent the past couple of days scrolling through the Instagram #bigchop hashtag trying to convince myself this was a good idea, and listened to Sara Bareilles' “Brave” all morning to prep myself for what was about to go down.

“Big-chop time!” Dickey said enthusiastically when he arrived.

“Yeaaaah,” I replied, clearly hesitating.
Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
We wasted zero time — because, God forbid I chicken out — and dove right into the cutting process. They started out washing the hair as-is, and applied a liberal amount of conditioner in order to see the texture difference more clearly and to cut the straight ends off accurately. While the first cut was smooth sailing, and it almost felt therapeutic to get rid of my relaxed ends, it wasn’t until the second round when shit really started to sink in. They washed my hair again, and blowdried for a second cut, which involved Dickey styling it into the tapered shape we both agreed on.

Once he began scissoring away the side portion of my blown-out hair — like the pro and boss that he is, might I add — I quickly realized there was no turning back. He snipped and shaped until it seemed like there was more hair on the ground than on my head. This was the point when the expletives started to creep in and the adrenaline I came in with started to wane — a minor panic attack taking its place. More than halfway through, Dickey asked: “Do you want to get color? It’ll give the cut more dimension,” something that I’d never gotten done in the past but always flirted with the idea of. “Sure, why not,” I said — go hard or go home, right? That’s what I always (actually, never) say.

When the five-hour transformation came to an end and he turned me around to see the final result, I was at a loss for words. “It’s SO short,” was all I could manage to get out — and what I kept repeating throughout the day to anyone I encountered. Did I like it? Yes, it was the change I’d been looking for and desperately wanted. Did I love it? It was going to have to grow on me (no pun intended).

Having short hair leaves you with a vulnerability of sorts — you’re no longer able to hide behind a cloak of hair. You’re exposed. It takes a certain kind of confidence to rock a shorter ‘do — the kind I never thought I possessed, yet always admired and envied in women I would encounter on the subway or passing on the street. Not only was I dealing with this length change, but I had to familiarize myself with a texture that was the opposite of the relaxed hair I was used to. A texture that has a complicated history and is tangled up in a slew of myths and misconceptions, which added a whole new bout of twists and turns to my coping process over the next couple of weeks. While the response to my hair has been overwhelmingly positive from my friends, family, and colleagues, I soon realized the only approval I really need is my own.

While I alternated between Holy shit, I’m bald and Holy shit, I look like a pre-pubescent boy right after doing my chop, three weeks after the fact, I’ve finally settled on: Just own it. My texture has new life in the form of curls and coils that spring back toward my scalp, rather than laying straight on my shoulders. And, the short cut is the dream for the lazy girl in me. It also gives me a chance to familiarize myself with what products my natural mane responds to as it grows out. While it still takes me a minute to recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror, or in the window of a shop, I take solace in the idea that maybe, just maybe, I’m now one of the women who other ladies on the subway look to in admiration and for inspiration to do chops of their own.
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