Our hair and our identities are intimately linked, and for Black women in particular, that connection runs deep. In a society that continues to prioritize Eurocentric beauty ideals, Black hair speaks to culture, gender, self-expression, freedom, and even trauma.
"Whether we're cutting off hair, cutting off people, cutting out the stigmas around our hair, or just hitting our bald baddie era, it's time to cut it off, sis," declares co-host and R29 Unbothered's vice president of brand strategy and development Chelsea Sanders on this episode of Go Off, Sis, the R29 Unbothered podcast that champions Black voices. As the premiere episode of the season, this installment focuses on the "big chop," a haircut that feels particularly rich in nuance and significance.
Getting a drastic cut is always radical act. And for co-host and R29 Unbothered associate social strategist Maiya Carmichael, the process became even more loaded when she found herself chopping off inches to make up for serious damage. During the pandemic, she modeled for a haircare brand whereby, in addition to using products ill-suited for natural Black hair, the hairstylist placed her under high dryers, which subsequently "decimated" and fried her hair. While the hairstylist in question was a person of color, Carmichael notes that they were skilled in wigs specifically — not natural Black hair — which is why it's critical to have multiple Black stylists on set or in a salon. "What I'm seeing in the industry is that they'll just hire the same, one Black person for everything and not realize there are different people that specialize in different things, and wigs are not the same as handling natural curls," says co-host and R29 Unbothered global deputy director Kathleen Newman-Bremang.
Lacy Redway, the episode's guest star, shares similar trauma: The Jamaica-born hairstylist, who regularly works with A-list celebrities, says she had to "start over" with her hair after a family friend used a relaxer on her that caused her hair to "fall out." Redway adds that this was in the '90s, when products tailored for Black textured hair were scarce, but the experience still affects her today. Nevertheless, the pro plans on getting the big chop again — on her own terms — to usher in her 40s.
On that note, a chop can be incredible meaningful. After "kind of accidentally" shaving her head for the first time when she was younger, co-host and R29 Unbothered cultural critic Ineye Komonibo says she realized she was suddenly "all face, and I loved that." What's more, it caused her to reconsider her ideas of femininity. "I was hiding my identity, essentially, with my hair. It was like, to be a woman, you have to have long hair to the floor. But cutting my hair was key to understanding gender norms and gender presentation. It taught me that you can be anything and you can look like anything and still be yourself, still be a 'woman.' It was an important journey because it taught me how to be naked with myself and accept myself without any decoration."
Click here to listen to Redway and the Go Off, Sis team unpack more about the big chop. Plus, get expert-approved tips on caring for natural hair at home, adding new celebs to your mood board, and so much more. And while you're at it, learn how Dove's Crown Collection, this episode's sponsor, is helping to fight race-based hair discrimination in the U.S. through The CROWN Act.