Beauty is More Than Hair Deep

Me shortly after my big chop.
Me shortly after my big chop.

A hairstory written & performed by Ella Turenne

Every woman has a hairstory. It’s a common bond. I have short, very tight kinky curls. So when I was little I would find the longest scarf in the house and tie it around my head so I could pretend to have long hair. I wanted my mom to straighten my hair. For a long time she wouldn’t. Then when I was 13 she let me get this new thing called Wave Neauveau which made my hair wavy. If I blow dried my hair with Wave Neauveau in it, it would become straight. So I did that for months. I finally had straight long hair! I fit in with the other Black girls in school for the first time. But…then I woke up one day and had bald patches all over my head. I had to cut all my hair off. It was devastating.

It was then I decided: no more chemicals in my hair. But...I still wanted it straight. So my mom used the hot comb. Ah the hot comb. It’s metal. You put it on the stove. Once it’s hot, you comb your hair with it. It would sizzle when it touched my hair. I would sometimes get my ears burnt if I moved at the wrong moment. But it was so worth it. We did that all through high school. Then in college I ditched the comb. I was becoming more political. My hair was a statement about my Blackness. Then after college I decided I wanted locs. Not dreadlocs, but locs. Because when Africans came to the US as slaves and loced their hair, colonizers would call them dreadful…thus dreadlocs. I thought locs were beautiful. And to me they were unapologetically Black. I obsessed over getting them but was afraid because it wasn’t really an acceptable thing to do. I worried about what my parents would say. I worried if they would stop me from getting a job. I worried if I would look terrible with them. Some people think that if you have locs you’re dirty. Or too political. Or ugly. But to me, they were gorgeous. For 2 years I chewed my best friends ear off with all these questions. Then he had enough. He said to me, “Either get the dreadlocks or stop talking about it.”

So I went to a hairstylist to get it done. The way she did it - she sectioned my hair and rolled each section with her palm. I had these little coils all over my head. She knotted each at the roots my hair wouldn’t slip out. She warned me, When I do this, there is no going back. Only way to undo this is to chop everything off again.” But I was ready. And I loved them. I watched them grow. I took care of them. I knew each loc…they had their own personality. Some of them were really frizzy. Some of them were tight. Some had knots. Some had curly strands. And sure, there were haters. One time I was at the airport going through security. A TSA agent pulls me over and tells me she has to inspect my locs – which are down my back by this time – because I have too much hair. I won’t let her touch my hair so she has to pass a wand around my head to make sure nothing is in it. That was the bad side. The good side was that having locs though was like being in a secret society. Every time I encountered someone with locs, there was eye contact, a smile, a head nod. My locs were not just my hair…they were more like extensions of my body. Some people believe locs have a direct connection to the cosmos and therefore they capture energy. Like when things happen to you - a breakup, death, trauma, it all gets caught in your hair. So after 8 or so years of having locs, I definitely began to feel the weight of this energy. Cause it just accumulates. Like - I broke up with this guy I had been seeing and had been madly in love with. He wasn’t madly in love with me. And I had a crazy job – toxic environment and terrible boss. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. Nearly died. And my hair held all of it. So after all that, I started thinking…maybe it was time to cut my locs. Which scared me. If I cut them all off, who would I be?

In South Africa people were abducting folks and cutting their locs to sell them on the black market for people who wanted instant locs. I had this dream. I'm in this club. This guy comes up to me and says, “I really like your locs. You’re beautiful.” And me, all flustered, am like, “ Oh thanks.” And then he says,” Why don’t we get out of here.” And I say, “Ok.” I don’t know why I say this. Normally I wouldn't just walk out of a club with a stranger. He grabs my hand we go out the back door. Before I know it, I'm knocked out. When I come to, my friends are saying “Your hair, your hair!” I touch the top of my head. All my locs are gone. I scream.

That dream was like a sign. Something inside said, you have to cut them off. This is too much. This dream is a manifestation of all the crap that’s up in there! I thought I’d start slow. So I'm standing in my bathroom with the scissors in one hand and the mirror in the other looking at the back of my head through the mirror on the wall. I take a section of locs, measure where I want to cut with my fingers and then…deep breath….cut right through. About 10 locs fall right into the sink. I’m looking at them there. And then I look in the mirror at my shorter locs. And here’s the thing. I don’t feel anything. Nothing. So I kept cutting. Cutting and cutting until the whole sink fills up with my locs. Still no feeling. And that’s when I know. That’s when I know I am going to cut them all off.   

I went to the salon. The stylist cut them off. I remember looking in the mirror after she cut the last one off and thinking to myself - “Who is that person?” But then, I saw me. And it was ok. In fact, I loved who I saw in that mirror. I felt kind of giddy. I felt like I had been set free. Letting go of my locs gave me space to receive other things – my creativity. My love for myself. My fearlessness. I wasn’t thinking anymore about what other people thought of what I looked like. That was life changing. These days, I still get loc envy – when I see someone with a beautiful head of locs, I remember what it was like. And I think one day, I’ll do it again. But for now, I’m really loving the hair I’m in.

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