Searching “the big chop” on YouTube will yield you 622,000 results. Scrolling down, you’ll be met with colorful thumbnails of women in the act of, warning you of, showing progress of and otherwise making a big deal out of cutting their relaxed hair off.
I am not one of those videos. Not that I don’t find a certain conceited catharsis in talking about myself in front of an audience of unknowns, I do. I just don’t give a shit about cutting my hair. I never did.
A brief history: I’ve had my hair relaxed since I was eight years old. When my mom first touched that creamy tipped applicator brush to my scalp, I felt a transformation was underway. Finally, I thought, I would have pretty white girl hair. That’s what a perm was, right? Going from black girl hair to the ever-envied long, blonde tresses of Rachel from daycare, right? Wrong. And so as my mom gathered my newly limp hair into four, haphazard ponytails, each accentuated with a plastic barrette, I felt lied to. This was no transformation. And I was no Rachel.
Fast forward a decade, I was eighteen, and my hair had been fried, dyed, and laid to the side more times than the sun had risen in the east. And I loved it. I loved the experimentation, the biweekly salon visits, the profound satisfaction of getting the perfectly swooped bang. I never had any expectations; my hair had become something to just play with. A play I did, sometimes to my misfortune (looking at you, orange highlights), but mostly to my delight. As depressing as my eight year old perspective was, girls like Rachel had long since been forgotten, and I was in a deep, irrevocable love affair with my hair. It did not occur to me that anything could be any better.
By the time I graduated college, my hair had been manipulated into so many shades and shapes. I cut it into bobs, braided it into weaves, shaved up the side, twisted it down my back, dyed it black, dyed it blonde, dyed it black again. I did any and all things. My attachment to any hair style was about as binding as my attachment to a Forever 21 shirt—I knew it would not last long and I was okay with that. There would be another cute, trendy thing around the corner that I could try.
My decision to go natural was not a decision at all. It was a continuation of this game I was playing with my hair, this incessant need to do for the sake of doing. I was unfazed by those going natural around me, unfazed by the superiority some liked to attach to it, unfazed by the pitting of permed hair against afro-centric do’s. I was spectacularly underwhelmed by it all. It was not on my radar until I was getting my hair Marley twisted for the sixth month in a row, aching for a change.
“You should go natural!” my stylist suggested, a wide grin pulling up the corners of her mouth. “It will liberate you!”
Wow! Liberate? Maybe this would be the hairstyle to end all hairstyles. Maybe this would be my game over.
And so after that last month of twists, I big chopped. Not because I wanted to make a political statement, not because everyone around me was, not because I thought embracing thy literal roots was a short cut to self-actualization. I did it because I was bored and out of options. Getting my hair relaxed again: boring. Getting my hair dyed again: boring. Getting my hair braided again: ouchies and boring. Simply put, I was bored with my hair. So I made an appointment to an esteemed natural hair salon and watched with apathy as a stylist snipped away at my straight ends.
I tried to feel all free and happy like they said I would. I watched so many big chop videos online in preparation, reactions ranging from ecstasy to contentment to disgust. I wanted to land somewhere between the three, to feel something life changing. But I didn’t. I had no emotion. No enlightenment. No liberation. No eureka moment. I did not feel blacker. I did not feel the need to start wearing dashiki’s and ankh rings and to start dancing around in circles at Afropunk. I felt nothing. No thing. A deep, penetrating absence. It ended up just being a thing I did on a Saturday that one time. I, again, felt lied to.
It has been ten months since I have gone natural. I love my hair, its cute little ringlets, the way it bounces when I pull on it, the way it fattens up in the rain. Would I ever perm my hair again? Probably not. My hair is stronger than it has ever been in recent history and I want to support that. It is also cheaper to maintain, hello! But do not mistake that choice with some allegiance to a trend, or culture, or way of being. Especially do not mistake it with some misplaced superiority over my perm-haired sisters or some big FUCK YOU to the establishment. My hair, for me, has always just been something to enjoy, a personal hobby devoid of motive or political agenda.
As confounded as I was to feel nothing as my split ends fell to my feet, simply shrugging at this most important of transitions (so they say), I now see the lesson in it. The non-attachment I feel to my hair brings me peace. The moment you identify with any outward thing, any physical state, you lose yourself in it. I’ve seen people lose themselves in it, the products, getting the perfect curl, the envy of others’ hair, the hatred of their own, the politics of it all—all transient, all fleeting. Hair ceases to become something to enjoy and instead becomes a burden at best, a source of unhappiness at worst.
I still dye and cut my hair on a whim, not caring about the outcome. I have a lifetime’s worth of reinforcement telling me that no matter what I choose to do with my hair, everything will always be okay. That dead skin cells growing out of my scalp are ultimately inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The nothingness I so often feel when it comes to my hair creates distance, a space. And in that space, I can simply enjoy.
This post is part of HuffPost’s My NaturalHair Journey blog series. Embracing one’s natural hair ― especially after years of heavily styling it ― can be a truly liberating and exciting experience. It’s more than just a “trend.” It’s a way of life! If you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at MyNatu