The Big Chop

The room was pure white save for a black stylist’s chair coupled with a vanity mirror. The renovated garage turned hair studio left me skeptical at first. Her inviting smile and laid back demeanor eased my nerves. She was in her mid 30s, average height, light-skinned with an afro that made any naturalista jealous. The studio smelled of honey body butter, eucalyptus mint, lemon juice and tea tree oil. She wore a long ethereal dress. I was captivated by her hair, though. It was red, regal and rebellious. She had it puffed out to its full length; reminiscent of the ladies in the 70s who donned afros as a sign of liberation from mainstream perceived beauty. I envied her hair. And she was about to cut mine.

I dared to big chop after nine months of transitioning my hair from its processed bone straight texture to its kinky, knotted natural state. In the world of black natural hair, the big chop is the epitome of ‘going natural’; the cutting of relaxed or heat damaged hair in order to let hair grow in its intended state. The phenomenon is sweeping this nation. Its nothing now to see women of all ages choosing to done kinky, stressed tresses.

It was my 20th birthday and I wanted to do something impulsive, something is exclusively and entirely chosen by me. While the world around me screamed embrace the inner you and with movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ gaining fame, I found myself at a crossroads; desiring a new look meant embracing a new life, routines, social interactions. After all, hair is a natural conversation starter among women. The pressure of wanting to embrace my heritage and the fear of what others might say crippled me. My biggest skeptics? My family. True, their concerns about my chances of winning a job or a date were valid, but they didn’t seem concerned about the overall win I’d achieve. I am a rebel at heart and natural hair is the look of any rebellious soul. The acute relationship a woman shares with her hair is unfathomable and a woman of color relationship with her natural hair is even more profound. The journey and process, the time and vigor, the trail and error is all a beautiful struggle. It reminds me that I am beautiful no matter how bad my twist out turned out. It reminds me, for years, people of color have been innovative in creating ways to maintain an unruly mane never meant to be tamed. It reminds me my hair is exclusive and deserves a chance to be flaunted.

A sunny afternoon in July, two of my closest friends and I drove to Hampton, Virginia in hopes of fulfilling my dream. Being that natural hair was fairly new and natural hair stylists were even newer, I found someone online to cut my hair who didn’t own a big shop. In fact, she wasn’t in a shop at all. She did hair out of her apartment. She was a native Californian with a military boyfriend. I usually frown on hair stylists working out of their homes; however, I read great reviews about her online so I figured I’d give her a shot. She schooled me on all natural hair products, hair styles, websites and accessories. She was like the mother of natural hair, being that she taught me most of what I know today.

First, she had a list of questions for me regarding everything from where I live and work to why I chose to big chop in the first place. My hostess was compiling a list of statements from naturalistas as to why they “go natural.” While she questioned me, my friends sat on bean bag chairs and flicked between BET and VH1 on her flat screen. Then, she previewed her homemade products and the benefits of using them. She gave us samples and promised to use some in my hair when she styled it. It was a thick creamy substance vanilla in color and almost pasty used for both leave-in conditioner or co-wash treatments. They smelled of mint leaves which were something I never thought to use in my hair. But as she explained, it had wonderful benefits for my very sensitive scalp. I immediately fell in love. I wanted to buy everything, although I had no idea if it would work or not. It just seemed like the right thing to do in a time where my eyes were just opened. Her boyfriend walked in unexpectedly and greeted her and her guests. He looked at her hair with admiration and desire with which she acknowledged, “where else can I walk around with my hair looking like this?” He kissed her and left her to her client.

She didn’t start washing and styling my hair until about 30 minutes into my visit. She made sure it was still damp before cutting it. She started by trimming the ends then cutting the straight pieces evenly all the while keeping up a conversation about friends, jobs and hair of course. Piece by piece, strand by strand my past 20 years of life fell to the floor. I only remember hearing the blade of scissors slide pass each other. When she finished she swept up the pieces of straight hair and placed them in a baggie for me as a keepsake. She said some ladies like to hold on to their relaxed ends as a reminder. I was confused at the notion but decided to keep the hair because it was mine.

I wanted a specific style called a tapered cut which is a style that is long up top and a little shorter around the edges and back. After she cut out all the straight ends, she styled my hair by forming small finger coils. Finger coils or comb coils are curls formed by twisting small pieces of hair together repeatedly from root to tip with your thumb and index finger or using a small comb. It looks similar to dreadlocks. I squeezed the straight hair airtight in the baggie knowing my decision was final. I didn’t look in a mirror until the process was over. But when I did, I felt new like a blank piece of paper. I felt fresh like an apple just picked from a tree. I felt home like I was a long-lost relative connecting to her past.

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