By Erickka Sy Savané
I’m sitting in a chair in the middle of the living room while my husband holds some electric clippers. The buzzing sound is deafening because they are as old as Methuselah.
“Do you really wanna do it?” he asks.
Man. The truth is, as sure as I was a few minutes ago that I wanted him to break out the clippers and do whatever he wants to my hair, now I’m not so sure. The fact that he’s never cut anyone’s hair a day in his life is starting to make me feel a little cuckoo because what are the chances that this will end well? Even he’s questioning whether he should do it. But at the same time, this hair has me oppressed like the police. It’s disrupting my whole life. If I can do this now I might actually break free. But can I let this hair go though?
The first time I became conscious of my hair was when I was six years old and my grandmother called it nappy. It triggered a desire in me to make it perfect since silky straight like hers it would never be.
By fifth grade I wouldn’t go on the front porch to get the mail until every strand was in place. Even the three-block walk to school took an hour because I had to check it in every car door window.
By junior high school things started getting out of hand. IT occurred during a basketball game between my school and its arc-rival Robinson. It was fourth quarter, the score was tied, the bleachers were packed, and with just one minute left on the clock my team was bringing the ball down court. The point guard passed the ball to me, and bam, I caught it and called a timeout.
The coach was confused because this wasn’t part of the play, but since I was team captain he was willing to see what I had up my sleeve.
Without saying a word, I sprinted to the bathroom. Within seconds, I was standing in front of a mirror checking my profile, running my fingers through my relaxed hair. Aiight, let’s play! I ran back out and resumed the game.
When it was over, the only thing my coach would say was, “We lost the game, but your hair looked nice.” My brother disowned me he was so embarrassed.
By high school my hair obsession grew even more, and so did my reputation for being psychotic with it. One time, I was getting it cut by a stylist named Fez and all hell broke loose. “How short are you going to cut it? I told you I don’t want it too short,” I snapped.
“I’m cutting off these fried ends,” he snapped right back, continuously snipping.
Snip. Snip. Snip. Hair fell to the ground like casualties of war. This guy was cold-blooded. Was he going to scalp me? Worse yet, was he going to behead me? I wasn’t about to find out.
Up I jumped like Superwoman, ripping off the hair cape in a single bound, and off I ran. And ran and ran. I ran all the way home, which normally took two buses. “What the hell happened?!” asked my mother as I stood before her with half my hair. I explained that Fez was trying to kill me and vowed never to see another hairstylist again. The look, sometimes referred to as asymmetrical, became my signature all through high school and didn’t change until I became a professional model and was forced to do something about my hair. Now all my issues with hairstylists came crashing back to the surface.
I found that white stylists gave the best cuts and color, black stylists gave the best relaxers and styles, and Dominicans gave the best and cheapest wash and sets. The result left me schizophrenic because now I had a zillion people in my hair, and New York City stylists were not like the ones at home in Toledo. Naomi Campbell I was not so they had no time for my Diva attitude. One time a stylist told me to straight up get the hell out of his salon. He didn’t even want me to pay.
It wasn’t until I locked my hair that I was able to let it down, so to speak. Once my locks got going it was easy to maintain without a stylist so life got pretty tranquil for a change. Work was great and with the extra mind space I even got a chance to clean out some relationship baggage. Before long, I met the man who would become my husband and everything was grits and gravy. Until I cut my hair.
With the locs gone I was right back in that mirror 24/7 like I had never left. My husband was in disbelief. “Why are you always messing with your hair?” he’d ask as I twisted and re-twisted the same pieces over and over again. After it had been going on for some time he started suggesting I get a new hairstyle. “Hey, just cut it off like Grace Jones.”
Was he crazy? Grace Jones? I couldn’t imagine my hair that short, nor picked out. With my unresolved “good/bad hair” issues the look would leave me with what a friend once called “carpet-texture hair.” What would Grandmother think?
When years passed and nothing changed- everyday found me getting worse and worse because now my joy was reduced to the three days a week that my twist-out looked good (not too greasy and not too dry)- my husband reached a boiling point. “Just cut it off already!!!”
But I couldn’t hear him.
Once I had my second child even I knew something had to change. Time and energy was limited so I decided on box braids. The freedom I felt from not having to do my hair was thrilling, but the downside was carrying an extra 100 lbs. of weight on my head. Sometimes I skipped going to the bathroom at night because I refused to lift it, and washing it gave me Whiplash it was so heavy.
When I decided to take them out I discovered that my edges had been destroyed worse than Hiroshima. Now what? Wigs and weaves were never my thing and besides that, I was tired of fighting, tired of giving everything to this hair. And what about me? My relationship? My kids? Everything was suffering. There had to be more to life than hair!
Back to my husband and these clippers. As I’m still deciding what to do a story my friend Nana once shared comes to mind about her experience growing up in Ghana where schoolgirls are required to cut their hair short ala Lupita N’yongo. It’s done as a way to make sure that girls focus on their schoolwork and not hair. Only foreigners are exempt. Since she was coming from America her aunt was able to get a note from the doctor saying that she ‘might go crazy’ if she were forced to cut her think, beautiful mane. Once she was given the pass, her aunt sat her down for a talk. She convinced her that it was just hair and it would grow back. She cut it and grow back it did. And though she questions the effectiveness of having girls cut off their hair, because they still spent many a night playing and heating up forks to straighten each other’s hair, she feels that cutting your hair off is something that every woman should do at least once because it’s completely liberating…
“Let’s do it!” I say to my husband, and the cutting begins.
|1st haircut from the hubby|
Funny enough, there’s a calm that comes over me that can’t be explained. When he’s done and takes me to the mirror I am in shock. It’s not perfect, but I love it. Ironically, it’s the same Grace Jones-esque cut he suggested I get some five years ago. Somehow I know that this is the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Finally, I feel free.
Do you have a dysfunctional relationship with your hair?