Tonya’s Hairstory

Like many little Black girls my age I had pressed and then relaxed hair as a child. My mom always used a hot comb that sat on the stove top and I would sit in our orange kitchen chair dreading the whole process. When I became of age, about 10 years old for my house, I was allowed to get my first relaxer. I was soooooo excited. This was a big moment for me. Finally, I thought it will be easy to comb my hair and washing it won’t take forever.

I sat in a hairdresser’s chair for the first time and was nervous and excited as they applied the lye. I started off smiling and ended up holding back tears. I didn’t know that it was going to HURT. I recall my mother telling me that it would burn but I had not translated that to the actual pain that I felt that day sitting in the hairdresser’s chair.

Hours later when the process was done, I had straight-ish hair. It was “as straight as we can get it” I was told. My instructions for the next few weeks were to avoid getting my hair wet and don’t sweat. I was used to shower caps and umbrellas and plastic head wraps to keep my hair dry. I didn’t like to sweat but there was that pesky problem of mandatory gym class that seemed to get in the way. But alas, I had what I always wanted, relaxed hair just like my mother.

In hindsight this was a strange thing as I was born in the 70’s. All of my baby pictures are with me and my mother with a gigantic afro. I remember the black fist hair pick that she had (and may still have) for decades. But by the time my memory formed, my mother had relaxed hair.

I had relaxed hair all through high school and for one semester of college. Microbraids were in fashion so I thought that I would try that. My mother did not agree with this. She thought that I would have to cut off all of my hair and use fake hair. When she learned that I could keep my hair (aka not cut it) she tolerated, though still disliked, my decision.

By the end of college I was tired of the upkeep and maintenance of the braids. I was ready for a change. I was about to go into the world as a full adult and I knew that I was ready for, needed something different. I decided to cut my hair, all of it. Since I was a child my hair length hovered around my shoulders. I would have it trimmed but never cut. This was a big moment but I never doubted my decision. I knew that this was what I was supposed to do.

I brought a picture to a hair salon in Columbus, OH of a short hair cut that I wanted. The hairdresser talked to me for 20 minutes about cutting my hair, making sure that this was something that I really wanted to do. Perhaps we could just trim it and not cut it she suggested. I had spent the past two days taking out all of my microbraids so that I could cut my hair, I wasn’t turning back. I took the scissors from her and cut a chunk of my hair. She then agreed to cut my hair.

My graduation from college was a few weeks later. I hadn’t told my mother that I cut my hair. There was no maliciousness on my part just pure avoidance of not wanting to have her talk me out of cutting my hair (or me feeling guilty about cutting my hair when I LOVED my new do).

My mom came to campus and saw me walking out of the bookstore before I saw her. She yelled my name and then let out a shriek from across the street. Yelled so loudly that my head was not the only one that turned. My mother was born in the South and raised by a Southern mother. We did not yell, we certainly did not yell in public, and definitely not in front of a bunch of white folks. But that day my mother yelled.

“What did you do to your hair?!” “Are you depressed, why did you cut off all of your hair!?” She asked these two questions over and over and over again. It wasn’t for several months, maybe even years that my mother would be able to look at my short afro without commenting on how long my hair used to be or that I cut it without consulting her.

In the years that followed I turned my short afro into coils and then into baby locks that grew down my back. People complimented my locks often, sometimes even daily. I loved my hair. I loved my locks. I loved the compliments. When I was pregnant everyone told me that my hair would fall out and become brittle. It became stronger, shiner, and grew faster than it ever had before.

But trying to get to my hair dresser as a new mother was challenging to say the least. There was the time, the expense, and figuring out child care. “Cut your hair” was a voice that whispered to me every now and again. I worried that I would miss my locks. I had grown and been attached to this hair for almost 9 years. “Cut your hair” came to me again. And finally in March 2009 I sat in my loctician’s chair and told her that I was ready to cut my locks. “Are you sure?” she asked. “Yes, I’m ready” and so Kim cut my hair into another short afro, much like the one I had right after college. She cried as she cut my hair. I cried when I said goodbye to her, but I was smiling when she cut my hair.

This spring I cut my hair again. I told the barber to make it as short as the clippers would allow. When people ask why I cut my hair I tell them that I have two girls and I couldn’t take care of three heads of hair. How true that is! But the other side of the story is that I don’t want to take time from their childhood with my hair. I want to splash in the sprinkler with them and not worry about my hair. I want to go to the beach and not worry about my hair. I want to play in the rain and not worry about my hair. I want to be with and play with my children and not worry about my hair.

And so a funny thing happened yesterday when a friend asked me about cutting my girls’ hair. I gasped with horror, of course I haven’t cut their hair! Not only have I not cut their hair yet but I can’t even imagine doing so. I told my friend that I would rather they dye their hair pink than cut their hair. They can cut their hair when they can go to the salon I told her. “So you’ll let them cut their hair when they’re old enough to ask to?” “No” I said, “they’ll cut their hair when they’re old enough to go to the salon and get it cut.” I know that she thought that I was crazy given my short,short hair but that was the honest truth, I can’t imagine cutting my girls’ hair.

I have these very true and valid reasons for cutting and changing my hair over the years. I’ll never return to a relaxer nor will I ever put lye in my daughters’ heads. But cut their hair?! Some things will take more than a generation to change.

And so like most things regarding parenting, I now understand why my mom yelled.

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