Written by Brittany Clottey
Photographed by Rachel Berkowitz
Hair has always been an important part of my life. In fact, as a woman, my hair has been important in defining my style. Often times, if my hair wasn’t done, neither was my look; if my hair didn’t match my outfit, I had to change. Even in my culture, hair is heavily emphasized. Being a part of both the African and African-American experience, hair contributed to my stance in black womanhood. In all regions across Africa, hair is symbolic for defining your tribe. This trickled into the culture of the U.S. as well, as hair for African-American men and women are a defining factor in expressing and empowering our black ancestry. Although the hair itself is important, perhaps the most important part of the experience is the process.
The long process of intricate styles and perfection that black people exhibit when doing hair works as a great community builder. The process within itself builds friendships and conversations, connecting the black community and strengthening our relationships. As a child, this heightened experience and relationship that I developed over hair allowed me to engage in these rituals of community building, and intricate styles, obsessively. These styles, which were sometimes too tight and too heavy, contributed to the stress affecting my strands. Not only that, but the pressures of the European beauty standard of straight hair provoked both me and many black women to engage in chemical processes to “relax” or straighten our hair, making it more manageable and easier to take care of. It took awhile for me to figure out what my hair was becoming, and I was glad to know that I wasn't alone. Following the trend of the Natural Hair Movement, which empowers women to embrace their natural textures as well as find safe ways to do these intricate cornrows and braids, I decided to chop all of my hair off... well, more like three times.
The first time a took a break from these braids and weaves and decided to cut my hair, I’m not going to lie, I felt pretty naked and cold. I didn’t have anything to shape the outline of my face, and the silhouette of my facial features existed as it was, nothing more, nothing less. People tend to forget that hair plays a huge role in defining our facial features. That’s why people ask questions like “Would bangs suit me?”, or “Should I try going short? Do you think it’ll compliment my round features?” Hair plays a big role in our looks, and are often one of the first things people notice when they see you. Changing your hair can give others a chance to see more or less of your features.
When I shaved my head, this became the second time I “big chopped” (a term used in the black natural hair community for cutting off large amounts of you hair for regrowth). I was excited for this new journey. When I saw my face for the first time without hair, I was startled. My whole life I lived behind my hair. I allowed my hair to define my face, rather than my features existing on its own. Growing up with unique features, I felt like the best thing I could do was hide be behind my hair and allow that to make me feel beautiful. Once it was all gone, however, I didn't have anything to hide behind.
This was the turning point for me. Seeing my face exist for what is was taught me a lot about how my face was structured. Looking into the mirror everyday, I saw something different every time. I discovered and analyzed my facial features that I didn't even know were explainable. I fell in love with my jawline, which I used to hate and try to hide, and I grew a loving relationship with my cheeks as well. Cutting my hair felt like removing a mask. I could no longer hide because nothing was there to protect my true identity. I was forced to study my body on a deeper level, and I am forever grateful.
As my hair started to grow back, cutting my hair became an addiction. I cut it once more, because I fell in love with my face. I didn't care about the standards of beauty placed before me, I felt free, and I was forced to be. I didn’t realize how versatile you can be with short hair, all while accentuating the natural beauty in what you already have. From this experience, I advise everyone to shave their head at least once in their life. This revolutionary statement forces you to fall in love with yourself, because nothing is there to conceal you.