I’ve always had long hair. Pretty hair. Curly hair. Straight, if I wanted. And the good straight.
My curly straight good long hair made me pretty. And that mattered, until the day I woke up and decided pretty was not the point for me. Pretty was not what woke me up, excited in the morning. Pretty was not up for constant interrogation, and pretty was not my value. My college major is not Pretty, and pretty did not make me friends.
So I decided to cut my hair. Get rid of my pretty.
Only the problem was while I was no longer concerned with my pretty, my mother very much was. Pretty was the greatest gift she gave me, pretty was going to get me a husband, and my pretty would be inherited by our daughter.
My mother did not know that she raised me better than to care about my pretty.
I realized I’d strived to be pretty for her. She did not care that I brought home amazing grades, or that I was home before 9pm every night, or that all my time was spent working or volunteering. What mattered that I was slender, willowy, with hair that blew in the wind. That satisfied her. It didn’t satisfy me.
And even though what I did and how I did didn’t define my value, they sure as hell had more value than a pile of hair.
My decision to cut my hair was a decision to get rid of my value. A god-given value, even, because how lucky was I to be an African girl with “nice” hair?!
Call me an idealist, because I thought to myself “Yes, Mama will hate your hair. Yes, Mama will be angry. Yes, Mama will get over it because it’s just hair.”
As a black girl, I should’ve known better than to think “It’s just hair.”
She didn’t even see it the first time she saw it. It was half hidden, and I just said, “Mama, I cut my hair.”
After seeing the look in her eye, I’d believed I’d committed the most grave of sins. She went on about how I don’t listen, about how I’m out of control and rebelling, and how I don’t love my mother.
Then it clicked: beauty and obedience are inextricably linked, particularly for my mother, and particularly for her youngest and unmarried (with no indications of that changing) daughter.
Pret-ty. I spit that word out in two syllables, because it never seemed to fit or to matter. I can’t think of a word uglier than pret-ty.
I say pret-ty the same way my mother says rebellious. Full of hatred, because I’m afraid to lose my selfhood in anyone else’s perception of me, and because she’s afraid to be the mother of someone who creates a selfhood outside of her world, not concerned with obedience in any of the forms it takes.
I am made of the same stuff as the galaxies. I uncover something new about the world in every day. I am an inspiration, I am inspired, and I refuse to be obedient. I am not here to mold myself in the image of my mother, or anyone. I will not be obedient so I can be pret-ty.
The other day, my mother told me she couldn’t stand to look at me anymore. I have become the personification of someone who acts outside religious, cultural, social, and gendered roles. I have become the person I should have been my entire life. And this feeling of coming into one’s selfhood is materialized in a myriad of ways. For me, that meant the beginning of a process of de-emphasizing on my appearance with a simple haircut.
If that means I am a cultural disappointment, fine. If that means I have disappointed my religion, cool. If it means my family can no longer stand the sight of me and my ugly haircut, alright.
I need none of that. It will be swept up along with the foot of dead, pointless, and useless hair that is no longer weighing me down.