Liquid beads collected along my forehead, but I was unable to tell if it was from my soaked hair or heightened nerves. As my thoughts raced a mile a minute, my heart violently pounded as if making a plea to escape my chest. Is it too late to go back? My thoughts could not quite reach my lips when I began to hear shears opening. In one swift movement, I felt a slight tug at my scalp, heard a quick snip, and watched as limp strands of processed ends littered the floor. The chop had begun, and with it, an awakening. There was no going back.
Hair perms function to break and reform the cross-linking bonds of the hair structure, but in doing so, they broke and reformed me. I did not know it then, but after receiving my first hair relaxer at only eight years old, I began to develop an inferiority complex. Growing up, I never thought anything of it. Having a perm was a casual affair every Black girl partook in—a rite of passage. For much of the Black American experience, to have straight hair meant to look “presentable,” so no one I knew ever questioned it.
With my hair treatment came praise from peers—and also judgment. I felt out of place. Kids at school treated me differently, as if my hair was an all-access pass. Others taunted me, harassing me with questions and making fun of my hair, thinned by the chemicals, pointedly stating that my shiny straight hairdo was only an illusion. Perms, nonetheless, made me feel like I gained status: finally, the Black girls in the daytime sitcoms looked like me. I figured if they were on TV, they must be someone important, so I, in turn, began to feel like someone important.
But why not before? Like the kids who taunted me, I now was bubbling with questions. Why was I sitting, waiting for chemicals to burn my head to look “presentable”? Why was I suddenly the ‘it-girl’? Why was natural hair “not for everyone” when it grew out of a body all my own? These microaggressions slowly became embedded into my subconscious and I grew tired of it all: tired of envying the Barbies I played with, tired of waiting for the burn of the straightening cream, tired of hanging my head in shame when crimps reappeared three weeks post-perm. I decided it was time to change the narrative.
The handheld mirror trembled in my hands as I raised it to meet my face. Slack-jawed in awe, I stared back at the friendly stranger with coils emerging from her scalp. Soft, warm tears escaped my eyes, tickling my cheeks as I grinned at her, marveling at the curl pattern gifted by her ancestors.
Waking up now and running my hands through kinks, crimps, and curls is the most liberating sensation. Society told me to be ashamed, but instead I have learned to celebrate this part of me. The big chop was more than a moment—it was a movement. This time, kids at school approached me with only positive remarks; two of them were so inspired by my journey, they decided to embark on similar ones of their own.
People misunderstand why hair is a large topic of discussion among the Black community. The conversation stretches far beyond hairstyles. It represents a history of conditioning, and is the catalyst for a cyclical pattern of self-deprecation. For me, cutting my hair was a way of breaking that cycle.
I learned my worth is not defined by the grade of my hair, but rather by my character, ambition, and resilience. As a result of my experiences, I have made it a point to embolden others to embrace themselves in their many forms. My journey is far from its conclusion, but like my hair, I will continue to change, to adapt, and to grow unapologetically.
I would love to hear about your hair journey if you have one. Share with the hashtag #KaiyasKorner and let's talk about it! Sending you and your loved ones healing energy.
Peace & Blessings,
Kaiya Nyasha (@kaiyanyasha)