The Big Chop

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by Palesa Kekana

There is a prevalent link between long hair and femininity in society. From a young age, women are conditioned to subscribe to beauty standards which dictate long and silky-straight hair as the pinnacle of beauty. It is the reason the media floods black women with relaxer advertisements, encouraging us to chemically straighten our hair, despite its potential dangers. Hence, hair is a serious issue in the lives of black women and this goes far beyond aesthetics. Society has found a way to determine our socioeconomic status, politics and culture by the way in which we choose to wear our hair.

 

The big chop may prove to be more difficult than meets the eye

Earlier this year I expressed the urge to cut my hair to both friends and family. I did not opt for the big chop because my hair was damaged nor was I going through a life turmoil which required dramatic change. I had just reached a point where I felt like a prisoner to my hair because of how time consuming the maintenance had become. I grew tired of having to keep it moisturised, detangling the hair and spending hours at salons to braid it.

When I expressed my decision to friends and family to go for the big chop, I was met with mixed responses which included, “Do it”, “Are you going to wear the short hair out in public”, “Are you completely sure” etc. I realised that all those who were sceptical about the decision to cut my hair, like myself, were also conditioned to society’s limiting beauty standards for black women. I had what was described as ‘good hair’. It was thick and it grew healthily and quickly. So, it was unthinkable to some as to why I would consider chopping it all off. It made me quite nervous to actually go through with the decision. I became anxious about whether I would still feel beautiful and how I would be viewed by others.

This brought about a very important conversation about what it means to have short hair and whether most black women feel the need to reemphasize their femininity after the big chop. I spoke to three other black women and found out their thoughts about what the big chop has meant for them.

Tumi Mohapi did the big chop and she mentions how she no longer must spend so much money on getting her hair done monthly. Tumi adds, “a quick haircut every couple of weeks beats having to sit on a chair for hours getting my hair braided. Getting ready in the morning is also super quick.” When asked about whether the big chop has affected her femininity, Tumi explained how she initially felt the need to wear a face full of makeup right after her big chop. She also mentions, “I was nervous about looking too plain or being teased about looking like a boy; the way kids used to tease me when I was little. But a year later after the chop, I no longer feel the pressure. I’ve gotten more compliments with this short hair than any other look.”

The big chop means convenience and a lot of time saved on one’s schedule. Ayanda Mazibuko, who enjoys trying out different hairstyles and exploring colour, comments, “the first time I cut my hair, it meant defying what I knew to be a normalised standard of beauty. It meant freedom. It also means cheaper hair treatment and less maintenance. This means more time and energy to do other things”. Ayanda adds that her big chop has not in any way impacted on her femininity but that it has “only affected others’ perception of me”

Personally, cutting all my hair off became symbolic of my agency. It has meant being a lot more comfortable in my skin and suddenly being aware of my pronounced facial features. I own a few wigs which I sometimes opt for as opposed to wearing my short hair out in public on some days. My decision to do so is not reflective of any form of internalised hatred but once again an example of the agency we possess to present ourselves in ways we find suitable.

For Amahle Mkhize, cutting her hair was a means to transition from relaxed to natural hair. “I’ve never been natural, so this decision was to become more accepting of my natural hair. It’s important for me to learn how to care for my crown and really take time to learn how it grows and how to style it. It’s very different to the long, relaxed hair I’m used to but I’m having a lot of fun growing it”. Amahle mentions that her big chop has impacted her femininity. “I haven’t worn my afro out in public. My perceptions of femininity were tied very closely to long processed hair. It’s very new to me and I must get used to it. I tend to accessorize more with short hair but I actually wear less makeup with my afro.”

The need to compensate straight after the big chop is a common feeling amongst many women, including myself. However, I do think that our tendency to opt for elaborate earrings and make-up straight after the big chop is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows us to explore our own style more in the process. We learn to become confident and grow comfortable in our own skin.

Scrutiny on our hair has become rather exhausting. Having each hair-do we choose dissected and questioned is burdensome. I did not think that cutting off my hair would liberate me this much. The big chop has been an exciting moment for me in my journey of self-love.

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