Half Bald and Happy: I Cut Off Half My Hair and I've Never Been Happier
I kept waiting for regret or doubt to strike while I was sitting in the barber’s chair last Saturday, but it never came. In fact, out of the six people in the barbershop—three barbers, two customers and my distraught boyfriend—I was the only person sure about having half my hair shaved off. I’d parted it out myself, deciding exactly how much hair I was ready to let go of. I sat there looking like Bobo the clown with a top knot perched high on my head and the rest of my kinks fanned out around my face.
“Are you sure you want to do this?! You have so much hair! You know how many black girls would kill for this hair?!” Those were the barber’s words. But those were words I was prepared to hear from just about everyone the minute I decided to go through with this cut. I’ve been natural for 11 years. I’ve had my fair share of women—black, white and in between—to tell me how much they liked my hair. I’ve had black girls tell me they wished they had an afro like mine. I’ve had perfect strangers approach me with their hands outstretched to root around in my scalp. I’ve had black men tell me how much they love that I have natural hair and call me everything from empress to African Queen. I know precisely how big of a deal my hair is (I even wrote about it here).
And I became obsessed with it. Maintaining my hair and making it look amazing became as much about keeping those people impressed as it was about liking it myself. I came to love and expect compliments every time I sported a wash-and-go or twist out or bantu knot out. I basked in the attention that came with being a natural-haired black woman with a great big halo of hair. It was more than a point of pride. It was part of how I identified myself.
The problem was my hair had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on. Out on the streets in the face of all those kind words and admiring glances, she was my beloved. But on those late nights when my fingers were cramping from putting in hundreds of twists or those long days when I had to sit on the floor of my tub detangling my hair section by section, crying into my conditioner, I hated every strand. My hair was overwhelming me. It was driving me crazy. I wanted to yank it out at the root and be done with it. In fact, the night before I cut it all off, I’d spent two and a half hours just washing and detangling.
I’d been contemplating cutting my hair for several years, but never did. I had many reasons (a big one being a fear of looking awful with short hair) but one of them was the fact that I was “the girl with the afro” and couldn’t be that girl if I didn’t have the fro. I was worried that people would criticize me for cutting it, that they would be disappointed. I was scared of what it would be like to not be interesting because of my hair. I was keeping my hair, not because I wanted to, but because I was scared of how I’d be perceived if I didn’t.
Stupid right. Yes, very stupid. That Friday evening as my scalp burned and my arms ached, I just got too fed up to care. I wanted to cut my hair and I was going to cut my hair. And less than 24 hours later, there I was in the barber’s chair with half of my woolly tresses lying on the floor beneath me. Two days later, I was half bald and what remained on my head was magenta. It’s the most dramatic thing I’ve ever done to my hair (short of cutting it down to an inch at 14) and I am absolutely in love with it.
And you know what? I haven’t gotten one single negative response. I’ve had so many people tell me they love it and that it suits me. The worst I’ve been told is that I’ll miss my hair, which I can hardly call negative since it’s probably true. But the point is, the thing I’ve been holding onto and pinning my identity to for all these years really didn’t matter at all. I didn’t become less myself when I cut my hair. In fact, I became more myself when I decided to do what I wanted, even if it meant making a dramatic change.
If you’re holding on to or staying away from something because you’re afraid the change will shatter your identity, make the leap anyway. Trust me, it’s the most liberating thing you’ll ever do. Because the only things that define you are the things you choose to include in your definition. And that definition is subject to change. And that’s ok. Go ahead and be you, even if that means being a different you than you were yesterday. Embrace that growth.
Last week, I was the girl with the afro. Now I’m the girl with the magenta undercut. Who knows who I’ll be next week? No matter what I do, I’ll still be me in all my glory and that’s all that matters.