She asked, fingers in my curls.
“Why would you cut it?”
It had been a decade. Ten years.
“Your hair is your beauty,” my gramma said, seeing my long curls for the first time.
For ten years, I wore my hair well past my shoulders. I dragged many a comb through it, grunting at the knotted sections, and mouthing “fuck,” at the familiar sound of plastic snapping.
For ten years, I stacked the compliments (long hair oooh, long hair aaah) atop one another, proof that any beauty I possessed was root-deep.
For ten years, I gawked at women with short hair—friends, lovers, family, strangers. The perfectly shaped mini ringlets, glazed with oil, burnt gold, or holding true to their rooted colour, spinning forth from the scalp like a preened locus.
Yes, it was more than just hair.
Being biracial with the palest of skin, my big hair was an ode to my mother’s blackness. Being bisexual, my long hair was a wall thick and dense, built to keep out crazed homophobes.
Then, I had an excuse.
A short film.
A spoken word short film.
The short film goes something like this… there are 3 women carrying a legacy of suffering: a housewife, a jazz singer, and a narrator. This woman—in her various forms—loses it. She can’t stand the generational pain latched to her skin like a leech.
The Artist is crippled by the marriage between $$ and Art. The Housewife in her genes, the one that really wanted to run the world (and could have) is bitter as hell. The Narrator has jeweled eyes and she wears her purpose around her neck, in a fearless gold loop.
The purpose is a demand for change, for the kind of Art that lives to inspire not enrich, for the kind of world that beckons the ghouls of slavery to obliterate the hatred that remains.
As these interweaving stories are told in rhyming lines, under an entrancing piano loop, I cut my hair off as a symbol, a gesture, a ridding of displaced ancestral meaning—in favor of the narrator’s meaning, her owned truths.
That’s what happens in the short film. That’s why I cut my hair, or so I said.
But what happened to me? Why did I do it really?
I was bare. Cold neck. A chrysalis of insides. My whole face felt different, looked different. And, I wanted shorter still. I wanted the pixie cut, shaved neat and clean, and close to my head.
And, I knew something new.
Something I couldn’t have known, when pulling my head back from brush smacks for fidgeting, while my mum wrangled my hair into tidy braids and smooth buns.
I knew then, staring at my steady lips and dark eyes that nothing had changed. That my hair was never my beauty. Nothing I could see in the mirror would ever be my beauty.
I was never my hair.
With a bob of swirls coated in coconut oil and a freckled frown, I looked closer still, at the weariness in my eyes, at the wobble in my smile.
I was never my hair.
So why did I feel like I’d lost a finger, a limb, some whole and attached piece of me?
I had lost something, you see. I’d lost a decade of hiding. A decade of questioning. A decade of linking cultural heritage to something transient, impermanent, fallible.
A flash of scissors and the tufts of hair left behind had brought back a lifetime.
I relived the pixie cut my mother gave me as punishment. I relived the dragging of an iron over my hair to flatten my coarse, unresponsive mane. I relived the ooohs and aaahs and the ‘Is that your real hair?’ and ‘Can I touch it?’ I relived the bonding – oh, the bonding, with too many women to count (especially the If She Dreams team), over products that worked and didn’t, over the dreaded humidity, how to bottle the ocean air and how to quench my ever-thirsty curls.
The memories livened my face. My fingers felt the new short ends, just below my ear, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d go shorter yet.
“Why? Why would you cut it?”
“Why not?” I thought to myself.