Excerpts from my memoir: Hair, part 3

A three part series where I share excerpts from my memoir titled Unicorns are pretty but they also bite. This series will cover my relationship with my hair because black hair is often talked about and criticized.

The slow path to reclaiming my hair: Haircuts

Fast forwarding about six years, I’m 17, overweight, nerdy, and still very quiet.  Also, I still didn’t know what to do with my hair.  What I did know is that I couldn’t cut it.  That was unspeakable.  Instead, I wore my hair in a pony tail.  All day. Every day.  I’m a ridiculously observant person so it didn’t take too long for me to notice that my hair was damaged, badly.  My hair was breaking at the point where I put my scrunchie.  After talking to my friends and various people, I realized I needed to get a haircut.  Insert dun-Dun-DUN clip (Oh this is a book and I can’t do that? Oops)

My mom wasn’t exactly distraught but she wasn’t happy either at the idea of me cutting my beautiful hair.  I opted to go to a local barbershop because a.) I was paying for it myself and b.) I didn’t want to spend hours to get it done.  So my mom took me to Sam’s Barbershop.  

All those ideas you have about an old-school barbershop run by a wise, endearing older black man were rolled up into Sam’s.  Sam was tall (not taller than Benny), light skin with caramel colored skin, a small salt-n-pepper frow.  Sam was funny but in a straight man kind of way.  He could through a clever one-liner with the best of them.  He was the only barber in a two-sitter salon.  He had snack machine and he sold soft drinks out of a cooler.  But, the piece de resistance was he owned a table top Pac Man.  This was heads and shoulders better than anything Benny offered!

The most important thing about Sam was that he had no great love or admiration of hair.  He wasn’t a stylist.  He was a barber.  He didn’t bat an eye when I sat down in his chair.  I look my hair out of my pony tell and told him exactly where I wanted him to cut.  

“Even it out?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Even it out.” Fifteen minutes later, my hair was 4 inches shoulder and barely tickled my chin.  

Everyone’s reaction to my drastic hair cut was varying shades of disapproval.  What had I done? My hair was so long and pretty?  Admittedly, it took me a couple of days to grapple with the fact I had done it.  For the first time, in my entire life, my hair was short and I made the decision to do it.  After all, I was starting to realize.  It’s just hair.

 

Excerpts from my memoir: Hair, part 1

A three part series where I share excerpts from my memoir titled Unicorns are pretty but they also bite. This series will cover my relationship with my hair because black hair is often talked about and criticized.

My Hair

You’re probably thinking, ‘why is this beautiful, magical unicorn of a woman devoting an entire chapter about hair?’ To that I say, why thank you kind sir and/or madam.  There really is a reason.  My hair has been and continues to be one of my crowning achievements (I mean, look at it!), bane of my existence, and an interesting cross-section of my gender/race.  Whoa, didn’t see that last one coming did you?

I'm about 4 or 5 years old in this photo. This was before I entered kindergarten.

I'm about 4 or 5 years old in this photo. This was before I entered kindergarten.

Since I was a babe, my hair was considered ‘good hair.’  That mythical, illusory definition within the black community of grade-A quality hair.  What is good hair?  I don’t really know.  All I do know is what my hair is.  On the dry-to-moisturized spectrum, it tended toward pretty well-hydrated.  Also, I could grow it fairly long.  

My hair could grow as long as bra-strap level.  And, before you ask, no I did not take a picture of it because a.) this pre-dated the selfie craze and b.) I’m not big on having my pictures taken.  Shocking I know because have you seen me?! In general I rocked my (relaxed) hair about midway between the shoulder and arm-pit length.

My relaxed hair. This was taken in San Francisco around 2009 or 2010. At this point, I embraced a shorter hair cut.

My relaxed hair. This was taken in San Francisco around 2009 or 2010. At this point, I embraced a shorter hair cut.

So, from the womb, I was imbued with this idea that I had ‘good hair.’ It was a source of envy.  A source of pride (especially in the case of my mother) that I had it.  It was like opening day at the zoo and I was the chief animal on display.  To be cooed over.  To be petted.

Although my lovely tresses rested on my head, I got the strong sense (and still do) that my hair is not my own, to do whatever I want to do with it.

No one ever stopped to consider the girl attached to the hair.  But plenty of people were quick to tell me what I should (and shouldn’t) do with my hair.