I still remember the day I had my Big Chop. I had just finished my freshmen year of college. A few hours after turning in my last final I was sitting in an old wooden chair at a friend’s house, the pair of scissors in her hand hovering above my head as she prepared to make the first cut. Flash forward five years to today and I am still navigating this natural hair journey while learning some unexpected life lessons along the way.
Lesson #1: You can never please everyone.
Immediately after my Big Chop, I felt like a completely new person. Liberation is the best word to describe the feeling.
In the inches of chemically straighten hair that lay in a pile at my feet were years of internalized insecurities and culturally accepted standards of beauty. In my uncontainable excitement, I believed that those around me would share the same sentiment, but that was not the case. My parents thought that my drastic change of hairstyle was a phase that would eventually pass, a result of freshman-year stress and a much-needed catharsis. Some of my friends loved it while other people I knew simply gave me strange looks as I passed them on campus. Ultimately, I needed to decide what I valued more, the opinions of others or my own happiness.
Lesson #2: You will never be able to love yourself until you embrace who you really are.
Even after I had gathered enough courage and finally chopped off my relaxed hair I had to learn to deal with the unchartered territory that was my natural curls. I would open magazines for quick tips, tricks, and how-to’s, only to find that virtually nothing within the glossy pages applied to me. Curly, coily, wavy, kinky, spirals. Black hair is a spectrum of textures, lengths, and curl patterns that I was not seeing represented in the media I was surrounded by. I soon realized I needed to create my own standard of beauty and stop trying to squeeze myself into a box that was not meant for me. In life, it can be so easy to try to follow the crowd and try to fit into the mold, but our individuality is what makes us interesting. Embracing your uniqueness is the first step to loving your authentic self!
Lesson #3: If you don’t set boundaries, other people will set them for you.
“Can I touch your hair?”
I cannot even begin to count the number of times that I have been asked this question. Typically, the person’s lips have yet to finish forming the question before their hand is halfway in route to my scalp, already invading my personal space without bothering to wait for me to respond. It was as though my new haircut was all I needed to qualify as a mobile petting zoo, open to the public for no charge. I know this question usually stems from pure curiosity and it may seem like a simple example. However, one thing that is true about life is the fact that how we let people treat us says a lot about how we feel about ourselves. We must each determine our tolerance threshold in our personal, public, and professional lives. Boundaries are the means by which we keep our sanity.
Lesson #4: You will never be able to hide from yourself.
I cannot say that I always love my hair. There have been nights when I have wanted to cut all of it off so that I do not have to deal with it. There have been moments when I love it and cannot imagine life without it. The truth is that no matter what insecurities and doubts we wrestle with when we are alone, we have been conditioned by society to always “be okay”. We often put up perfectly painted facades smiling as though we have our life together and woke up with our eyeliner perfectly placed and flawless. But the same way that my hair will never be able to grow without its coils, you will never be able to become the best version of yourself without first acknowledging your flaws and not-so-perfect parts. In the moments when you are alone with yourself, you have to be willing to face your true self.
No matter what the doubts we internalize they all boil down to the same question – “Am I enough?”.
Lesson # 5: Enjoy the ride.
Some things are simply out of our control. There are days when I wake up and my hair does exactly what I want it to – curling the way I like it to and staying perfectly in place for the entire day. There are other days when my hair simply refuses to cooperate, wayward spirals springing out of place and the manifestation of an uncontrollable frizz that causes me nothing but frustration. With hair and in life you cannot plan everything. There are days when you will wake up and everything goes smoothly, like when your professor gives the class an extension on a paper without being asked or you were able to get things done on your to-do list. There are other days when nothing seems to go according to plan – you miss your train, or you forgot your umbrella when you rushed out the door to work. But remember: the not-so-good days will make you cherish the great days. With the right perspective and a grateful attitude, you will see the world from an entirely different point of view.
I have come to cherish my natural hair as an irreplaceable dimension of my identity. Every kinky coil and every beautifully frustrating strand is a representation of who I am and my personal story. As with any other journey, the experience is made memorable by the lessons learned along the way. I am hoping that the lessons I learn in the future will be just a life-changing as those that lay behind me.
(Photo credit: Pic was taken by photographer @cam.st.clair. Click HERE to head over to her Instagram page and check out her gorgeous images!)