Cutting My Hair Taught Me an Emotional Lesson About Self-Love

It was tied to a world and a persona that I no longer cared to associate with.

Woman with natural hair

Byrdie / Nia Beckett

I woke up early one Saturday morning in July 2019, excited yet apprehensive about my upcoming hair appointment. I had booked it six months prior, recognizing that my hair needed a refresh after years of neglect. I finally made it to the salon and nearly fainted as I told my stylist to cut five inches off my collarbone-length hair. As a child, I had a head full of thick, kinky-curly hair, which I admit was greatly underappreciated. That hair had become a mere memory after dedicating all of my prepubescent and young adult years to harshly manipulating it. I applied color treatments and texturizers, which eventually led to very thin, uneven, brittle tresses. Once my college years began, no one could tell me I wasn’t the bomb with my 22 inches of wavy Brazilian extensions. Although this remains one of my favorite styles, it only added to the existing damage. My hair was fried, to put it mildly—I had successfully damaged what was mine to care for. And one day it dawned on me that in an effort to look my best, I had no idea who I truly was. As I accepted this fact, I became determined to live as authentically as possible. This is why cutting my hair sparked an ongoing journey back to self. 

I love and appreciate how effortlessly my family integrated our Jamaican culture into my upbringing. This included flavorful foods, melodious music, dancing, and playful banter. My beautiful culture also placed an emphasis on performance. I was raised to play hard, and work even harder. Growing up, society was nowhere near as accepting of naturally textured hair and self-expression as it is today. This, coupled with being a first-generation American and a natural-born perfectionist, led me to believe that self-sacrifice in an effort to look the part, prefaced reward. Society's written and unwritten "rules" called attention to "undesirable" hairstyles that somehow always managed to target those who looked like me. The world around me seemed to insist that my hair needed to change so I could get ahead in my professional and social life. I’d grown up convinced that my hair in its most organic state was a hindrance if I wanted a life of success. This premise clouded my judgment along with so many others. As the years flew by, my friends and I would enthusiastically chat about what damaging processes we’d put our hair through next to ensure we fit in. It’s interesting to reflect on how, even then, our hair was the foundation of any well-executed outfit. I spent loads of time and money trying to fit a mold because I had no clue that being myself was an option. How I viewed my hair automatically tainted the lens through which I viewed my entire existence and had an impact on my definition of beauty. Why was I willing to put my hair through so much stress only to fit standards that felt so foreign? How had I let societal standards consume and confuse me? 

I spent loads of time and money trying to fit a mold because I had no clue that being myself was an option.

Deciding to cut my hair immediately forced me to get comfortable with discomfort. When I initially left the salon, I felt self-conscious and wanted to explode into tears. I was terrified of what others would think of me and instinctively threw on a baseball cap before racing home to experiment with my new hairdo. Cutting my hair didn't leave me with that liberating feeling I had hoped for. Although my cut left me with ear-length hair, it was still my version of a "big chop" because I was someone who dreaded haircuts altogether. Long hair was treated like a delicacy in the mainstream media that I grew up exposed to, and although damaged, I held on tightly to my length in a subconscious effort to appeal to the times. 

Woman with natural hair

Nia Beckett

One day post-haircut. I want to flag that I manipulated my hair for this style; meaning I twisted, and let it sit overnight in order to dry and hold the curl. At the time my hair was so damaged from heat, that it had no natural curl pattern.

The process of unlearning has been more tedious than I could have anticipated. I assumed that a haircut, a few yoga sessions, better eating habits, and alone time would put me right on track to authenticity. However, I’ve been forced to rework my wiring from the inside out, and my hair has served as a tool in exposing my own biases toward beauty. It was very clear that the relationship I had with my hair was weighing me down. I cut my hair because it was too tied to a world and a persona that I no longer cared to associate with.

I cut my hair because it was too tied to a world and a persona that I no longer cared to associate with.

I encourage anyone considering a big chop or transitioning back to being natural to just go for it. Take the leap and be open to the reality that while your journey may not be beautiful, it will be unique. You may or may not be joy-filled when you leave the salon—I certainly wasn’t. I encourage you to keep going, however, because the journey afterward will be worth it. We’re part of a much-needed shift in how the world thinks of hair in relation to people of color. I’m forever grateful for every tutorial, testimonial, hairdresser, and blogger who shared their knowledge and was forthcoming with their own personal experiences. There’s a community of love and acceptance out there that is centered around hair. 

Video placeholder image

The most important thing I’ve learned is to find a regimen that works for you, and stick to it. My suggestion is to avoid doing your hair when your time is limited or when you’re upset. You’d be surprised how heavy-handed you are when your energy isn’t favorable. Be diligent in carving out time for your haircare. Wash day happens to be one of my favorite ways to practice self-care. I carve out a day to myself, play some music, and devote ample time to tend to my hair. It's also important to remember that a transition doesn't always look like a dramatic cut; many of us with textured hair continue to straighten, color, add extensions, or rock wigs and that's perfectly fine too. Textured hair is diverse, and so are the ways in which it can be styled. The ways we express ourselves through our hair serve as an extension of ourselves. 

Woman with curly hair

Byrdie / Nia Beckett

One year post-haircut. My hair was not manipulated for this style. I simply showered, put gel in and let it do its thing!

I’m in awe of my growth through this process. I’m amazed by all of the knowledge I've gained by testing different products and haircare techniques. My journey has forced me to show myself grace and compassion. My hair teaches me how to remain present and hold my head high, even when I feel vulnerable. My hair has a depth worth exploring and nurturing. The love I have for myself, in so many ways, started with my crown. This journey is filled with emotion and continues to stretch my perspective. It’s softened me. It’s made me curious and open to the experience of others. It’s helped me show myself an unconditional type of love. It is the best decision I’ve made. 

Related Stories