One day when I was really young, at some point of early primary school age, my mum, what would seem very randomly, just told me that I was going to get a haircut and took me for a trip to the barbers (emphasis on BARBERS not hairdressers)…
I grew up in Stamford Hill, Hackney and this barber shop (I wonder if it is still there) was located on the high street of neighbouring Stoke Newington;
It is so funny how certain things in life you just do not forget because although I am 32 + 51 days old today, that walk to the barber shop and the walk back as a small child, I remember it like I remember what I just had for breakfast; it’s like a movie in my head I can play any time.
I remember that the barber shop was packed and we were waiting in line on the chairs arranged against the wall near the entrance and *laugh out loud* I remember that there was actually a female hairdresser next door. I knew this because, I’m not sure if while waiting, my mum had second thoughts or if she just could not be bothered to continue waiting our turn any longer but at some point she leaned over to me in my chair and discreetly put the idea out there that maybe we should go to the hairdressers instead. Why we did not go there initially I do not know.
So anyways, eventually I found myself in the barber chair; I don’t remember whether I climbed into it or was carried or got in by levitating; who cares, minor details, all I know is that I was in the hot seat, protective black drape around by body from the neck; chair pumped up to its highest position, clippers in hand of Mr uncle barber man; it was about to happen; “the big chop” and the mad thing is, I really did not truly get it at the time, at this point it was not that deep; it was as though I was in a trance; I think a part of me was just very intrigued as this was a new experience for me; I was quietly watching it happen.
So anyways, the man was shaving my hair off…
Sorry, I needed a moment of silence there, could it be that I am still traumatised…hmm…
Any who, my mum was standing by us the whole time, watching every move and she started to tell the man how it should and should not be done; there was a lot of hand gestures in her directions and after some time there became a bit of tension and I vividly remember that the man kind of lost his patience or something and with his west Indian/Caribbean accent; a very slightly raised voice was like; that is why I am not scrapping it off; because she’s a girl…
He said more, but I specifically remember that part.
Anyway, we got done with it at some point and me and my mum left and walked back to the car.
I cannot say for certain how I felt at that point, but it is not like I could just stick the hair back on if I did not like it (is it?). Regardless of whatever I thought, there I was, a little girl with a “boys” haircut.
I doubt my mum knew it at the time and I definitely did not know it, but at that moment, me getting my hair shaved off was a significant event in my life. A young black female, in a western world in the early 90s, still in the INFANTS of primary school; with low cut afro hair, that frankly, I did not even know how to maintain.
Being teased about my short, tough, picky hair became an everyday occurrence, a fixed part of my life, standard. Even my own “friends” mostly boys but also girls cussed me regularly. I hated my hair and I wished my hair was different and I thought about it most of the time. The insults could happen at any time and in any scenario; *LOL* it even happened at times, on arrival to school as soon as I walked through the gates to join my friends in the playground before the bell had even rang for school; people would go in, mate; we’re talking about the days when people still use to say ignorant things like “African boo-boo”. People were not purposely trying to be wicked, they were just being children; but every casual insult was like a sharp stab; quick but cut deeply.
Obviously, one had to develop thick skin and learn quick how to ACT unaffected and cuss back. As the saying goes; what does not kill you will make you stronger.
THE BIG CHOP 2
I guess my hair (very slowly, day by day, inch by inch, eventually, after forever *lol*) grew back (a little) but that was not the end of it at all, because the mistake of putting relaxer/perm in it was made and neither my mum or me knew how to properly maintain the natural or the chemical treated hair so it just broke off anyway. Then one Sunday I felt lucky because I was not forced to go to church like my brothers and was instead left at home with my dad so I could take out all of my extensions; but when my dad woke up out of bed to find me sitting watching TV and loosening my plaits, he began his usual morning routine, silently watching me until all the braids were out before he suddenly said (African accent) right let me cut this hair for you. I was in hell, I wailed and protested as much as I could but he made me take a look in the mirror at myself and how damaged my hair had become and the truth is my hair was just missing; it already looked half shaved with patches everywhere especially at the back; I had no argument really. In the end, I just sat there on a stall in the bathroom and heard that buzzing of the clippers and watched the very little hair that I had, fall down to the ground all around me like black snow, crying throughout.
I AM BEAUTIFUL
However, something different happened this time, while my dad was cutting the hair off he was going on and on about how I need to just leave my hair alone and just let is grow and not put any chemicals in it. On and on and on… And on. He basically told me that I should start over, cut it then just wash, cream and comb it every day and assured me that if I just stuck to that it would grow back and be nice and be long. I just wanted to punch his face in, not literally, because I am not a violent person but I just hated that he had put me back in this position and I was anticipating the reaction that I was going to get in school. I really felt that my life was in hell and I wished that I had gone to church *LOL*.
After it was done and I once again had a “boys” haircut, my dad washed it for me with his Tgel shampoo; I remember that it was Tgel because I never use to use it. Afterwards he complimented me and took me to the mirror and said see look, is this not better?
Still very upset, I took a look at myself…
I was shocked, my hair did look better… I looked better… I looked nice…
I looked at my face and I actually felt that I looked really pretty. I was actually feeling myself.
Not like to say that I suddenly had a big ego and thought that I was all that but I kept revisiting the mirror and I just felt that I looked really pretty, I genuinely liked what I saw, I just all of a sudden had a feeling from within me that I was beautiful.
My mum and brothers came home from church and my mum was like “yode, yode…”, her nick name for my dad who’s name is kayode, “I knew you were going to do this” etc.
*eyes narrow* well mum, if u knew… *raised eyebrow*
Anyway, later on, I had a friend from school’s party to go to and instead of cancelling because I felt ugly, I was feeling good and put on my party outfit and remember that I walked there on my own because I was old enough and her house was only down the road and as I walked down the street to the party in spring with the sun shining on my face, I even kept looking at my reflection in the shop windows, and when I got to the party, the first thing the celebrant and the people there did was talk about my hair cut and how much it suited me.
Two times, two pivotal moments, two very different outcomes.
I have since then had a different mentality about my hair and my beauty and as I have grown I have learned, sometimes painfully (from relaxer burns), how I have to nurture my hair and I am still learning. There was a time when I hated my hair so affectively; I hated myself because my hair is a part of who I AM. Now, I genuinely love my hair, when it is short or when it is long, it is just nice in so many ways and I am teaching my daughter that her hair is beautiful as well and will encourage her to let it be.
I have since, on my own accord, shaved my hair off at least 3 times; I even did it in front of the nation on TV on ‘The Family’ in 2010 and that was not the last time. Some people like it and some people do not; however; I like it. I always feel so fresh and so clean and also liberated after it is done.
I believe that as women we need to stay educated about our hair/ourselves and be able to pass this down to our daughters and our sisters
Also, I think fathers should tell their daughters that they are beautiful every day because they will believe it.
Love Julez aka a Young Black Female x