By Celeste Scott. Photography by Deun Ivory.
Before I was born my grandmother prayed that I would come out of the womb with good hair. I know God is real because He answered her prayer.
My hair was long, thick and borderline mixed-girl-curly. When brushed back into a ponytail, my edges were silky smooth. In the sun it shined a deep mahogany color. In elementary school, I was always running around the playground, tugging on a single coil, bragging to the Hispanic girls, “See! My hair is just as long as yours!”
My mother never let me get a perm. She had horror stories from her own childhood that she didn’t want to repeat with me. It wasn’t until third grade on school picture day that she pressed my hair for the first time. When I sat at the kitchen stove the night before picture day, my mother ran the pressing comb ever-so-gently through my virgin tresses. This was my Crown of Glory and she dare not defile it.
My hair went through all the stages of adolescence just like I did. She went through the press and curl every three weeks phase, the confused, new-born natural phase, the braided every night only to be thrown into a messy bun the next morning phase. She went through a lot, those tresses.
And so did the girl who’s head they were attached to. I was exhausted from years of experimentation—of trying to find myself in my hair and always coming up dry. I’d become a slave to the hair my grandma prayed so earnestly for. And I was looking for emancipation.
When I mentioned the possibility of cutting my hair to my mother my senior year of high school she just wasn’t having it. She told me my hair was my Crown of Glory. I couldn’t help but think, a queen is still a queen without her crown.
Months passed and I was still set on cutting it. I told my mother I would pay for the haircut myself if I had to. She still wasn’t in love with the idea, but I set a date anyway. The day came and suddenly I was sitting in a salon chair, staring in the mirror at the “Crown” sitting atop my head. The hair stylist had her manager come out and have a talk with me before she did the big chop, just to make sure this was what I really wanted. I reassured her I wanted nothing more. And with pursued lips she gave the stylist the okay to go in.
I could hear every salt-and-pepper-haired old woman in the shop gasping behind their Ebony magazines as the stylist began snipping away at my precious curls. I bet they all thought I was out of my mind for giving up this beautiful thing so many black women didn’t have. But for me, each and every curl that hit the floor felt like the bricks of Jericho tumbling down.
When the stylist was done, a vibrant black girl with a cute tapered cut stared back at me in the mirror. This cut shaped her face much better. It showed off her strong jawline and fluttering eye lashes. Her face was calm and bright. She looked like she could move mountains and feed nations. This was the fearless girl hiding behind that cloud of curls all those years.
She was beautiful and familiar. She was who I was always meant to be.
For many black women the big chop is a spiritual experience. It signifies the end of assimilation to European beauty standards and the beginning of their natural hair journeys. And while the big chop for me was spiritual, it was so in a different way. For me, the cutting off of my hair signified the dismantling of my preconceived notions about femininity. As each tangled, heat-damaged curl fell from my head, a cornerstone was laid for my own definition of womanhood.
From now on I would choose for myself what it meant to be a woman. I would make my own rules concerning femininity.
And having long hair was not one of them. Fearlessness, unapologetic self-expression and boldness, however, were in this new rule book of mine. And with this new hair length I felt ready to carry all of that out.
Of course, everyone had their piece to say about my new expression of femininity, and the feedback wasn’t always positive. My grandmother, needless to say wasn’t happy about my haircut. Yet against the wishes of others I found myself back in the salon chair, reclaiming my own version of womanhood, every six weeks. Never did I regret cutting all of that “good” hair off. I felt so much like myself with short hair— free and fearless, bold and confident. I no longer needed permission to be me. I’d made that decision for myself, and the freedom that came with it was more precious than a tarnished crown.
Over time my short haircut grew on my grandmother. Towards the end of her life, she became very forgetful. Almost every morning she would look up from her breakfast when I walked into the kitchen and say, “I love your hair!” Though I know the steady repetition of this compliment was more than likely due to her fading memory, it warmed my heart each and every time. These words were so much more than just a compliment. They were the most treasured blessings. The woman who’d prayed for my Crown in the womb finally approved of the new Crown I’d chosen for myself.
My grandmother is with her Maker now. And I’m sure they’re both up in Heaven watching eagerly as my life unfolds before me. I’m sure they share a laugh every once in a while over how ambitious and stubborn I can be. And I’m sure they smile, watching me become who I was always meant to be.
Celeste Scott is a 20-year-old writer based in the LA area. If she's not drowning in homework assignments she's either writing a new piece, drinking coffee or dissecting rap lyrics. She's an avid listener of the BGIO Podcast, and loves reading the BGIO blog for self-care tips. DIY face masks and cooking are her go-to avenues for self-care.