About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hair Length: Who Does it Hurt?

"Every time a woman cuts off her hair, somewhere a little black girl cries!" 
-The Game's Tasha Mack

Tasha Mack uttered these lines when Melanie spontaneously chopped off some of her famously long hair. I grew up with a similar sentiment, in that I was threatened by friends and several family members throughout the years regarding my hair: "I'll beat you if you ever cut your hair!" That kinda thing. Of course, I never took these threats seriously, but they were meant to communicate that my long, "good" hair was important to people other than myself. That hair apparently meant something, and I dared not touch it.

Well, on November 1, I did touch it, after thinking about it for a long time. The experience brought those old threats back to mind and made me reflect on the various do's and don't's surrounding black women's hair. If I had long hair, I owed it to other people to maintain that length, but it only reinforces--in my humble opinion--more problematic standards of beauty that many black women have internalized: this idea that we have to strive for straight hair or long hair. I'm just going with healthy hair.

While I don't completely agree with the idea that "I am not my hair," I do believe that cutting my hair doesn't harm me or anyone else. It was, in fact, a liberating (if slightly scary) experience. More importantly, it was my experience to have, and I captured pictorial evidence of the whole thing! 

Freshly shampooed and conditioned hair

The actual length of my hair--some serious shrinkage!

It's about to go down.

First cut, off the top. I cannot lie, the result (considering shrinkage)
was shorter than I intended. My heart picked up pace at this point!

All the cut-off hair...that's a lot of hair.

The finished look

Back view of the finished cut

Conditioner rinsed out and leave-in applied, I headed out for the day
with the least amount of hair I've ever had in my life. I'm liking it!


  1. Thats bold and beautiful!!!!

  2. I think all women, to some extent, get some strain of "nooooo!" attitude if our hair is long and beautiful and healthy- as yours is(was). ;) But given the problematic nature of sustaining healthy hair for many black women (what I've learned from you!), I can understand how hair length becomes a kind of community concern. Regardless, you did what's right for YOU, and it looks beautiful, fresh, and youthful. Nice job, my friend! <3

  3. Hey Mo, it's Jessica! Love the new cut! You are beautiful as always. :-)

    I've worn my hair long for many years, because I just like it long and it's easier to manage this way. (My hair is super straight, so it's easiest to just let it be and just trim it every now and then.)

    And you know, now that you mention it, I've often gotten "please don't ever cut your hair" comments over the years, sometimes from surprising sources, and not even prompted by me wanting to cut it, just out of the blue. It usually goes something like this:

    Me: Hey, have you heard anything about the new movie Tom Hardy is working on?
    Other Person: [Pause. Head tilt, looking at me.] Please don't ever cut your hair!

    These random, unprompted requests often come from men, sometimes men who know me well and sometimes men who are just casual acquaintances. In many cases I know the guy has a preference for longer hair on women. (e.g., "I know a lot of gorgeous women with short hair, but I just prefer longer hair on women because I find it more feminine/sexier," etc., etc.) So it's tempting to just see it as a male attitude toward what constitutes female beauty, femininity, etc.

    But I've gotten these comments from women too, though usually only from women who know me well (my sisters, close girlfriends, but interestingly enough, never from my mother). I get the impression that for some people, my long hair is very strongly tied to my identity. The few times I've cut it close to shoulder length, some people in my life (men and women) actually seemed a little pained by the change.

    Hmmm, and now I'm wondering if men have the same identity issues with their hair. My husband chooses to shave his completely bald rather than be "balding" because totally bald feels more masculine. He had no hair when I first met him, so I don't usually think anything of it, but now I wonder how other people felt when he first started shaving it all off. Did they have to adjust to the new look? Did it change their perception of him?

    As always, you leave me with lots of interesting food for thought!

  4. Thank you for your comments, ladies! I definitely think there is a femininity link to long hair in general. In my research on black women's hair during the Black Power era, I found that afros challenged both racialized and gendered notions about beauty. For women with kinky hair to wear it that way, then, meant challenging the idea that their hair had to look like "white women's hair" and like "women's hair" in general.

    This makes me think about the infamous makeover episodes on America's Next Top Model. Which girls break down like the world just ended? The ones who get haircuts, because they're afraid they'll look like boys or that their boyfriends will find them masculine.

    Jessica, I've found that I've gotten these threats about my hair from many more women (close friends and relatives) than men. And they would come from women who didn't have long hair. The stunned, disappointed reactions to the cut also came from women, all of whom have cut their hair before. I wonder if it goes back to this idea of owing those who "don't have it." I don't know...

  5. So proud of you, Mo. Seriously. I think your hair is gorgeous (can't wait to see it in person, although I loved seeing it in action the other night when we chatted!), but here's what I think. You are on to something when you say that we are our hair. So much of the snap judgments others make about us are based on our appearances, and hair is obviously an off-shoot of that appearance. When I get my hair cut (if I can afford it...), I do it the way someone would groom a dog. Haircuts are summertime events for me because of the weight and heft of the curls. And I have certainly faced criticism for cutting my hair short, too--although, strangely (or maybe not so?), I seem to receive far less criticism if the haircut occurs in the summer rather than the winter. Perhaps those who look at me think, "Well, naturally she would want to get rid of some of the bulk because it is so hot out." I don't know. Maybe I look more summer-y with shorter hair? Who knows? They don't share the motivations behind their judgments with me...then again, I've never thought to ask.

    Anyway, what I'm thinking is this. We are socialized to judge appearances. It is not necessarily an "unnatural" thing (if we can observe someone's appearance and assess whether or not they could be a threat, then we might be protecting ourselves). But it is problematic. I think particularly in this society (where we are no longer designated as hunters or gatherers), we can expect some amount of social evolution. What does this have to do with hair? Well, I think something of our personalities, our judgments about ourselves (or at least others' perceived judgments of our self-judgments), and our perceptions of our social "place" could be evidenced by the way we wear our hair. When I wear a ponytail without styling my hair, what am I presenting to the world? Maybe I'm on my way to the gym. Or maybe it's hot outside. Maybe I'm an exhausted grad student/new mother who didn't have time to shower. Maybe I'm uncomfortable with the length of my hair and cannot style it any more.

    I think the possibilities are endless, and this comment is already getting a bit long. My thesis is this: our hair matters to those around us because it offers them an ability to identify and categorize us in some way. Others may feel a sort of ownership over our appearance because they have successfully identified us one way or another. They may feel usurped or cheated when we take matters into our own hands and change our appearance in an unexpected and unannounced way.

    Is it fair? Nope. But is it possible that we do it, too? To some extent, and maybe even more than we are comfortable to admit.

    There are some fascinating places where your research and mine intersect, and I think this is one of those places. Thanks for opening this discussion for us. As your peer, I enjoy engaging with you in theoretical musings about social pressures and appearance. As your friend, I hope that people can let go and just come to terms with the fact that you are independent and free to do as you please. You are beautiful, and your hair only serves to crown your beauty.

  6. A.Hab., wow. I think your thesis--love the scholar in you!--is cogent and spot-on. When I hear people describe others' negative reactions to the changes they make with their hair, that befuddlement that "you would dare mess with the identity I've constructed for you!" is definitely there. Well said!