by Martina “Mick” Powell
I wanted it to be
so with hands shaking behind
my back, I cut
off every strand of
hair I had ever
protected from getting wet in the rain.
Strand after strand, the teeth of a buzzing razor gently grazed a scalp that was more used to the tug-and-pull of cornrows sewn tightly together by needles and thread, covered by blankets of long, wavy Remy. I remember watching it happen—the way my sister (with her relaxed hair) would contort her face each time the razor began to sing its awful song again.
My stylist said, “Keep your eyes closed; it’s better if you wait.”
After shaping my sideburns, she spun me around to face the mirror. Before thanking her, before running my nervous hands against my head, before ever taking a solid moment to appreciate this event, action, revelation/revolution, my first thought was: I look like a boy.
For starters, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a boy/boi, looking like a boy/boi, being a girl who is, wants to be, looks like, or wants to look like a boy/boi. For me, however, I have always had an inexplicable fear for myself to be seen even remotely as boyish. I want(ed) to be a face a femininity, a pillar of rejected stereotypes; I want(ed) to be “the shocker,” the one you’d never guess, the one you couldn’t believe. So, even in the coldest Connecticut weather, I’d wear dresses and skirts and heels. I can’t really remember a time I’ve felt comfortable leaving the house without at least a little make-up on. And I always, always, always, always wore 14 to 16 inch Yaki Indian Remy Hair in 1B. Always.
So my decision to “big chop” (BC) came as a shock to many, even myself. But, I wanted it to be political.
Let me take you back. A few months before I BCed was when I truly started embracing black as beauty. I was 19 and a little late with realizing that essential fact–that black and brown skin and black and brown hair and black and brown culture were just as beautiful as their ivory counterparts. As I began to proclaim and even reap the blessings of ebony skin, I found myself a hypocrite. I still used my toning serums that gave my face a “healthier,” lighter glow. I still contoured the bridge of my wide nose, making it appear slimmer. And I still, as I always did, wore my weave.
When I caught myself in contradiction, I threw away my serums. I stopped the obsessive contouring. But I would not, and, at the time, could not, let go of my weave. I couldn’t have short “puffy afro” hair because then, I would look like my brothers, two cisgender black men. I couldn’t look like my brothers because then I’d look like a boy. I couldn’t look like a boy because then I’d be so transparent. I’m not butch. I’m not a stud. I’m not a boi. And even though I knew those things in my heart, I was scared to death for anyone to think differently.
Let me remind you again how I’m always late–it took me 19 and a half years to understand black as beauty. I heard India.Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” for the first time seven years after its original release. In the song, she asks me if my hair makes me a better person, a better friend? Would the way I wear my hair “determine my integrity?”
I wanted her to ask me if the way I wore my hair completely altered my gender presentation, if you changed the color of the box, did you change the entire package? But she never did. So I asked myself. That was Phase One.
The next (unconscious) step towards my BC was beginning to openly admit that I was wearing a weave. It was its own “coming out” process—that I, naturally, wasn’t the face of “standard” misogynistic, patriarchal, homoantagonistic American femininity. As with most coming out processes, I received a lot of questions, namely: “well, what does your real hair look like?”
I wondered, after that particular question, what did my real hair look like? When was the last time I’d seen my “real” hair for more than an hour or two between switching sew-ins? I couldn’t remember. I began to feel bad about that. It tormented me. That was Phase Two.
Phase Three happened after I discovered Assata Shakur and read her autobiography. She taught me two instrumental, unforgettable things; one: never use “black” and “ugly” in the same sentence and two: as often as you possibly can, say “fuck you” loud and clear to the systems that oppress you and your biological and spiritual siblings.
Wearing natural hair was/is/will always be a huge “FUCK YOU” to a system that perpetuates beauty as long hair and porcelain skin. Wearing natural hair makes it so they cannot ignore your history, cannot pull your roots up and out, cannot ignore the Africa that is inherently, permanently, and unfalteringly inside of you. Wearing natural hair is not only an affirmation of black as beauty but a (step towards the) manifestation of the erasure of invisible/unconscious self-hatred, racism, and prejudice.
So, I wanted it to be political. Even though I was terrified. Even though I absolutely hated the result initially. It was a mixture of dogmatic fearlessness and cultural disregard–I remember the way my sister’s face contorted each time the razor began to sing its awful song again.
Nine months later, I still sometimes “have” to contour the bridge of my nose because I feel that my hair doesn’t frame my face correctly. I still over-embellish with jewelry and make up to compensate for what I, sometimes, still consider a boyish haircut. Sometimes, I still feel afraid that I’ve lost my femininity.
there is no “perfect
facial structure” for
short-natural-hair, but thank you;
this is us, and we
have the souls and the heritage for short-natural-
black-hair, and between the color of our skin and
the coils of our curls, the toils
of our ancestors, portuguese penetration on lands—
God given, God willing, we will forever
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Mick is a junior studying Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, African American Studies, and Creative Writing at the University of Connecticut. She likes good novels, good poetry, and good company in no particular order.