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Big chop, big dreams

Word on the street is that getting a big chop is the newest trend. But is it really a trend? In the 1960s getting a big chop was a political statement. These days, Black women chop their hair off for self-love and self-acceptance. Not surprisingly, lately, every time I check my Instagram stories, another Black sister smiles gleefully at the camera and her textured hair is nowhere to be seen, with simply a caption in bold “I finally did it!”

I think I speak on behalf of many of my black sisters when I say that the thought of getting a big chop has crossed our minds at least once in our lifetime. Whether it was because Issa Rae did it and she looks gorgeous, or because our hair has not been healthy. The thought has definitely crossed mine. My most recent (that is not actually that recent) “OMG, MY NATURAL HAIR HAS TO GO!” moment, occurred during the first lockdown in 2020.

At the time, the world was going through the most challenging disaster and the biggest change I had witnessed in my 23 years of life. Like everyone else, I started revisiting my life choices. I realised that my hair was not healthy - it was not strong, it was short (to my standards) and kept falling off effortlessly. No matter how many 4C hair videos I watched on YouTube, I could not figure out what was wrong with my own, and this was slowly murdering my self-esteem. I became paranoid and ordered new shampoos, leave-in-conditioners and growth oils, but nothing gave. It was then that I saw a video of a girl who had done the big chop. Her short ginger-dyed hair enhanced her facial features and her radiant skin. She looked stunning. I wanted to order that!

From that day on, like a ritual every summer, I flirted with the idea of having short hair and dyeing it ginger. The way Wizkid likes it (lol). I spoke to two of my friends, Jessica Almeida (26) and Raquel Borges (23) who actually went ahead and did it.

Almeida tells me that the day she headed to the barber to get her hair cut short, this overly opinionated Ghanaian uncle was having a hard time understanding that women can also display short hair. Despite this, her lack of patience for hair maintenance and the impact of the money she was spending on products was enough to still go through with it.

You see, this is where I stumbled. My voluminous afro hair means the world to me. I respect and value my hair. When my hair is sad, I am sad, when my hair is voluminous, healthy and strong, I am all of the above. Sometimes we fight and argue because we don’t understand each other, and it requires so much of my time, attention, effort and money, but I would not change this gift for anything. I adore and admire the versatility and strength of afro hair.

Almeida confesses she also had a hard time understanding her natural hair and that this common feeling in the Black community influenced her decision to cut her hair short too. She shares that her hair transition has absolutely changed the way she sees herself and is seen by others: “I definitely became more confident after I shaved my hair, and the way I dress has changed with it, so I feel like it all impacted my confidence in myself and matches my lifestyle. People see me as a brave individual for doing the big chop.”

For Black women, beauty and hair can often go hand in hand. Pressured by societal standards of beauty to have “good and presentable hair”, most Black women go through immeasurable emotional and financial distress to conform and present hairstyles that are more acceptable in the eyes of society. To give an example, I am currently applying for jobs and having interviews, and not only do I have to worry about preparing for these interviews, but I also have to worry and care about what hairstyle I have on my head so that the chances of me getting a call back don’t go down the drain. How do we think this highly sensitive society theorises about bold bald black women?

Raquel Borges has a high intolerance of the discriminatory aspects of our society. As an advocate for sustainable fashion, African culture and equal rights for the queer Black community in Lisbon, shaving her hair off was her way of sticking the finger up to a series of expectations and stigmas inflicted on our community.

“There is something liberating and self-affirming about the idea of casting aside years of growth, wash days and protective styles to embrace a new reality and a new identity”, she says. “I always thought that having short hair meant that I wasn’t feminine enough (it was what I have been conditioned to think throughout my life), so I had to redefine what femininity meant for me.”

Almeida and Borges have both proven that the big chop is not a meaningless trend, yet a way of confidently redefining and expressing themselves to complement their vibrant style and life choices. Changing their hairstyle has done nothing but strengthen the personal views they already constructed about themselves.

This makes me think about the ideas I have constructed about my persona, and if shaving my hair would change them. One thing is certain, I wouldn’t perceive myself the same way if I had short hair. I would still look cute or whatever (add Bretman Rock’s voice here), but a metamorphosis of sorts would definitely take place. Having short hair would instil in me a feeling of increased self-assurance and control, and as a consequence that would allow the birth of a new Maureen. Talking to Almeida and Borges has prepared me and excited me for the day I decide to stop flirting with the idea of cutting my hair short.

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