By Ernessa T. Carter, author of 32 Candles
I don’t know many other women who have been through not one, not two, but three big chops, but I can pretty much guarantee that even the ones I don’t know, like me, had different reasons for undergoing each of their chops.
My first big chop came at the age of 17. It was the 90s, I was both political and lazy, the perfect attitude for undergoing a big chop. I decided that I would no longer be a slave to fashion, no longer force my parents to spend their hard-earned money on making my hair look more “white.” I transitioned for six months with press and combs and then big chopped with the righteous fury of a militant 17 year old feminist, who thought she knew EVERYTHING.
Mind you, this was before YouTube videos and sites like BGLH, so my hair looked, how can I say this … pretty bad. I picked it out every morning, and wore it in a somewhat matronly short afro that I soon came to hate. However, I had grown too used to not having to spend 30–60 minutes on my hair every morning, so how did I solve the problem? I big chopped again at the age of 18, and this time I kept my hair very short, as close to my head as possible w/o going completely bald and wore big earrings.
I adored this hairstyle and probably would have kept it, except that a little over a year later my mother died very unexpectedly. It’s hard to explain the decisions that you make in the wake of a loved one’s passing. But a year later, I decided to grow my hair out and have it twisted into dredlocks, which I kept for 12 years.
For half of those 12 years, I was an emotional mess, but then I slowly began pulling my life together. I got an MFA, moved to Los Angeles, went into therapy, met my husband, landed my first full time writing job, and got married. If you’ve never had really long hair this might seem like a bizarre thing to say, but I carried ALL of that: my mother’s death, the emotional trauma of grief, every major break-up, and both the bad and good things that had happened to me over those 12 years in my hair. There really is something about this particular hairstyle, it just seems to hold your history inside of it.
August 2008 was a difficult month for me. My husband and I hadn’t been able to conceive in over a year of trying, and our first round of IUI had failed. I was also beginning to become unhappy about the stress of my job as a radio writer. I loved what I did, but the sometimes 60-hour work week and the stress of an ever-changing schedule along with our fertility issues were starting to take their toll.
My hair had been feeling heavy for a while at that point. I loved the length and the look of it, but the emotional weight of it – it felt like too much. Then one Sunday I washed my hair, and I just couldn’t bring myself to retwist it. This was a strange feeling. My vanity and my emotion warred all week, while I wore hats and scarves to work. In the end, my emotion won out. The following Sunday, I gave my husband a pair of scissors and told him to cut my dreds out.
The feeling of freedom that came afterwards was so amazing, that I remained in a terrific mood for the entire week. But then strange things started happening: Beforehand, I had merely been dissatisfied with writing for others as opposed to for myself. But that dissatisfaction ballooned after I cut my hair. Less than three weeks later I quit my job. And less than two weeks after, we began the process to undergo IVF.
In many ways it felt like letting go of my hair allowed me to let go of my job. It didn’t get in my way while I went about the grim business of preparing for an expensive procedure we weren’t sure would work. It was my first act of bravery in what would turn into a year of taking chances. Chances that included finally sending out the novel I had been working on for two years out to agents.
By August 2009, I had landed my book deal, we had moved house, and we had welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family thanks to IVF. I have never received so many good wishes as I did in the year that followed my third big chop.
I keep my dreadlocks in the second drawer of my writing desk as a reminder of all the magical things that happened when I let them go. And I often joke that if I’m ever in need of another big infusion of luck, I’ll big chop again.
Has anyone else had the experience of going from locs to loose-strands? What were your reasons?