True, black women’s hair is laden with symbolism. But, sometimes a haircut is just a haircut.
Last year, I cut my hair. I cut off my twists and went back to my legacy ‘do, my beloved short crop.
There was no big political decision involved, no personal crisis, no spiritual journey. I just decided I wanted to spend more time in the pool for the rest of the summer, and I was tired of timing my workouts to my hair appointments.
No big deal, right?
The minute I left the salon, the two guys at my garage practically burst into tears. “What have you done? What happened?”
My husband is a particularly smart man. We’ve been married a while, so he knew better than to offer any opinion. But that did not stop all kinds of other people from weighing in.
What’s going on?
What does this mean?
Regardless of the ethnicity, there is entirely too much meaning attached to women’s hair. There is so much angst, the whole blonde versus brunette, long versus short, frizzy-curly versus straight thing. I mean, just remember what happened to Hillary when she started having fun with her hair when she was first lady. Female news anchors are regularly flooded with hate mail about their choice of hair color. Then there was, of course, the now-infamous New Yorker magazine cover last year with Michelle Obama in a big afro, perfectly complementing her fatigues and an AK-47.
Amazing to me that any hairstyle still carries so much weight.
What other ethnic group has to have so much conversation about wearing their hair in the manner in which it naturally grows? What other group has had to litigate over wearing hairstyles like braids or cornrows, if you will, that are not only elegant but also an ancient art form suited to the natural texture of the hair?
Can you imagine if white women had to go to court to wear a ponytail to work at, say, T.G.I. Friday’s?
Now most of the people I know just want to do the same stuff everybody else wants to do. We want to go to work, raise our children. On the weekends, we want to kick back, maybe get in a workout or two, maybe get our hair done.
So here’s my advice. If a woman in your life does show up on Monday with a new look, repeat after me: “New ‘do? It’s cute!”
Michel Martin is the host of the NPR program Tell Me More. This essay was adapted from a commentary she delivered on the air.