“Oh, honey, you’re not gonna find a man that way. You want a man to feel manly, and how is he going to feel manly if your hair is shorter than his?”
This is Part 2 of my conversation with Annie Wilson about her relationship with her natural hair. Here, we discuss the links between hair and womanhood.
So you did your first big chop in 2016 when you were transitioning it to natural, but just recently you shaved down your natural hair. Can you tell me a little about that?
So that first big chop was because I wanted to rediscover my blackness and for me, that meant, going back to my natural hair. Not having it relaxed. This time around was totally different because now I am very comfortable in my blackness – I’ve reclaimed it and I thrive in it. But it got to a point where I was forgetting about keeping my hair healthy. I went right back to how it was when I was younger; ‘how long could I get it to grow?’ Because, of course, long hair equals femininity and sensuality. You feel as though, if everything else is wrong, at least you know that you’ve got your hair. At least if our hair’s right, we’re still women.
It got to a point where I was doing everything I could to promote length over anything else. And when I’d sent pictures to my family back home [in Cameroon] the response would be: “Oh my goodness, your hair is so long! You’re gonna find a man real soon, you’re gonna find a husband, your children are going to be beautiful because they’re going to have this thick, full hair.” And bear in my mind, they said those same words “thick and full” even when my hair was relaxed. They loved it. I was hearing the same words but my hair was completely different. So to me, something wasn’t right. You’re using the same complement as you did when my hair was unhealthy so obviously you don’t care about how healthy it is. You just care about how long it is, in either state.
So it got to a point where I really wanted to cut my hair again. This has been about two years coming.
What was the reaction?
I sent some pictures of girls on Instagram with short hair to my mum and her response was “Yeah, that’s cute. You know, they’re probably gay.” And I asked my grandma what she would think if I cut my hair [like that] and she was like: “Oh, honey, you’re not gonna find a man that way. You want a man to feel manly, and how is he going to feel manly if your hair is shorter than his?”
And I want a man, so it was easy then: I’m not going to cut my hair.
A year passed and I asked them again and the response was pretty much the same: “Do you want to seem like a homosexual? After all the work we’ve put into it, we’ve worked so hard to get your hair to this length. Are you just gonna chop it all off?”
But I wanted to know that I could still be feminine, and sensual, and still be a woman without all of that worth being tied to my hair. Black girls, we tie a lot of our self worth to our hair because so much importance is placed on it. But I’d had enough. It took some convincing from other people, some reassurance that I would still look like a girl, but I finally did it. My mum was not happy. My [grandmother] cried. We sat through prayer together and she prayed for my hair to grow back.
And then I bleached it. And my grandma wouldn’t talk to me. She spoke to my mum, telling her to tell me to dye it black. “A woman doesn’t have short bleached hair like that. Not if she wants a husband.” And that’s the thing, it feels like my womanhood is tied to how likely I am to get a man and I’d had enough of it. So I cut my hair as a message to my family and to me and to other Black girls, to show that that isn’t the case.
For the longest time, I’ve placed my self-worth in my sensuality, in my sexiness. My sexiness is a big part of my identity. Even now, I feel better if I’m sexy. I just feel more at ease. So the thing about not having as much hair was that I thought I was going to look like a boy, and that’s not sexy. I preach and preach about not using men as validation – and I believe it too, that’s the thing – not seeking their opinion or validation or approval, but in my mind I wondered, you know, if I’m not desirable to men, then what am I? That was my biggest worry.
But now I’m getting comfortable again with still being me, still being feminine, but having short hair. And learning how not to attach my self-worth to men. But that’s a struggle for another day!