big chop

What makes a woman impulsively and spontaneously big chop? How does the instant switch in hair personality from long and straight to short hyper curly coils and kinks affect her? And how does she cope with often negative reactions from those in her support circle and still feel good about herself and how she looks? And – is it really impulsive or does it just seem that way?

As one who has big-chopped at least 3 times but chose the little chop route for my last incarnation, I find the phenomenon of the sudden BC fascinating. I spoke with three NaturallyCurly community members who did their own spontaneous big chops and who shared their stories with me.

I also tapped Curlynikki for her professional outlook—not as the fab hair diva and creator of www.curlynikki.com—but as a practicing psychotherapist who regularly counsels women through depression, low self-esteem and image development.

According to Curlynikki, “Hair for many of us is a big part of our identity. It says a lot about who we are—for better or for worse.” The sudden big chop “can be looked at as a way to mark a new season in life…. Many do it because of the anxiety to finally reveal their true texture. It's like ripping open that present two days before Christmas—you just couldn't wait any longer. Instant gratification! “

But is emotional and mental acceptance as instant as gratification? Is it realistic to expect to feel instantly at ease with the new look? Here are the experiences of our three spontaneous Big-choppers — Ange, Monica, and Kaila (aka Subbrock).

Ange

“I decided I was going to go natural and let my hair heal”

Ange

For Ange, a professional in the Washington, DC, area, “I’d always wanted to grow my hair long, and it was difficult to do so. It wasn’t until I started braiding my hair I finally achieved the length I’d long desired.” Then she became ill and had to choose between having "healthy hair" and preserving the quality of her health. “The choice” she said, ”was easy”.

Her hair started to break and fall out because of the prescriptions she was taking. “In the course of four years, my hair went from mid-back length to just a few inches below my ears, and it was very thin. It was then that I decided I was going to go natural and let my hair heal. I decided to go natural in August of 2007. I think God prepared me for this experience because I kept listening to 'I Am Not My Hair' (a song from India Arie). It was a very difficult and traumatic decision for me.”

Ange let her hair grow out from September 2007 to April 2008. But having the two textures was driving her crazy. Her hair was still weak where the textures met and she was afraid of further breakage. She decided to go ahead with her BC ahead of schedule.

While walking by a salon of an old stylist, Ange decided “to walk in and see if my stylist would take me.” In a spur-of-the-moment decision, she went from shoulder length, five inches of which was relaxed hair, to just over an inch long. Her feelings about the result? “I was livid. She took off all the length that I grew out! I should have known something was wrong because she kept cutting and cutting and cutting.”

It took Ange about a month to get used to the look, “but I loved the feel right away. The texture was great!” A couple of months after that, Ange was reaping more benefits. “I felt more attractive than I did before I decided to go natural and I was more at ease with caring for my hair because I didn't have to worry about the two textures. I was also able to do wash and go's, so I was especially happy about that.”

How did her personal community react? “I think only three people sincerely liked it. My aunt, who always wore her hair in a short 'fro, loved it. One of my friends, who encouraged me to go natural, loved it, too.

“Just the other week, I thought of cutting it short again! I've come to the conclusion that I either like my hair very long or very short. And I keep thinking that it would be soooo easy to have it really short again! This was a major issue for me because I loathed short hair before all this.”

Monica

“I was tired of spending oodles of money and time in the salon to relax my hair and then set it on rollers for curly styles.”

Monica before

For Monica, a 27-year old, married professional in North Carolina, the only plan was “I was just not going to get a relaxer anymore.” Monica had talked about cutting for a year, but couldn’t bring herself to do it before her wedding. “My husband was completely behind me, but I just wasn't prepared for what might happen.“

Four months into her transition, Monica’s new growth compared to her relaxed hair was “like night and day. My roots were so thick that combing was definitely not an option unless it was flat-ironed.”

Having never before big-chopped in her life, Monica went into a professional salon shoulder length and came out with an inch-and-a-half TWA. Immediately after, she was much more at ease with caring for her hair because “it was so short. It didn’t require much thought at all.”

Monica after

Initially she felt anxious and somewhat unattractive, “but no one knew that but me and the Lord!” Her husband was a big support; “He massaged my scalp, clipped my ends, and just gave me motivation to keep going when I wasn’t sure if I could. My family was dismayed. They basically thought I had lost my mind….My husband was my rock.”

It took Monica about a year after her BC to get comfortable. Today, “I am much more confident about my hair. People around me are also embracing their natural texture and it has created a bond between us. They come to me for advice, because I was the first. Also, a coworker BC’d at the beginning of this year…. We learned about our hair together.”

Kaila (a.k.a. NatuallyCurly community member Subbrock)

"I BC’d 6 yrs ago and I’m still not used to how my hair looks and feels…it’s been a constant evolution."

Kaila before

“My hair and I just didn’t get along—it was always frizzy and I was tired of straightening it every day on top of getting relaxers. It wouldn’t stay straight; it wouldn’t hold a curl. That’s when I realized I was ready to get rid of it. I wasn’t thinking about going natural, I just wanted to get rid of that stupid hair. I was 21, a junior in college, and very spontaneous. When I BC’d, I had never even heard of transitioning, so it wasn’t even on my radar.”

Before the BC, Kaila (now a 27-year old SAHM in Greensboro, NC) had 3-5 inches of natural growth to work with. After the BC, at the longest part it was around 1-2 inches long. Immediately after the BC, which was done by her sister, a stylist and salon owner, Kaila “loved it! …I went back a few days later to get it cut even shorter.” And three months later, ”I still loved it. I always looked young for my age, so once I did my BC , I finally felt like I looked my age. I finally felt like a grown woman.”

Reactions from her personal and professional community were mixed. “My coworkers and all the families who came to the daycare I worked at gave me compliments all the time. My boyfriend at the time…flat out told me that he preferred long, straight hair on women. My parents hated it. Out of all the reactions, positive and negative, my parents' had the biggest impact on me. I was hurt and confused as to why they didn’t love the hair that they gave me.

Kaila after

For Kaila, getting used to the look and feel of her hair is a continuous process. Six years after her BC, “I’m still not used to how my hair looks and feels because it’s been a constant evolution. It did take me several years to stop dreaming and picturing myself with straight hair.”

Each of these impulsive big choppers had vastly different reasons and circumstances but similar issues and reactions.

Finally, I asked Curlynikki about what can help sudden BC’ers deal with changes in self-image, unwelcome reactions from their significant others, families, and other communities.

“Tap into your genuine self-esteem. The real kind that is not attached to what your hair looks like, how much money you make, or what neighborhood you live in. It's easier said than done, but if practiced, it will definitely improve overall mood, and overall self-confidence.” The tips in her Tyra.com article are perfect for this. Check them out at Some Tips For Improving Stock in Yourself.


About the author, Karen McIntosh, aka Suburbanbushbabe: A somewhat hair-obsessed woman of a certain age, I am recalibrating my personal GPS to live and breathe what I value. I am deeply curious about how women reclaiming and embodying their naturally curly, coily, kinky hair affects self-image, self-esteem, authentic relationships, emotional and financial well-being, and communities. Write to me in the comments section below!