Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Long hair. Do I care?

Back in December I decided to cut my hair a tad and I also cut a shorter bang area in the front. I loved the result for the ease of styling it gave me. However, things continued to change quite a bit over the months that followed, as my house hunt came to a pinnacle. I didn't do much new with my hair, wasn't very kind to it, and in packing to move I discovered hard proof that I'm a product junkie to the 5th degree.

In the back of my mind I knew something had to give, and now that I have a bit of breathing room I can reflect. It seems that after all this time being natural, I still have a persevering unhealthy attitude about my hair. It's not based in the texture or my acceptance of what God blessed me with however.

Going natural is perceived by many as an act of rebellion. It's thought of as a decision to ignore that which is considered culturally normal and acceptable (and even pretty) and become a potentially different type of woman. For many of us it's not like that at all, and for many of us it means so much more. Add into the equation the BC that many of us decide to employ to transition and you have us ladies also shirking the long-hair-on-women ideal. It's liberating to be free of so much general societal pressure, but then we enter a new world. A world filled with acronyms, protective styling, twist-outs, hunting for appropriate products and lots of proving people wrong. Most of the time that person is our own selves.

"I don't need a perm to have long hair"
"I'm beautiful as the creator made me"
"I too have good hair"

We prove to ourselves that our hair is healthier and can grow longer than ever before. But now the length is mostly hidden in the coils. 75% to 90% shrinkage is common and hides most of any length gained. It's only when we press or stretch it significantly that the TRUE length is exposed. I realized some time ago that my natural hair texture makes my hair look the same now as it did almost 2 yrs ago. It's a bit denser now because of all the compressed curls, but really-it looks the same. When I first decided to cut it significantly in December, I was having a "why bother" type of reflection. But I still hung on to most of my length. I talked about my length with my girls. Took pictures, did length checks, continued to imagine having super long hair.

What I realize now, when I have truly more important things going on, is that my long hair is invisible, needs more regular trimming, and does not suit my lifestyle. I don't twist it or braid it any more because it takes so long. I don't like using as much product as I now do, particularly the expensive products that tend to work better. I end up on a perpetual hunt for inexpensive replacements for them, which don't seem to exist yet. I don't have time to make my own.

I hope to have more free time again in the future, when maybe it will be a better time to have long, very curly hair. But I never intended for my hair to have more of a claim on my free time than it did when I wore it straight all the time. I keep asking myself "why is the length so important?" why do I fancy having hair down my back?

It's the prove everyone wrong factor. It's the shock reaction I'm addicted to when people find out how long my hair really is. It's imagining how long it will be the next time I straighten it. But this is all indeed another social pressure that has nothing to do with who I am. Long hair is another one of those social constructs assigned to women, and typically reserved for straight hair. I think this is one of the myths we just love to rebuff. But I already know the truth, I see the truth on other women and in my own 6'/year new growth. The act of proving is not for my own benefit. Retaining the length is more like a challenge, fueled by hair boards/blogs riddled with length goals and bsl, apl, mbl accomplishments. I feel validated, and honored even, when I flaunt my length to high praise. It's addictive, but it's also challenging to a point of obsession when the outcome does not fit the best ordering of my priorities.

I think I had a healthier view of my hair and what it meant to my identity when I did my first big chop almost 10 years ago. I had no expectations of length or texture and instead just wanted hair that I could take care of myself. I wanted to care for my own hair, inexpensively, and with full acceptance of it.

Now I have the luxury of thinking about the shape of my face and head, and I have knowledge of my texture to guide me. I cut my hair very short again in 2006, and I surprisingly did not mourn the length much then. I'd lost my texture due to pressing damage, and found regaining my kinky texture to be far more important than having long hair. I did spend a lot of time thinking about that lost length last year though, (when I caught back up to that old length) wondering how long my hair would have been. I think those thoughts contributed to this unspoken defiance I'm getting over now. I wanted to get all that lost length back to show it to some one, some day. All the while juggling my time and money to maintain it "invisibly" on a regular basis.

Alas hand in hair syndrome, fairy knots, splits, and neglect are now the true result of this mis-match of my mind and my life.

I know his was a long post but I hope it's helpful to some of my fellow naturals chasing down BSL markers on their backs!

I plan to cut 2-3 inches or more off this Thursday at Fiddleheads in DC. I can't wait! I want to just start hacking at it myself now that I made peace with letting some of it go.

Here are some departing picts of my length checks etc at various times over the past few years.


  1. I am 5 months into being fully natural after 11 months of transitioning. My hair is between chin and collar bone length (stretched, of course) and is similar in texture to yours. This post was really good for me to read as I chase certain milestones--I can finally do a ponytail with no bobby pins!--and await a certain "look" that comes with long curly hair. I've had long natural hair as a child and long relaxed hair as an adult, so I have no doubt that with good hair care practices, I'll achieve these lengths again. But I need to be prepared for the fact that much of my long-awaited length will not be visible to whomever I might be wanting to impress with it, not to mention any extra products or time spent styling that might come along for the ride. This doesn't mean that I won't be happy when my hair is longer, as I prefer the option to do a cute ponytail or bun when all else fails, and I have had short haircuts when relaxed and feel my face looks better with longer hair. But I will recall this post when I find myself dwelling too intensely on what my hair will look like 6 or 12 months from now (longer!) instead of enjoying my hair for what it is (and how easy it is to care for) today. Very insightful!

  2. Great great post! I agree with everything written even though I have not grown my hair to great lengths at this point. I'm 9 months post for B.C. #2 and can vividly imagine the obsession you described. Growth obsession BEWARE!

  3. Funny how things get more "complicated" as the hair grows? Especially since so many of us covet longer hair.

    I too have this "growth obession" - I personally feel the need to prove "others" wrong, that my natural hair can grow great lengths, that my hair DOES has curl definition...the list goes on and on. Very well written. I'm posting this on my fb too.

  4. I found myself getting Growth obsessed too!..I just cut off an inch on Monday and my hair hangs so much better with just that small trim...I dont forsee hacking off anymore anytime soon, but I do recognize length does not mean as much as 'look' and overall shape of my hair. Great blog!

  5. this post really struck a chord...i've had natural hair since late 2005 but i only very recently discovered all the haircare resources and blogs such as yours online; before then i had no ambitions for my hair whatsoever! (apart from wishing it wasn't so dry). Length, really wasn't a big deal to me (it's around 6 inches long stretched). To be fair, it wasn't in very good condition but it also didn't occupy much of my time or my thoughts...

    Now I almost feel like the pay off for now having much better knowledge about haircare is this obsession with length - I know the aim should be health but I can't help checking it all the time, just to see if can perceive an extra 1/8th inch growth in the few days since I last checked it. Madness.

    I just want to be able to pile it into a decent sized bun, then i'll be happy!

  6. Amazing post - wow, im almost 8 months into being natural and i guess length is really what i'm aiming for now, but i guess that you get to certain point when length is no longer really desirable... lovely blog btw!

  7. I adore your blog. I read (too) many natural hair blogs, and yours is in my top two because of your writing style. So I just want to thank you for taking time to share with the rest of us.

    I'm so torn about length. On the one hand, I too feel sometimes like I have something to prove to the world and to myself, and so I strive for long hair. I do it for femininity's sake and to say to the world and the little girls at church, "See! You can be natural AND have long pretty hair!" But, I am so medium- to low-maintenance when it comes to hair, and I'm so busy living, it just doesn't make sense for my lifestyle to have hair down my back. And I also really like the way I look with super short hair, as it brings out my cheekbones and eyes.

    Last fall I hit the 20-month mark of growing, after a dramatic buzz cut BC. My hair was about 14 inches long, I think. As soon as I cut it, I held this huge mass of soft black hair in my hands and almost mourned! Like it was a pet or something. *sigh* So now I'm growing it out again, and I'm 10 months along. But only time will tell how long I'll let it get before I BC for what could be the 4th time.

  8. I think this is a really great cautionary tale, especially for the newly natural...and a wake up call for women in general. Many of us have broken out of the mind set that straight hair is the key to beauty...but the long hair obsession seems to have an even greater hold!

  9. Great post! It's so weird that you are posting this right now...because I just just recently (last weekend) strenghtened my hair...just to change, and trim my ends...because of all them fairy knots...and obviously check my length... I was AMAZED at my progress...however, the next day, I didn't like the shape of my hair so I went to a hairdresser randomly during my lunch she could cut my hair into a layered shape...I liked it that day.

    But obviously now that my hair is back to curly...I didn't realize that it would shrink so much more...and the whole cut looks sooo different once the hair is curly[ I don't like it!]. I feel that I made such a wrong decision. I shud've known better...but I just figured that since my hair was looking so long straight it would be ok to cut some layers here and there...
    Well let me tell you that now...I find myself longing my old length...and I feel super inconfident with my hair again. I miss the length so much and feel that now I have to learn all over again what styles will suit this new length...

    So I guess that just like you I fell into the trap of longing for longer hair and feeling that it's more beautiful, despite the fact that it takes soo long to take care of it once long :p

    Great post. I cannot wait to see what your results will be once you cut them.

  10. Thank you for this post. I have been feeling this way for the past three or four months wanting to cut my hair off to an inch. I was natural for about 9 years with a twa before I got the bright idea to grow it out to see if I could get it in a ponytail or bun. I'm a librarian so I wanted the option to wear a bun just for kicks. Anyway, I'm at the point now where It's long enough and I spend way too much time on it. (Putting it up at night and styling it in the morning and taking way too long in the shower when washing and detangling it.)

    In fact, in an email to a friend who hasn't seen me in four years I mentioned something about being glad the humidity hadn't messed up my hair. She thought it was the funniest thing because the woman she knew four years ago w/ a twa would have never said such a thing because it wouldn't have been an issue. I've been thinking about that for a few weeks.

    My hair has become a distraction and I spend way too much time on it. Your post may be the catalyst I needed to cut it off again. No matter what, thanks for putting the issue of being length obsessed out there. Good luck to you.

  11. Great topic. I have long believed that the real holy grail for many black women is actually long hair, straight or not. (Of course most of our natural textured hair shows more length when strengthened so there is some obvious overlap between the two issues.) I think the socialization that most of us have received about long hair and femininity is so strong, its an incredibly hard construct to break from, particularly when mainstream culture has typically not accepted let alone prized our unique features as beautiful or feminine.

  12. I'm only at collar bone length and keep asking myself, "How long do I really want it to grow?". Once my hair started showing some length, I noticed how much I had to change my routine in order to keep up with it. I'm not sure if I can handle BSL length. My hair has major shrinkage and looks pretty much as short as it did last year. So yeah, where's the length? Thank you for this post. I'm definitely seeing your point. P.S. Nice hair cut by the way :)

  13. Thanks for posting this, it definitely put things into perspective for me. I focus on length a lot, even though I have stopped straightening my hair and no one will ever really be able to visually appreciate the length of my hair. Super long hair doesn't even really suit my face all that well, so I don't know why I want it... that said I would like my hair to rest right above my shoulders after shrinkage, and right now it is chin length after shrinkage...

  14. Great post. Length obsession is very real, and for me, very irritating. I'm not interested in length goals or even having super long hair for that matter. I just love having natural hair. Truth be told, the whole obsession with length has turned me off from the natural hair web. I used to be very heavily involved. There was a time when it was all about giving one another inspiration and encouragement and just loving natural hair...then it shifted. Everything became about length and doing any and everything to gain or retain it...even if it meant neglecting the overall health of your hair by holding onto raggedy ends or spending nights sleeping in plastic wrapped crisco drenched hair. That's the point when it became a turn-off and giving attention to my albums or favorite forums became less important.

    Seeing grown women obsess over something as trivial as hair length makes me cringe. Are we really that ridiculous? Like fingernails and leg hair, it grows! and if you cut it, it'll come right back!!!! What's the big freakin deal? Just thinking of how some women are about length is disgusting me as I type.

    At the end of the day, we need to gain more confidence. The value placed on hair length speaks volumes.


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