The ‘Big Chop’ Experience

by Laquita Thomas-Banks

The boldest way to start your natural hair journey is to do the ‘big chop’. A few weeks ago, R&B singer, Chrisette Michele shocked the world debuting a sassy new short and tampered look during an appearance at Albany State University. The singer’s bossy decision is celebrated by scores of black women around the country. Even more impressive are the reasons behind Michele’s choice. The “Epiphany” singer says, “I wanted to make short and nappy hair fashionable, and let the industry know that there is nothing wrong with the texture we were born with. I plan to grow it out to the big beautiful nappy hair that I have.” Chrisette Michele officially shows off her brave new look in this recent shot by photographer, Derek Blanks.

Chrisette Michele is not the only woman chopping. The following ladies started their natural hair journeys by cutting it all off. These women share their thoughts, experiences and advice on going relaxed to natural.

Faren Monique’s Experience
During my senior year in undergrad, I was assigned to do a video project for a class. I was not natural at the time, but along with another classmate (who was natural) decided to do a documentary on the dynamics of hair in the black community. Clearly skewed by the biases of its filmmakers, the film inevitably became more of a natural vs. perm discussion.

My hair was processed at the time but through talks with beauticians, forums, research on the history of black hair and discussing the negative and positive effects of naturalness and processed hair, I began to analyze why I chose to perm my hair. It was after making that film that I decided to go natural.

I transitioned for six months. My last relaxer was in March 2008 and I cut off my hair in August 2008. I was pleased with the results. To be frank, there was a slight desire to have fine hair or a loose curl-pattern — I still had remnants of “colonized” thinking. I was also very insecure about my hair. My hands were always in my head, I had no idea how to style it and I was extremely nervous about going in public with such short hair.

My initial plan was to transition for an extended period of time, however that proved to be difficult. Watching natural-related videos on YouTube gave me the courage to cut my hair. For those contemplating doing a ‘big chop’ or transitioning, Faren adds, “Do what best fits your lifestyle. But once you cut your hair it will be drastically different from your processed hair- regardless of how long you transition. So you might as well get it over with.

Faren’s Video – Naturally You, A Documentary Exploring the Hair Politics of Black Women.

When I decided to go natural I didn’t know I was in the “transition” stage. I was eight months post relaxer and had between two to three inches of hair. I felt that my transition was long enough and I went ahead and did the’ BIG CHOP’ since I had some hair to work with. Plus, I was excited to see my curl pattern. I was very pleased with my decision. It made my life so much easier. I didn’t have to worry about relaxers and long days sitting in the hair salon. Detangling was a breeze. It saved me money and time — time that I now spend on more important things.

Her advice to those contemplating a ‘big chop’ versus transitioning:

I would say just do it! No really, it gives you a sense of freedom. Transitioning is a long process and you have to do so much more when dealing with the two different textures. I also think the hair grows faster when you ‘big chop’, there is less chance of breakage. And some people (not all), tend to damage their natural hair when transitioning.

Cindy Hurst
Cindy Hurst produced and directed Natural Woman, a documentary that explores the psychological attitudes that occur when African American women decide to wear their hair natural. The film also includes prominent psychological and philosophical experts who offer insightful explanations to African Americans’ reluctance to discuss what role larger society plays in how people of color define beauty in terms of hairstyle.

Cindy’s Experience
When I reached my 30s, I began to grow tired of the process I had to go through (weekly) to keep my hair “laid” so to speak. In addition to that, I was starting to get down on myself for not having the courage to go natural. So as a compromise, I got synthetic braids. I cut my hair down to the new natural growth. When it was gone, although I didn’t really like it (and no one else did either, including my husband and others in my family). I squared my shoulders and held my head high. I had reached a milestone by choosing to finally accept my hair. Weeks later, I still struggled with my decision. I wasn’t getting any positive reinforcement from anybody. So, I began to “secretly” use texturizers in my hair. I just didn’t like the natural kink. One day, as I was applying the texturizer, my teenage son walked in my room and asked, “What’s that I smell? It smells like perm in here.” Bam! I was busted in more ways than one. For the first time, I had to admit, I was actually ashamed of the natural texture of my hair. It was then that I quietly put away the texturizer and began to deal internally with that reality.

The real pivotal moment in my journey happened about a week later. I read a book called Without Sanctuary. It’s a photograph book that displays historic lynchings in America. There was one picture in particular that showed a black woman being lynched along with her teenage son. The picture is of her and her son hanging from a bridge. I took one look at her and I saw myself.

So many emotions ran through me simultaneously. I felt pain, sadness, indignation, rage pity, and hope. But of all the things I felt, pride was paramount. I felt proud to be a black woman.

When I looked at that woman hanging from that noose, her hair was natural and her skin was black. I’m sure somewhere down the line, she was proud of every African feature she possessed. I am that woman. I am my ancestors. I am an extension of my African heritage. Now, I can say that I am truly proud of every part of my Africaness.

I would say to any woman who is contemplating going natural to go with your gut instincts. If you are considering it, really deal with all the feelings that come along with it. Fear, anxiety, empowerment…all of that. But at the end of the day, let the decision be yours and yours alone. Even if you decide you can’t or don’t want to do it, really make sure that your are okay internally with your final decision.

Cindy Hurst’s Natural Woman Film For screening information contact Cindy via the website.

Photo Credit: Derek Blanks

  • http://2muchtv.wordpress.com Ericka Foster

    I actually had two Big Chops. The first time was when I went natural in 2001 or so. I didn’t know there was anything such as transitioning. It was liberating. Then about three weeks ago, I went to get the ends trimmed from my big ‘ol fro, and the barber made one wrong move. Now, I’m rocking that Chrisette Michele look and I am reminded of how bold it is to walk around with your face just “out there”.

  • Vila

    Why are people getting excited about a damn hair cut as though black women don’t wear short hair styles?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Geneva-S-Thomas/2331086 Geneva S. Thomas

    This article is so necessary. So many women need the courage to just do it. I loved Faran’s video. It’s so funny she says her mother doesn’t know. When I cut all my hair off on my 20th birthday, my Mother also didn’t know. I’m not going to say how she reacted but let’s just say she wasn’t happy. LOL! But with time, she embraced my decision and today, we both natural hair beauties! :-)

  • dee

    I have BC’d sooo many times in my life. Lucky for me short hair looks better than long straight hair. So it is always easy to do. I am currently transitioning and I will admit that my short, HB cut calls me to put in a relaxer,LOL. I am seven months since my last relaxer but seeing women who rock their natural hair with royalty, and style really makes my decision to be natural easy. I don’t think I will BC so early this time around though,LOL!

  • copelli21

    I did the big chop several years ago. It was PURE FREEDOM. I couldn’t keep my fingers out of my head. LoL…i loved the texture and feel of my natural hair.

    I had previously relaxed and had just come out of some braids. I ran around for awhile with my unbraided, wild hair and I loved that. Then I decided to go straight again and didn’t give my hair a chance to recoup before applying a perm, so I had some breakage. So I grabbed my clippers and shaved my head.

    I applaud any woman who takes this leap. It’s a shame that our young women are just now starting to realize how truly beautiful and wondrous our natural hair is.

    Rain and humidity are no longer issues. U can roll out of bed, run your hands or a brush through it (or do nothing!) and start your day.

    You realize just how RIGHT it is to be natural.

    I don’t think it’s radical. I think it’s liberation and I hope black women continue to express themselves via their natural, God-given hair.

  • Robyn

    The ‘BIG CHOP’ is bold! I transitioned by wearing braids for 2 and 1/2 years until my natural hair was chin length. I never had the courage to put my face out their on it’s own because when my hair was straight and long-ish it was kind of like a security blanket. Even with the slow transition it took a full year to get comfortable with my natural hair – I was dismayed at the reaction I was getting from some black men (“if you have ‘good’ hair why don’t you perm it? It would look cuter”) and the random people who felt like it was OK to come up to me and just touch my hair. Moving to Brooklyn, NY from Texas helped the most; there were more black women rocking natural hair and less ignorance about black hair in general. I still can’t find anyone to cut my hair curly, though :(

  • http://www.beautyandthestreet.blogpsot.com amber

    i did the big chop in september and now i have a totally full head of healthy hair!

    the bc is both scary and liberating and i am glad i went through that experience.

    it’s not for everyone though…takes A LOT of guts to go on with it.

    But if you are ready for a drastic change i say CHOP IT OFF :)

  • Aaliyah

    I am so proud of her, I had my big chop in September (really low) an now my hair can go behind my ears….its the best thing I ever did.

  • julienne

    ‘Big Chop’ group hug! I chopped mine in November :)

  • Miss Lei

    Wow! I am inspired reading this article and makes me want to do the big chop because I am curious to see what my natural hair looks like. The only thing is, I’ve been having long hair all my life (down to the beginning of my behind…seriously) and I have been asked “wow is that all your hair” and I enjoy being the “different one”. I love my hair but I am ready for something different. My mom would just die if I cut all my hair off because she says “I worked so hard to get it where it is” and I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t do it. I don’t know, any advice???

  • julienne

    Cut it! Asap! Check out these hair blogs:

    http://lecoil.tumblr.com
    http://curlynikki.com
    http://bglhonline.com/

    On a serious note – Hair should be versatile. Try something new.. if you don’t like the short look, you can get braids, weave, wig (in the worst case scenario). Don’t let your unwillingness to take beauty risks – define you.

    You see growth faster when your hair is natural.

  • Stacy

    Miss Lei…

    Its a tough decision… but you won’t be able to find advice from others. You need to decide whether you want it. It’s not your mother’s hair. It’s yours. And believe it or not, it grows back! Im not trying to sound harsh, I had a complex of not wanting to cut my hair ever. Then it started breaking and breaking and breaking. So i went to the hairdresser and said, cut as much off as you ned to cause it has to go. its been growing nicely ever since.
    I’ve never had my hair relaxed, but i’ve had my fair share of hair issues. the solution that worked for ME was to cut off the bad ends, start taking better care of it, and leave it alone!!! im getting close to being back to armpit length natural hair!
    it’ll happen.. it just takes time. you can and will get it back down to your butt if you just take care of it!

  • http://allnaptural.blogspot.com/ Laquita

    The young lady in the video is – KingsNcurlsLc1 – her YouTube channel is – http://www.youtube.com/user/kinksNcurlsLc1 :o)

  • binky

    I did the big chop and their was nothing liberating or groundbreaking about it for ME to be honest, I thought “ok, I’ am just rocking really short hair.” because I felt like ME at the end of the day with different hair and if others don’t like it oh well. I didn’t see any movement or statement about it because it is just hair and I can always change it to fit my mood and it grows back. I did everything from having perms, chopping it off, wearing it natural, dyed it, laid to the side, in curls, and whatever else you can name SERIOUSLY it is just hair, why do people make such a big deal and statement about it.

    I’ am sorry but I agree with vila, maybe I’ am just one of the few black women who finds hair so trivial and pointless, I mean to have debates/discussions about it and have websites and videos dedicated to it…really? It is just hair. Why do we put so much emphasis and attention on it especially as black women? It dead and all it does is protect your scalp at the end of the day. I think we as women need to stop thinking that our hair is our pride and glory and defines us as who we are and take it for what it is at the end of the day our personal expression

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  • http://allnaptural.blogspot.com/ Laquita

    That should be KinksNcurlsLc1 – not kings – lol

  • http://www.gettogethablog.com Get Togetha

    I did the big chop and after a few days of insecurity you begin to realize that you have to embrace yourself or no one else will.

    You will experience an emotional cocktail of freedom, what the hell did I do, now I’m ugly, damn I drank courage juice, I wasn’t ready, I’m really beautiful, to its now me, myself and I.

    In your pit of pits its the reaction that we get from others that can make or break us if we don’t do our stomach crunches.

    Chrisette looks beautiful and I really don’t care how she wears her hair. The woman got pipes that I have love, respect and admiration for.

  • carie

    I agree with you binky. Some women unfortunately are slaves to their hair so they find cutting it off liberating and groundbreaking. It is just hair, but to some its not and they want to find styles that best fit them. I will admit, there are times where I have obsessed with my hair, but when I think it is just hair then it frees up my attitude about it. And not to mention because some women were brainwashed into thinking that without long straight hair they will be ugly, they try hard to maintain that look.

    So while I agree with u to the fullest, we can’t ignore the ignorance that occurs especially with our hair.

  • Jay

    I like a woman with natural hair and a nice neat short cut

  • http://UncloudedByAmbition.blogspot.com ND McCray

    I’ve been relaxer free since ’98. Been rockin’ locs since ’01. Liberation is liberating!

  • hehe

    perhaps because this is a black woman, who is in the public eye, works in a very superficial industry, where your career often times hinges on one appearance!!!

  • Tiffany W.

    Yeah, listen to Stacy. Listen to your heart, because you know what makes you comfortable. I’m relaxed, but one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever saw was a friend/family member and a hairdresser coercing this one newly natural woman into getting into relaxers again. It was like, watching and after school special on peer pressure and drugs. I could only imagine what the most staunch natural sister would have done if they witnessed that. She probably would have imploded and melted on the floor.

  • http://cluthmagonline.com kimberly Belin

    some people feel that long hair make you who you are. Some people feel that short
    hair do not make you beautiful. what is beauty? your inner soul and spirit. the glow
    in your smile your eyes. that’s beauty. you do not have to had hair. that’s part of
    your body that grow. you have to have eyes even if you can see. you have to have
    a mouth to speak even if you can’t talk. But if sickness come in your life and you lose
    you hair to you still speak, do you still see. that’s the point. love you with or without.

  • lousie

    binky,

    Our hair is a loaded subject. To say it doesn’t matter glosses over the way black hair is portrayed in the media and the history of blacks in the americas. Many women are having an awakening to their beauty as women without the conditions the larger society places on having straight hair. This is a big deal. When I cut my hair I was afraid to go outside I was so conditioned to think their was something wrong with my own hair. Now I cannot imagine having relaxed hair and when I see it (no offense) it looks dead to me.

  • kymber

    OMG – “The Big Chop” – really? Anyone woman in this day and age (and parent) who would put a perm, relaxer, texturizer or whatever for no good reason except to want their hair straight is retarded. Chemically straightening your hair, or even weaving, bleaching it or adding synthetic hair for braiding is again retarded. Doing any of the above will DAMAGE your hair! How do you expect hair to grow and flourish when black women obsessed about their hair continually do things to the harm it?

    A little common sense goes a long way in this matter. Black women naturally have strong, thick hair that will grow down to your butt with a basic care and maintenance, but for some reason sisters do anything and everything to damage their hair and stunt the growth then we have to resort to the “big chop” so we can find our natural, empowered self? Short nappy hair is not for everyone and definitely not sexy every woman.

    I’m 40 years old with a great head of long, thick, wavy hair, but I also clip my ends once a month, use natural hair care products, deep condition regularly, have never colored my hair with any sort of peroxide, I “press” it with a flat iron every other month and haven’t had a perm since grade school (my mom was lazy so she put a perm in my hair).

    Take care of your mind, body, soul and hair!

  • Lauren N.

    What are you talking about!!?? LOL. Do you even know what a Big Chop is? You sound very uninformed and silly. I think you are too old for this site too. Essence is open.

  • Lauren N.

    and WOW on this statement! “Short nappy hair is not for everyone and definitely not sexy every woman.” smh.

  • Iguehi

    I’ve been natural for 2 years now—went thru a second Big Chop in Sept 09 and I LOVE LOVE BEING NATURAL!!! I would never go back to that creamy crack lol

  • Iguehi

    I totally agree with you Binky but not all women are as empowered as you are with your identity. The fact that so many Black women attempt to front as European imitations is a problem and the issue has its roots in our own history (White images portrayed in media as opposed to Black women during the 50′s and up)
    But it is a BEAUTIFUL THING that you don’t care, unfortunately your not a majority. Those websites, videos and blog discussions and so necessary for so many. Like myself, I was a weave fiend. And I’m Nigerian so me trying to rock a cute nappy hairstyle was not in my future at all (Funny, my family is still in shock. Nigerians love relaxer lol) But, after my boyfriend passed away–I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see me. That big chop MADE ME see MYSELF; and I love it. I feel beautiful, empowering and exotic.

    But again its beautiful that you are who you are; just don’t expect that everybody is on the same page as you. We are trying to get there :)

  • Tiffany W.

    LMAO! Essence is open. I love it.

  • Cindy

    What I find interesting about this article and the entire natural hair discussion is that in an attempt to be women who are more than our hair or hairstyle, we have turned around and given our hair (and perceptions with it) all of the power. Ladies…IT IS JUST HAIR! I am not black because of the curl pattern, length, texture of my hair. IT IS JUST HAIR. I am no less black with a perm, than Chrisette is after her big chop! IT IS JUST HAIR. If what if on top of your head more important than what is in your head, we all have bigger problems.
    I crack up reading this articles (and responses) that are laced with finger pointed and lectures about what I need to do with my hair. Ladies wear your hair how ever you please. IT IS JUST HAIR! I love my long, thick, healthy permed hair (gasp…does that exist) and make no apologies for choosing to relapse (several times) on creamy crack! I am hiding my face behind hair?? Really??? If the big chop if what you want to do, I applaud you! Because again, IT IS JUST HAIR!!!

  • Brigid

    She looks beautiful! I didn’t recognize her. Hate I missed the concert since it was in my hometown.

  • Unique_one

    I agree with Cindy. What did India.Arie say: I am not my hair! That saying can go for the women who don’t want to be judged by chopping off their hair and going natural and for the women who choose to still get relaxers and have long, relaxed hair.

    It’s almost becoming a trend nowadays for black women to do the chop and that’s sad. If you want to do that, it’s YOUR prerogative and your choice. On the flip side, women who don’t mind getting relaxers and wearing long hair shouldn’t be “reprimanded” for choosing to still get relaxers. IT’S JUST HAIR. Wear it however you feel comfortable. Props to the sistas who do the “big chop” but I’m perfectly fine with getting relaxers.

  • Danielle

    I have an appt on Sat to cut my hair. It’s permed shoulder length hair with about 2 in of new growth. I keep going back and forth – transition, no go for the BC, no too drastic and back to transition. I do know for sure I don’t want braids. Been there done that but I’m tired of being a slave to my hair. I’m definitely ready for a drastic change but I’m shaking in my boots just thinking about it!

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  • Angela

    Just got the BC. Have about 2to3 inches of new growth. Need to know how to care for it. What products to use during day and night. I love my look. What to grow healthy hair.

    Mysterious Angela

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