“All off. I want to cut it all off.”
“No? You want all gone?” The hairdresser gave me a puzzled look. Even if we had both spoken the same language, my desired haircut left room for significant confusion. As it was, she spoke Malagasy, French, and broken English, while I knew English and very few French or Malagasy words.
I grasped a chunk of my hair and motioned with imaginary scissors that I was cutting dangerously close to my scalp. “All off,” I repeated, “No more. All gone.”
The woman looked at me, fully comprehending what I wanted done. Her face expressed confusion as to why I would want to cut off all my hair.
Her confusion was not misplaced. Many people in my life would have questioned why I came up with such a plan. In fact, those potential inquisitive looks and disapproving comments were a big part of why I chose to start my natural hair journey while on a year-long mission trip in Madagascar, far from my family and friends.
Long before I hit my teenage years, I came to the conclusion that being different typically did not result in positive experiences. Differences often yielded hurtful taunts, looks, and comments from others. Being one of a few black children at school in a sea of white faces made blending into the background painfully difficult. While some might have found their skin the constant reminder of what appeared different, for me my hair was the frequent culprit.
Sleepovers were never as much fun because no one wanted to do my mass of curls when long and straight or wavy hair beckoned from the next girl. I often avoided swimming purely because I didn’t want to deal with my hair in the aftermath. Flipping through a magazine could bring heartache because I knew my hair wasn’t capable of producing the popular styles of the moment.
In sixth grade. my mother finally acquiesced to my pleas for a chemical relaxer to straighten my hair. The effect was dramatic: gone were my tightly coiled strands; in their place was long, straight hair. Finally, my hair was an object of interest by others and yielded much-desired compliments. In my mind, my altered hair made me beautiful.
Although I didn’t realize at the time, I was seeking comfort from my hair. Or, at least, seeking comfort in the fact that my chemically straightened hair made me less unusual and more like the other girls.
One of the definitions of comfort is “a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety.”
People look for comfort in a variety of areas, such as money or possessions, careers, health, socioeconomic status, education, family, and intelligence. I was someone who sought comfort in my physical appearance. I felt that if I could just “fix” what my hair looked like, I would be able to find that state of ease and satisfaction, and more importantly, that freedom from pain and anxiety. “Fixing” my hair would bring me comfort.
The plan worked for over a decade. However, as the years of straight hair passed, God was at work on my heart. He was slowly helping me see that lasting comfort can’t be found in anything outside of Him — even in what had become my treasured hair.
During my junior year of college, I stumbled across Psalm 139 for the first time. The words of the psalmist riveted my soul. That year, God was doing a powerful work in my life, and I was growing deeper in love with my Heavenly Father. I was eager to know more of the character of the God I served and desired to know Him in a way I hadn’t before.
The words of Psalm 139 touched me to the core and resonated with me long after I had closed my Bible for the day.
For it was You who formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
As I read and reread those words, I was convicted. Knowing and loving God meant knowing and loving His creation. Part of His creation was me: brown skin, curly hair, and all!
I was looking to my image, my external appearance for my comfort and contentment in life. However, from the very beginning, God hasn’t made mistakes. He saw me before I was born and created me exactly as He wanted. And He saw it as good. Who was I to decide that my comfort should be found in trying to make myself have what others around me might have? Ultimately, it is in knowing God that I have lasting comfort; in knowing that the God I serve is a loving God whose ways are perfect.
I felt a rush of desire to rid myself of what I was seeking comfort in and rely solely on God instead. I wanted to start over with my natural tight coils and say goodbye to chemically straightened hair.
Although I do not necessarily believe that altering some aspects of a person’s physical appearance is wrong, my hair journey forced me to analyze my own heart motives. God helped me recognize that changing the hair that He blessed me with was a deeper cry to feel comfort in a world where I often felt so different.
In the end I saw that Jesus is my ultimate comforter, and He is proud of me as His unique child. Who am I to disagree with what the Lord has pronounced as good?
The woman held the scissors to my hair and asked me in broken English, “Yes? You want this? Are you sure?” I looked in the mirror, and I could no longer connect myself with the girl who stared back at me. The hair surrounding my head did not seem like it belonged to me.
Finally I heard a slow strong, “Yes. Yes, cut it all.” And I realized the voice I heard was my own. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and knew that for me this was freedom from pain and anxiety. This was freedom to fully embrace who God made me to be.
Even now, nearly nine years later, when I quickly catch my reflection in a window or mirror, a part of me grins internally. My heart thinks of the blessing of my curly mass and the comfort of a God who created me just as I am.