Nana smiled as her aesthetician, Ranni, looked at her, eyes wide, eyebrows reaching for her hairline as if the act she was about to commit would ruin their friendship for good. Next to Nana’s Seminary friends and her therapist, this woman was the only other person who had known Nana the entire time she had been in the Bay. Ranni had been there for celebrations and successful conference presentations. She had been there for anniversaries and family gatherings. She had also been there when threading those eyebrows seemed to be the right dose of life she needed to get through yet another depressive bout.
So today as Nana lay on the table wincing with each snap of the white thread adeptly moving across her forehead, she told Ranni that she’d been pondering shaving all her hair off. She asked if Ranni could do it.
Ranni shook her head at Nana. “No! I can’t. I’ve never received training on how to style Black hair!”
“Well I can be your guinea pig today!” Nana announced to Ranni smiling. Ranni smiled back nervous but agreeing that there was no time like the present to try her hands at something new. When Ranni observed the determination in Nana’s eyes she said, “Sure, I’ll do it! Come.”
Eyebrows done and looking perfect as usual, Nana lifted her body off the reclining table and followed Ranni out to the hair area of the salon. Once seated in a chair Nana was seized by a momentary panic: what if she hated it? What if the shape of her head was hideous? That’s what wigs are for silly, she chuckled to herself.
Ranni wrapped the black cape around Nana tightly as if hugging her. She patted Nana on the shoulder and asked one last time, “Are you sure? All off?”
Nana nodded. “Yes, all off!”
Ranni nodded. Nana watched as the cutest pair of clippers, white, disentangled itself from the river of cords belonging to all the other clippers.
With the first buzz, Nana prayed she’d have an even head. Not one landscaped with dents and craters. The air rushed in as Ranni moved the clippers around her head. With the air came the questions. What if it didn’t grow back the same? How did one handle the spiky stage of growth? How should she take care of the hair? Scalp? Did she really want to have a shaved head for a while or was this a passing fancy, encouraged by her lover?
Ranni touched Nana’s shoulder gently to make sure she was ok. Nana smiled back at her, reassuringly. Ranni continued to buzz away until she raised a pancake of hair from Nana’s head and held it out. Ranni felt so proud of herself. Nana remarked about the effort it took for Ranni to keep all the hair on her head connected until the last bit was shaved. Ranni asked one of the salon hands to bring Nana a bag to store the pancake of curls.
“It looks like a wig, well…more like judge’s wig,” Nana said smiling at the curious faces of the salon hands who had gathered around her head.
“You look stunning!” Ranni declared.
Nana rose slowly from the chair to look at herself in the 360 mirror. Ranni was right. She smiled at Ranni in appreciation. Her step was lighter as she spun around. The breeze that embraced her was energizing. A sudden burst of confidence rode in on the breeze as it was gently kissing her scalp. She stepped out of the salon with purpose. She was ready to show off her new do. She was not ready for what the world saw when they looked at her.
Her first gawkers, two young boys, stared for more than the “approved” polite time. Next to the corner Starbucks, three women averted their eyes as they took in her shaved head. Later one older woman smiled and asked how her day was, redeeming Nana’s faith in humanity. The few Black men who saw her instantly looked above her refusing to acknowledge her as though her shaved head was a challenge to them.
Outside a grocery store, a young boy, probably no more than 12, was selling candy bars. Here we go again Nana thought expecting another stare-down.
“Not today,” she said as he asked if she could support his school campaign.
“Ok. Have a good day, beautiful!” the young’un replied.
Nana did a double-take. When she recovered from her shock she replied, “You do the same, hon,” making sure to stress the last word. He grinned at her.
He grinned broader still when ten minutes later she emerged from the grocery store with her purchase.
She smiled at him as she walked by, still aware of his attention.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” He asked boldly as he threw all caution to the wind.
Nana laughed heartily. What was the world coming to? Well, at least this one wasn’t just staring.
“Aren’t you just a little too young to be asking this question?”
She chuckled as he said, “Age aint nothing but a number!’
“Have a great weekend, hon!” She turned and smiled at him not wanting to deflate his self-confidence.
“You do the same beautiful!”
Nana shook her head as she walked away marveling at his boldness.
A few feet away, a woman held her son’s hands closer as he stared at Nana’s head doe-eyed. The woman averted her eyes and tried to chastise her son.
Nana wondered what sort of statement her shaved head was making as she strutted around enjoying the kisses of the breeze. People were certainly reading her Black body differently. Perhaps people were confused about her health or her sexuality. Nana wondered if the place she occupied in the world had changed. Perhaps a woman with a shaved head occupied a different place in society. Perhaps she was performing gender from a far more non-conforming place and that shifted her place in society. It troubled her that even though she saw bald men everywhere, no one paused to stare at them. People’s reactions mostly centered around avoidance, blatant staring, or a confused smile. Those who stopped her to tell her she was stunning were mostly non-Black women. What did that say about who valued what in this society?
The other troubling factor was that some of her African friends and family (not all) had a negative reaction to her shaved head. One wrote, “What happened?” Another, “Yikes! What did you do to your hair?” Another, “tsk, tsk…grow your hair back pretty.” Yet another, “You crazy Kuuk, but I love your ummm…”
This was troubling to Nana because it said a lot about the standards of beauty as well as what her people valued. The ironic fact was that, women in some cultures on the continent wore their heads shaved and adorned and they looked amazing. Nana wished there was time in the day to school people on their history lessons, but alas, she had a new do to take care of. All she needed to communicate in the meantime was that she was healthy. It wasn’t a drastic-spur-of-the-moment act. It certainly marked a transition in her life but it was nothing to write home about. A transition to commit to trying new ways of being herself in this world. It definitely helped that she had a cheerleader in her corner.