Texture Talk: Shaving My Head Helped Me Find the Power in My Hair

Téa Mutonji. Photography by TEAUNNA GRAY.

Welcome to Texture Talk, a column that celebrates and deep dives into the dynamic world of curly hair, from crowns of curls that are free flowing to strands that are tucked away in a protective style.

Téa Mutonji

Date March 10, 2022

When the world is blowing up, you have two choices: Blow up with it or find shelter. For me, shelter became hours of digesting Instagram infographics, mostly from Black women writing about racial gaslighting, anti-Blackness and, most gloriously, radical self-love. While I was reposting, championing and connecting with these women from around the globe, a voice inside of me kept saying “Radical means doing something that scares you.” So, I took a pair of scissors and began. Ten minutes in, not knowing what I was doing, I asked my little sister to finish the job. An hour later, horrified and crying over the keyboard after seeing my scalp for the first time in my life, I ordered my first wig.

It’s not that I regretted having shaved my head; it’s that I felt naked. My hair was completely damaged from years of perming, processing and being pulled tightly into braids. I had tried every home remedy to address the intense patches of dryness that would sometimes bleed when I scratched. I visited dermatologists. But, deep down, I knew that the big chop was a tried-and-true defence, just like rubbing Vicks on my chest is when I’m sick with a cold or a broken heart. Still, while waiting for my wig, I wore hats and scarves whenever I went grocery shopping. I wouldn’t answer any Zoom or FaceTime requests unless I was hiding under a hoodie. I felt like anyone who saw me bald knew that I was going through something big, and at times I couldn’t help but feel like a cliché: “Black girl messes up her hair so bad that she has to start over.”

Then, just before my birthday, my wig arrived. It was long and sleek and went all the way down to my butt. I felt like a sophisticated, serious adult who drinks coffee after dinner. In reality, I’m a burger-and-beer kind of girl. Until then, the most expensive thing I owned was my work laptop; suddenly I was wearing something that cost eight hundred dollars. The wig had an immediate effect on me. I felt powerful. It was like a cape, and with it, I could fly anywhere. “Tonight, I’m someone else,” I’d say to my friends and then flip my tresses over my shoulders like I’ve seen in the movies and order a martini.

Suddenly, I loved the process of getting ready for my Zoom calls. I would blast feel-good music and use spray and wax to melt the lace of the wig onto my forehead. I’d let it dry and then spend an additional 30 minutes styling my new strands. My definition of self-care used to be checking in with my therapist and taking my daily vitamins. But this new process and act of beautification had me feeling like a famous YouTuber being asked to walk viewers through her morning routine. It took a lot of care and patience. It forced me to spend quality time with myself in a way I hadn’t done in recent memory.

Three months later, I had seven wigs. They were all different styles, textures, colours and shapes. I felt especially Carrie Bradshaw in my blond wig — a daring choice for a woman who only wears black. It was thrilling. Soon, I stopped feeling watched; I felt seen. Getting ready continued to be a fun one-woman show I subjected everyone on my Instagram “close friends” list to. But taking off my wig at the end of the day and meeting myself, with vulnerability and patience, is when the healing really took place.

The first time you see your scalp, you should introduce yourself: “Hello, scalp, my name is….” After carefully removing my wig — always spraying the lace with warm water first and then rubbing, not pulling — I learned to take a moment to appreciate my bare scalp and how far I’d come. I learned to care for this part of my body in a way I hadn’t before. I fed it with moisturizer and homemade masks made of mashed avocado, eggs and oil. It didn’t last. Contrary to what I’d thought, my 4C hair grew back in the blink of an eye. I paid more attention to the little coils; I watched them shape-shift and curl. I felt confident going out as is. When my hair grew back enough that I was able to braid it into cornrows, I remembered to be gentle and not rush. I learned that my hair is not hard or tough. It is delicate, just like me.

This article first appeared in FASHION’s March issue. Find out more here.