Last year, we started hosting candid conversations with black women in our community, through which we explored their relationships with their bodies and the experiences that have shaped their perceptions of beauty and self. In this excerpt from our conversation, Annjelica Williams takes a raw and honest look at her pursuit of wholeness and holiness, discovering what beauty means for her, personally.
How has your image evolved over the years, with your self-esteem, because of the opinions of others, or as a result of your personal well-being?
[The decision to cut my hair] was influenced from weaves. Literally, I was made fun of. Especially in middle school. I was called “Weavie Wonder.” Back in the day we called it latch hook, but now they call it crochet. When I was younger, my mom, aunt, whoever was doing my hair wouldn’t do it tight enough, so while I would walk in school, they would fall out. Guys would always make fun of me, make fun of my hair. So when I started doing my own hair, by the time I got to high school, I was like “You’re not gonna make fun of me,” so I would just make it my own thing. Y’all are gonna know I have weave, so I would come one day with blonde hair. Then black hair. Purple hair. You know, I would change it myself so that they couldn’t make fun of me, because I’m owning up to it, that this is not my hair.
By the time I cut my hair, I was like twenty-four, going on twenty-five and I was just—I didn’t know what to do. I had just done like a pixie cut, and it was great, and then my hair decided that it wanted to grow. All my life you didn’t want to grow [laughs], and then I get this pixie haircut and you’re just growing. And I didn’t want to get my hair cut again, and I didn’t want to have someone straightening it, and I didn’t have the funds to go get a hundred dollar haircut again, so I was just like, you know what. I literally—it was before church—I woke up and I literally got some scissors, and cut my hair myself.
Usually you’re supposed to go to the salon when you do a big chop, but I was just like, I can make it one length. And I just cut it. And I was like, you know what, this is crazy. But it felt good. I was tired of trying to figure out what my hairstyle was going to be, to make me feel beautiful. Because I really didn’t like my hair. I’m from Wooster, and we didn’t really do the natural thing, and then I came to Columbus and the church I was going to at that time was very ... it was like everybody and their mom had a natural hairstyle. And I was just like, this is intriguing, let me join [laughs].
So you’d never been natural before that?
Never. It was always perms, perms, perms. Never used gel, never used edge control. I just pressed it. I don’t think I used edge control before I came to Columbus. So I just cut it, because I was tired and I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any money for weave, I couldn’t have anyone do my hair, and I was like, you know what? I’m done.
Is Wooster predominantly white?
Yes. We don’t have any hair shops [in Wooster] for black women. Not one. We had one, but it didn’t last. You literally have to drive to Cleveland or Akron to get your hair done—45 minutes each way. So I just adapted to doing my own hair. There was no Youtube, so imagine what I looked like [laughs]. I thank God I don’t have any pictures.
Whether you’re natural or weaved up, braided up or permed, I think every black woman has a relationship with—has had some story with her hair. When I was younger, nobody was really hyping up the natural thing. I was always fascinated with the ease with which white women could do their hair. I always wished I could do a messy bun, or that “bed-head” look. Y’all don’t want my bed-head look [laughs]. It’s stale, stiff, flat. Just…[laughs].
That is crazy, now when I think about hair, I remember—‘cause, you know black girls, at five years old we have beads. And the little white girls, they have their pigtails. And so I remember I would always be playing with my friend’s hair, because my hair was braided up. I wasn’t waving in the wind [both laugh]. They were. And I remember this girl, she actually told her mom that I would always play with her hair, and I got in trouble. Like in Kindergarten. She was like “Leave my hair alone,” because I was just always playing with her hair. It was soft, it was ... moving? I was like, “Ok well, why is my hair stiff?” [laughs]. That was like an inner question, that like never got an answer [both laugh]. I did not understand why my hair didn’t move like hers.
For real. Even if it was never verbalized, I remember just having this frustration like “Why is this so difficult? Why am I so difficult?” It seems like the way that I’m created is just more cumbersome than everybody else, and I’m annoyed.
No, for real. That’s exactly how it was. It made no sense. I didn’t understand—I felt like I always had that question.
It’s crazy, but even when I cut my hair, I still wasn’t satisfied because then I was like—well, her curls are better. Like—I’m 3b, well she’s 3c, and well she’s 4a, 4b, like ok. So then there’s no ... there was no satisfying. When I first cut my hair, I was like no it’s gotta be curly. I gotta have the curly look. Then I would start watching videos on how to get the edges right. Because I was like, I have no hair, but something’s gotta be right.
I don’t think I even found real freedom with cutting my hair. I mean, I did initially, because it’s like ok, we’re here. Either you’re going to like me, or you don’t. And then it got to the fifty products—so even with that, there was still a search for beauty. Like what looks good on me? And then when my hair started growing, it was like ok, now how do I grow it in 90 days? Rice water, coffee, tilt your head over for four minutes and let all your blood rush to your head.
Literally. The things we do.
Girl. My mom would be like “What are you doing?” I would be hanging over my bed, like “It’s gonna grow. It’s coming. I feel it. I feel that inch.” And it’s like, why is this okay? I’ve done all this stuff as if this is okay. And it’s like, I need rest.
I still wasn’t satisfied. I was still seeking.
In search for beauty, we’re willing to do all these things. And, there’s this quote that says something to the effect of “When a woman cuts her hair, or when a woman changes her hair, you know she’s about to change her life.” She’s about to level up. And so I often wonder, when women have cut their hair, is it a representation of a transformation that has happened within? Or were they seeking that transformation internally, and hoping that cutting their hair would be the catalyst into that?
I feel like I was seeking. It had not happened inwardly, at all, during that time. Because around that time, when I had first moved here, I was just getting out of a relationship. I was around black people more, so that was new. And around the time I cut my hair I was still … I still wasn’t satisfied. I was still seeking. So then two months later I got a weave. I was like, Okay, that wasn’t it. Why did I even cut my hair? It was still—Oh my word, that’s crazy. Now that I think about it, I was still searching for it outwardly. I feel like I’m still in seek of the search [both laugh] of what beauty is. Like, what is beauty? What is beauty for me?
Because like I said, after I cut my hair I was still seeking. It looked like, “Oh wow, she’s bold, she’s free.” But still inwardly, there was a war. I gotta wear makeup now. Then I stopped wearing makeup, like I don’t care. Then I got to the “I don’t care” phase.
I have talked to women who have gone through that. Who have lived their entire lives trying to please people all the time, and they get to this point where they swing to the other end of the pendulum and it’s like “I don’t care what I look like. And what is it to you?” It’s this defiance, where we—I don’t know if we’re seeking freedom in the fact that we don’t care, but in a sense we still don’t obtain it. We’re trying to push back against the culture, but really we’re protesting ourselves.
Yeah, because ... you do care. And it’s a false freedom. It’s a mask. Outwardly, when I look back on that Instagram post, I looked like I’d found myself. But it’s like, no, I was still very broken. I’m still very broken. I was hurting. I’m still hurting. I won’t speak for everyone that cuts their hair, but I feel like that question you asked—I know I cut my hair still seeking for that freedom, and still hadn’t grasped it.
It’s about—what are those secret conversations you’re having with yourself? When no one’s around? When you look in the mirror? One thing I realized the other day is that I don’t look at myself in the mirror. It’s crazy, I’ll be in the mirror, but I’m not looking at myself. Which, to many, it may not make sense, but I’m not even looking myself in the eyes.
It’s like do we really see ourselves? And how do we even feel when we see ourselves?
I would say that is the freedom that women are looking for—to be okay with themselves, by themselves. The conversations that we have with ourselves inwardly are expressed outwardly.
What are those secret conversations you’re having with yourself? When no one’s around? When you look in the mirror?
It’s funny though. I’ve learned, for me, that those secret thoughts that I have throughout the day have progressed into what I wear, what I do. That’s been my main prayer with the Lord, lately: “What is beauty for me?” There are different women that I see that I’m like, “You look like you’re in your element.” I’m in this process with the Lord, trying to figure out what that looks like for me, but still appreciate a different beauty for someone else.
Wholeness begins with letting go. It’s paradoxical, but being whole actually begins with letting go. I think of scriptures like Matthew 22. To love God with my whole heart, I’ve got to have a whole heart that is available to give to Him, not preoccupied with all of these other things. In wholeness, I’m reclaiming all these things about myself so that I have a rich offering for God.
A real offering. Because my offerings have been my idols. And He doesn’t want them. Throw your idols away. Don’t bring them to the Lord. God doesn’t want my idols. He actually smashes them. He destroys them. My whole life, I’ve been trying to bring God my idols and He’s like, "I don’t want that, I want your heart." My idols are not valuable for what He wants to do in my life. When you get to the point where you’re done with your idols and you want to throw them away, then you can go onto wholeness.
If the Lord is trying to shape me one way, but then people in my life are trying to chisel it away, I can’t wonder why I feel so all over the place. I have to surround myself with the right tribe, with people who are celebrating who I’m becoming, and not trying to redefine me.
To learn more about this project or read our other interviews, click here. Then, join the conversation! Use the hashtags #aboutfaceproject and #blackgirlmiracle to share your own stories of beauty and becoming with us.