Do This Don't: Trim Your Own Hair

Not to get all early-90s-stand-up-comic on you, but black people usually don’t do this kind of thing.
Publish date:
September 1, 2011
do this don't, trim

When I was 8 years old, I took it upon myself to cut my own bangs. My mother, Frances, had been hemming and hawing for far too long. Bangs, the mommy logic went, were a privilege reserved for girls who a) washed plates AND pots b) didn’t get an “N” for "needs improvement" on their behavior report card and c) were in the sixth grade.

Obviously none of this was fair. It was my hair, growing out of my head. If Cherie Johnson could have beautifully frozen windswept bangs, then so could I. Also, please be advised that at the time we were living in a beauty salon. That is to say our living room was moonlighting as “Roxanne’s.” She owned the place. My mother and I lived in the two bedrooms in the back.

When I came home from school, all manner of white women were flipping through magazines on our couch, tin foil antennae sprouting from their heads. The perm-haired Roxanne let me spin myself into a dizzying high whenever her chair was free.

If any 8-year-old was uniquely qualified to cut a huge chunk out of her hair, it was me. So I closed the bathroom door, yanked a handful of hair down in front of my face and with a pair of scissors previously used on construction paper, I sliced off the four inches that hung below my eyebrows. Whoa.

To say I got in trouble is the understatement of 1988. There was yelling, then ignoring (the worst kind of parental punishment in my opinion) and then a sentence. I was “on punishment” in perpetuity or until Frances decided she could trust me with sharp objects again.

All that is to say I have been brainwashed. I haven’t held anything scissor-like to my head since. Instead, I spend about $200 a month to see a professional every other week. For the sake of my bank account and recession solidarity, all of that is about to change.

I’ve decided, without hypnosis or a prayer circle, to overcome my early childhood trauma and trim my own hair. Not to get all early-90s-stand-up-comic on you, but black people usually don’t do this kind of thing. I’ve gone without eating meat (or vegetables) for a week in favor of getting my hair done. I can rarely muster the strength or patience to wash, condition, blow dry, flat iron and then style my own hair. But now I’ve got more than one-fourth of the rent to pay.

First things first, I called my Aunt Debbie who owns “Debbie’s New Attitude Hair Designs” in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles. I got my very first professional perm at Debbie’s. Every year for Christmas she gave all the girls mannequin heads with real hair. This is how our initial conversation went:

Me: Auntie I’m gonna trim my own hair so I need tips.

Aunt Debbie: Why?

Me: Because I want to know how.

Aunt Debbie: Why? Don’t you have a stylist in DC? Do you need a name?

After some finagling, I got her to give me some rock-solid advice that included angles, shear size and very professional sound bites like, “The purpose of trimming your hair is for healthy growth.” So here we go.

1. The tools.

I hate the saying, “Measure twice, cut once,” but when it comes to my hair I want to be prepared. There's no throwing my head away and starting over.

According to my aunt, you need 5 ½ inch shears because those are the most comfortable kind to hold in your hands. Stainless steel is best. You also need four 4-inch clips, two mirrors and one all-purpose “cutting comb,” which is not "that big ole comb your mom used.”

2. Wash your hair.

She actually told me this somewhere around step number four and then doubled back. As a rule, you should only cut clean hair. Also, use hydrating shampoo. It was impossible to get Aunt Debbie to “endorse” a brand, but she says any hydrating shampoo and conditioner will do. I used Dove because that’s what was on the shower floor.

3. After washing and blow-drying (if the hair is super curly, natural or “international”), comb your hair as straight as possible.

Then cordon your head into four sections by combing one part from ear to ear and then making a second part from the middle of your forehead to the nape of your neck. (I kept calling it “the back of my head” and Aunt Debbie insisted on the very technical “nape.”) Secure these four sections with the 4-inch clips.

4. Mentally prepare yourself to trim.

I did this by blasting “Watch the Throne.

5. Mentally measure.

You’re only going to trim one-fourth to one-half inch of hair. Anything more is cutting and according to Aunt Debbie and me, you should leave that up to the pros or CREA clips.

6. The mechanics of the trim.

Always trim from back to front. For a blunt cut like mine, I started by parting one-inch horizontal sections of hair from the bottom of each of my four big sections. I pulled that one-inch part straight down using my index and middle fingers. It becomes super-clear where the split ends are. They look like jagged peaks, and what you want is a flat-topped mountain. Then, with very steady hands I cut straight across (a 90 degree angle from my chin). I repeated that 90-degree cut one more time.

7. Flowing layers.

Because my hair isn’t all one length, I then switched to 45-degree vertical cuts. Aunt Debbie says, “By doing the 45-degree angle cut, you're creating a little more volume. It’s not just going to hang there. It’s going to move.”

8. Once I was done with the 90-degree horizontal cuts and the 45-degree vertical cuts, my hair could consider itself trimmed. From there you “style as desired,” which for me meant flat ironing.

9. Boom! Permission to rock? Granted.

All of this took about two-and-a-half hours from shampoo to style. I have extremely thick, coarse and natural hair (which I love wholeheartedly) that should count for as much as two and a half heads. So running time may vary.

Later that night, I went to a sexy rooftop party and several people (okay, two) mentioned how bouncy my hair was. When I told them I trimmed it myself they were in awe (okay, more like “Ah”) but I still felt like a total rock star. The cost of all my supplies was a whopping $30 bucks since I got everything from my local Beauty Supply.

My plan now is to only see my professional when I have something very important to do -- like meet Cherie Johnson in person finally -- or for a total reshape. Otherwise, I'm taking it old-school and back to 1988 -- locking myself in the bathroom and going H.A.M on my head.