TWA–The Only Way To Fly

Don't be fooled. This hairstyle takes WORK. Believe me, I know.

Don't be fooled. This hairstyle takes WORK. Believe me, I know.

At age four, I ran away screaming anytime my mother approached me with a comb.

Thirty years later, I feel the same way.

I. hate. hair.

I hate combing it. I hate styling it. I hate hot combs, relaxers, weave, grease, brushes, blow-outs, hood dryers, sponge rollers, hard rollers. I hate getting it braided, twisted, loc’d, cut, shampooed, conditioned, wrapped, rinsed, dyed, fried and laid to the side.

Why can’t we all just rock smooth clean baldies?

Why can’t we place an emphasis on who has the shiniest dome? That’s a style I could compete with.

But alas, beauty and hair have been intrinsically linked since the beginning of time. Much to my chagrin.

As soon as my mom left the responsibility of doing my hair to me, I was free. And I hardly ever touched my hair. I would throw it back in a ponytail. Maybe throw two cornrows in it. And keep it moving. When my mom got tired of seeing me looking a mess, she’d send me to Revelations on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair and Sarah would hook me up.

After a week, my hair was being pulled back into a ponytail again.

I just couldn’t be bothered.

Hair was dead matter that managed to grow out of my head at alarming rates. And it was something to keep out of the way. Not something to obsess over.

And then boys came along. And suddenly, if my hair was done, I got a second glance. Sometimes.

From that moment to this, I’ve grappled with my hair. Do I wear a style society accepts? Or do  I chop it down to a brush cut–the only style I can manage. And keep it moving.

I wore dreadlocks for years. I cut them off and rocked a TWA, (teeny weeny Afro).

And then it started to grow into a wild, kinky halo of curls and naps. I loved it. But it was very hard to maintain. And I didn’t have the money to get it styled regularly.

I wore an elaborate braided style to my wedding, (with the most beautiful sterling silver beads threaded inside. Hot!). But by the time I came back from the honeymoon, my beads were at the bottom of the Pacific ocean and my hair was a fuzzy mess.

I parted my hair down the middle, gave myself two braids. And that was that.


Photo 705

I cringe when I look back at pictures of myself. Two cornbraids? With rubber bands on the end? Really? For someone who is 30-plus? Shameful.

Then I got knocked up. Gained a whopping sixty pounds. Thanks to the hormones, my hair started growing like crabgrass.

I finally decided to find a hair stylist and make some sense of my hair.

I found Lynn, at Shades Hair Studio in Livingston, New Jersey.

She blew out my hair wile I was big and fat and very pregnant. And she made me look like I had some sense.

Nine months pregnant. Feet swollen. Belly huge. Hair cute!

Nine months pregnant. Feet swollen. Belly huge. Hair cute!

I finished out my pregnancy feeling a little more put together. Which is important when you feel like a foreign prisoner in your own body.

I gave birth a few days later:

Whew. I feel so much lighter! But what happpened to my hair?!

Whew. I feel so much lighter! But what happened to my hair?!

Since I don’t have a perm, the least amount of moisture converts Lynn’s blow out to what you see above.

But who cares? I had a brand new baby girl to dote on! Looks be damned!

For the next several months, I focused on nursing, diapers and working—sometimes all at once.

Sidebar: It’s true. I often nursed Tog while interviewing Faith for the book if my sitter couldn’t make up. Tog would give off a loud burp when she was done and Faith would laugh.

I would go see Lynn whenever I could. But it wasn’t a priority. When I did go, I get a blowout that eventually became a ponytail within a day or so.

Photo 395

After Tog was off my boob and in daycare, I started putting myself back together. First, I had to lose sixty-five pounds. (UGH!) Then, I had to get some new clothes and start getting my hair done at least semi-regularly.

TH is cool. He never ever criticizes my looks. Even when I was rocking the two cornbraids. He always lavished me with complements when I did get my hair done. But he never tripped if I was looking a hot mess.

Now, I know this will sound very politically incorrect. But I decided to get my look together mostly for TH.

If it were up to me, I’d get the smooth shiny baldie and wear a potato sack every day.

But TH is a man. They are visual creatures. If I want him to look at me every day until I’m 80, shouldn’t I try to make sure I’m put together a bit?

Sidebar: When I was 14, I worshipped my cousin. We’ll call her Marie. Marie is several years older than me. And she’s always been right in the middle of whatever phase I’ve been dying to reach. When she had her first real boyfriend, she told me about the first time they spent the night together. And she gave me some tips on how to pull this off succesfully.

“Make sure you set an alarm clock or watch or something to wake you up before he gets up,” she said.


Marie rolled her eyes.

“So you can get in the bathroom, brush your teeth, fluff out your hair and put on some lip gloss.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“Then you get back in bed! You don’t want him to wake up and see you while you have sleep in your eyes and funky breath!”

That lesson always stayed with me. I never actually did that. Way too lazy. But I thought about it often. It helped form my thoughts on how I wanted to be perceived by my mate.

I do want my partner to look at me and thing, “wow!”. For that matter, I want perfect strangers to say the same thing. We all care about how people perceive us. Whether we want to admit it or not. We have a natural desire to feel attractive to others, whether we’re single, dating or married. When you get yourself together in the morning, you’re not doing it for you. You’re doing it for the world. Many of you will protest. You will say, no way! I dress for me!

Lies. It’s all lies. You didn’t come out of the womb with lip gloss on. You weren’t born with highlights, or dreadlocks or stilettos. You’ve learned over time from our society what look you want to adopt. We’re all sheep. We make ourselves look the way we want society to see us. Period.

My next two years as a sheep were a whirlwind of experimentation:



I got my hair pressed and Lynn added some tracks. I came home and TH said, “Wow! Your hair really grew a lot!” And TG said, “It’s a weave dad.”

I flew out to LA the next day for a story and whipped my horse hair all around Melrose Place. I carried myself differently with long, swingy hair. It felt like I was wearing a costume, pretending to be someone else. And I was.

Photo 525

The Rapunzel look was a bit much for me. When I came home, I asked Lynn to cut it down a bit. This is mostly my hair with a track or two in the back. I liked the bob look. But because I didn’t have a perm, my own hair would shrink up in moist weather and I’d be a mess. Quickly.

Why couldn’t I have long hair that was curly? Why you can, said Lynn!

Photo 581

Can you say, Sideshow Bob?


I was officially done with weave. I knew I wanted to wear my own hair. For better or for worse. Back to Lynn. Chop chop. I asked for a sensible haircut. With some bangs. Something easy.

Photo 798

Perfect. My hair wasn’t as thick as before, after all the blowouts, press’n’curls and weavation. But it worked for me. It wasn’t pow-pow glamorous. Kind of felt like a Mom Cut. Maybe I could tweak it just a bit? Cut off the back. Give me more umph in the front?

Photo 1038

Yes! This was it! The cut I’d been looking for! I even used this picture for the contributor’s page in Essence. (Me? In Essence! Can you imagine?!)

I was very happy with this haircut. Except on Thursdays when I had to sit in Lynn’s chair and get it done. The wash is heavenly. They do a hell of a scrub at Shades.

But then comes the 30 minute blow out with a scalding hot dryer. And then the press. And then the curl.

It takes all day. And I’m a hot, sweaty mess at the end.

Oh. And it ain’t cheap.

I found a style I could live with. But I *still* wasn’t happy.

It looked nice. But it still didn’t feel like me.

I noticed that when Lynn washed my hair and it shriveled up, I actually liked that better. I asked her if we could come up with something that was more wash and go.

Photo 1044

We were getting somewhere. For real. I woke up in the morning, ran my hands through my hair and I was done.

I think TH secretly prefers long hair. Though he’d never admit it. But he seemed to approve too.

I didn’t get as many double takes in the street. Not like I did when I was swinging my hair up and down Santa Monica Boulevard.

But the time I needed to spend in Lynn’s chair, (and the money), was going down. And I still felt like a presentable grown up.

It wasn’t exactly a wash and go style though.

After so many years of blowing out, my natural curls were obliterated. The back of my hair was happy to be nappy. But the front was bone straight. Lynn had to roll it up and put me under the dryer to get it to curl up.

I hung on to the bone straight pieces of hair. If I cut them off, I’d have an official Very Short Hair Cut.

I went to see Lynn faithfully and got my wash-and-set curly style. It lasted for two weeks. And then the top would start to unravel and you would see my two-tone nappy-straight hair.

Me and my girls Clover and Taiia

Me and my girls Clover and Taiia

Note the nappy roots. And the straight ends. Ugh.

And still I resisted.

I didn’t want to go the full route and cut out the straight pieces and rock a true TWA.

What if TH hated it? What if I hated it? What if it didn’t grow back?

I’ve had a TWA before, more than once. But it was usually an act of defiance. A way to broadcast my political statements.

My hair isn’t the way I do that anymore. It’s just an extension of my outfit.

I don’t think that a woman who has a perm or a weave or a jheri-curl is any less Black-identified than a woman who is happy to be nappy.

I know women who grew long dreadlocks just to have swingy hair and top knot ponytails. I know women with weaves who work in industries that make it impossible to get their hair cared for properly. (Underneath Beyonce’s weavorama is a healthy head of unprocessed hair.)

So what to do?

The TWA was calling me.

I answered.

Photo 1098

Photo 1092

Am I happy with it? I’m not sure. I don’t have a forehead. I have an eighthead. And this cut just emphasizes my HUGE noggin. So hopefully, it’ll grow in and take a little attention away from the projector screen I’ve got going on up there.

But I do know I was out of Lynn’s chair in record time yesterday.

And when I woke up this morning, I felt like…me.

44 Responses to “TWA–The Only Way To Fly”

  1. naturallyalise1 Says:

    I am familiar with this journey. In the end after perms, weaves, crazy cuts, and even a set of 4 yr. old locks, I came back to the ease and flyness of the TWA. By the way I think the cut looks gorgeous on you.

  2. [fung'ke][blak][chik] Says:

    The cut looks great! I went for a total chop off in ’94 and have never looked back! I love the versatility of my natural texture & curls.

  3. felicia Says:

    That’s why i’m nearly bald headed right now and loving it! Oh black women and their hair…

    I like the cut on you!

  4. Kenesha Says:

    YAY! You look beautiful, just this past Monday I cut all of mine off myself and then later after work went to the barber shop and had them take it down all the way! This is my 4th time rocking the TWA and I’m loving it again!

    My hair blog:

  5. Dope Fiend Says:

    Giiiiirllllgirtrrl giiiiirrrrllll I done messed up my hair!

    I stopped perming it or a year an grew out some nice curls, but then I was still wearing the braids. In May the braids came out and i got my hair c ut/styled. lonish in the front short in the back….but I let the hair dresser convnce me to perm my hair when I knew that perm=my hair falling out.

    next month…i get a perm again, trying to maintain the sleek ladylike style…
    two weeks later…my hair starts falling out, I get the ends trimmed
    two weeks later…my hair is still flling out in the back, the breakage is more than worse and I’m startingt o feel insecure about my hair.

    last week…the braids went back in…lol alod in the back be falling straight out coz theire aint enough hair to hold em….aint that a B!

    I gt a teeny weeny SOMETHING under here, but it aint an afro andit aint cute. All im saying is my hair needs to grow out fast, cause i will rock that afro forever and a day. Aint never perming my hair ever again!

    I rate you for cutting it pff, really i do, and by the way your hair right now. Marvelous. x

  6. Dylan Says:

    You are adorable. (And it’s officially time to write the musical.)

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Beautiful! I rock a TWA and have been for four years now, and I am 25.

  8. clove Says:

    The TWA looks cute. you have a great head shape for short hair!

    I’ve had a similar hair battle and still currently struggling. eek. I got my first perm when I was like 9 because my family was from a different country and I think my mom just wanted us to have “presentable” & manageable hair. I wish I never would have gotten it though. my hair would be much healthier.

    So I went from rocking cornrows to perm to high ponytail to wearing a hair roller as a bang in public to synthetic Brandy braids to human hair micro-braids to doobie wrap to glued-in tracks to sewn-in tracks to bangs/wrap. A couple years ago, I cut it short but not too short and loved it but then got tired of it.

    Now, I have no idea what to do. my friends know i’ve been contemplating going natural for a while now. I go to a brazilian salon every two months to get a touch-up and I love how it comes out but not sure about the damage I’m doing plus I would like to know what my natural texture feels like.

    considered a really short ‘do but I think my head/face is too big so I want to grow it out. but not sure whether to keep getting it permed or to start straigtening. do I need to cut it all off? do transition? bald? I dunno. my ideal style would be a natural curly blowout but I don’t think my hair is that texture.

    when people say “it’s just hair” I mean I get it. but it’s not. I know I’m not my hair but if I hate how it looks it’s gonna affect my outlook. it takes time to be ok with that and I don’t think I’m there yet.

    I’m excited to see the chris rock documentary Good Hair. might make me want to shave all my hair off

    sigh. y’all don’t know our struggle!

  9. Mignon Says:

    I love the curly afro on you. It’s funny you say you didnt feel like yourself with the other styles. I’ve never met you but even from the photos you looked a bit insecure in them. Almost like you were trying on hair in the photos instead of modeling you+the hair. The last set of photos with your curly ‘fro really shows you confident and strong. I think whatever you rock with confidence, folks will love on you. Once you fall into the groove of your new ‘do… I think it will suit you well. And I’m sure all those around you will be able to tell to!

    Oh and PS… definitely not politically incorrect to want to look a certain way for your hubs. You were right to say that as mates you want to look good for each other. I know with me, I want him to be proud to wear me on his arm no matter how I’m looking. Which is why I make sure that I look a way I know he’ll appreciate.

  10. Nicole J. Butler Says:

    LOVE IT!! It looks great on you, and I applaud your having the courage to do as you felt compelled.

  11. S.Smith Says:

    Wow I love the transformation. Hair is such an “important” obligation for alot of women but it really takes alot to see that hair is really, and should really be a reflection of you and no one else.

  12. ak Says:

    your natural looks gorgeous. point blank. congrats

  13. Alisha Says:

    Okay, honestly, I just skimmed the post and looked at the pics (because I’m obsessed with pics—of anyone). I’ll comment foreal foreal in a minute. Oh, and I should have told you that your story was GREAT! I felt like I had an inside on it because I read your blog.

    Be back in a few. Hot pics, girl. The TWA is what’s up.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Have not read the article just scrolled down and looked at the photos. FAB. Loved LOVED the photo Weavalicious. You remind me so much of a high school friend named Winnie, freckles and all. The picture of TOG is priceless, looks just like TH.

    Will scroll up and read now.

  15. Jovi Says:

    It’s me Jovi, not Anonymous. On a dif computer.

  16. jchat Says:

    well darling…you know i know how you feel…hair for so many women is a an ongoing journey to find “ourselves”…i like you have found my “hairself” and feel so much more like me…i’m glad you have also reached “hairtopia”….i think it looks great, the difference on the inside can be seen on your face…by the way, i need your hairstylist’s info again…lol

  17. Serena Says:

    Cuz, I know the journey personally. Right now i am rockin two strand twist, that have into something. I took the twist out and it just fresh fat, I will send you a pic. I love the cut nevermind the headquarters it’s family trait. You are a beautiful young woman and you cant help but be that way. I luv you. You got much love from the DC area………… My baby cuz is gorgeous.

    Bena Girl

  18. Suzanne McKay Says:

    Absolutely love your hair story – thanks for sharing! I went to Shades too until my stylist opened her own shop. I was natural for 10 years, rocked the TWA, short gelled down looks, longer curly natural styles (very time consuming!) and just went back to the relaxer in October. I never tried a weave but working with my hair and its different lengths and textures has been a journey in itself! At the beginning of each new hair journey I find the best cut of all is the one that makes you happy and keeps you feeling good. Long live happy healthy hair!!

  19. Portia Says:

    I love, love, love it!

  20. Luvvie Says:

    YESSSSS!!! I’ve had multipple hairstyles throughout the year also. But the TWA I’ve been rocking these last 2 years has been my fave for being so low maintenance (and inexpensive).

    I LOVE the cut, Aliya! Keeps it!

  21. janie_crawford Says:

    i never had a big chop, went to harlem for microbraids for so many years that the last time i took them out there was just no perm left, and i was left with a big, (pain in the ass) afro…still haven’t found JUST the right combination of products for it, but i’m not throwing in the towel yet…thanks for sharing and i love the twa on you!

  22. UrbanBushDiva Says:

    You look fabulous! You are soo lucky you can pull off so many hairstyles.

  23. DeAnne Says:

    you don’t have an 8head and the TWA (I love this term) looks great on you! it’s natural and fresh and you look happy which is always a good look ;) if you want to get fancy I’d just grab some mascarra and a nice gloss and you’re set!

    I hate hair too, it’s just a lot of work for something that is so temporary so I often go in and have Nikki cut it all off (teeny weeny fluff fro), that always feels good to be free from . . . hair

  24. Feryand Says:

    All I can say is, been there done that. Everything from gaining 60lbs each(3) pregnancy. I loved the short texturized look on me the most (on you too) and almost everyone else did too. Except for my other half who hates short hair on women period. Our hair is the best, we have so many options. Eventually we’ll find the one that suits us best. Then we’ll see another sista rockin something tight. We’ll ask her who does her hair and switch styles again.

  25. Chris Wilder Says:

    That was a nice journey, Aliya, but at the end of the day, you look like a boy. If you are trying to look good for TH, you admitted in this piece that you think he likes long hair. If you think that, then go with it. I understand the road you’ve taken to get to this point so, at least you’re married and not trying to meet people. I think you’d have trouble trying to meet people with this hairdo.

  26. Chris Wilder Says:

    Oh, and I may not like the hair but, the rest of you including your fore (not eight) head looks great. I’m sure TH is fine with it.

  27. Soulfull Says:

    Sideshow Bob? HA AH HA HA! OMG, you made me spit out my soda with that one. But yea, I love the cut A! You seriously are so damn lucky to have the head shape for so many different looks! As AfAm women, the hair journey is always such a trial/error. I’ve been thru so many looks myself, but when I was preggers with my 2nd son, I said enuff of this permed look! I started growing locs and in the beginning, my TWL (teeny weeny locs) was the closest I came to a TWA. Loved the low maintenance associated with it. Oh yea, that part about looking good for hubby struck a nerve with me. I’m really big on staying cute for hubs. To hell with bloomers, sweats, and big tees all day like I used to do-lls. Kudos to you A!

  28. Tara Pringle Jefferson Says:

    I think the natural style looks cute on you! I cut my hair off this time last year and I have to say I was nervous about it. Would I still look like “me”? How hard would it be to manage my natural hair? I had a perm for so long I didn’t even know what my natural texture was!

    But I have to say, I’ve gotten more compliments on my hair in the past year than I did in the 10 years I had a perm.

  29. Jovi Says:

    October is my transition month after rocking a pony tail since April/May. I sweat in my scalp so hair down in the summer is a no no. Each year I attempt a new cut and walk out the salon M.A.D. Never turns out like the photo but I don’t look like the chick in it so whaever.

    I love that at least you take chances and try new things. The natural style looks fab on you. Wish I could go short/natural to escape the time and effort it take to get out the house in the morning.

  30. TG Says:

    My mumsy not Aliya but my birth mumsy luvs my hair long. in fact in kinder-garden my hair was down to my butt if combed out fully-so i’ve heard. She was too busy and staring to get it washed and dryed every week.

    So i got split ends and had to get it cut several times until it was in the middle of my back. Since then she’s kept get my hair trimmed whenever she could afford [u dont always have money as a single mom] and then i begged her to get bangs. I finally got through to her and got the bangs tho i still wasnt happy.

    so i got it it cut shoulder-length finally but i still wanted to cut it more!

    When i begged for a bob she said no. But she said I could get higlights and here i am with highlights wishing i never gave in to her bargain.

    I want a bob.

    sorry that’s alot of writing for me. there’s only one T-G and shes O-U-T

  31. Black Hair Talk: My First Perm, My Last Perm | What Would Thembi Do? Says:

    […] check out Aliya S. King’s hair journey. Digg this!Email this to a friend?Subscribe to the comments for this post?Share this on […]

  32. arieswym Says:

    I love the hair evolution and there are times that I feel the same way about my hair, that I hate it. Anyway the TWA looks cute on you and h/t to Thembi for the link.

  33. WW Says:

    AK, love the journey and love the end of the road. I can appreciate a woman with a hair style of any type….long, short, curly, natural, perm, extended and weaved (when done right) and especially locked. Understand I am overly partial to natural. With that said, the cut looks good on you and when it overcomes the trauma of the blade and lushes out, it will be even better.

  34. keilabee Says:

    Very cool to see the transformation. It’s a beautiful feeling when you go thru stages and finally get to a comfortable place, especially when it comes to how you define yourself as beautiful. You look good girl!

  35. salleysboo Says:

    Absolutely loved your article! As a 64 year old sista, I’ve done them all! My favorite has always been the TWA. Right now I’m wearing 10 years of locks and they are way too long! My hair is thinning out at the top so I’ve been doing the wig thing and thinking about cutting them off and going back to the TWA. Reading your article has helped me make my decision…TWA, here I come! You look great!

  36. Deborah W-Taylor Says:


  37. Sasha Says:

    Thank you, Aliya, for your article. I’ve been struggling with this topic for years now. I had my first perm about 4 years ago after being natural for so long and it took my hair out. I will never do that again. After about a year, my hair grew back thicker and instead of getting another perm, I’ve chosen to press my hair. I too pull my hair back into a ponytail b/c it’s simple and easier to manage no matter the weather. I love your openess. Your TWA looks good on you and gives others in the same situation another option. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

  38. Denises Says:

    Your article and photos were great. I love your short ‘do. It’s very flattering on you, highlighting your beautuiful, strong features.
    Just wanted to share my story with all. I am 53 yoa, and my hair journey has come full circle.
    While in college, in my late teens and ealy 20’s, I sported an afro. In March of this year, I cut off my arm-pit length, relaxed hair. I cut it again in May, (while in Philadelphia on a trip to my daughters law school graduation). The cut was tight, but I have not cut since then. Currently, I have a twa, which is getting thicker, and curlier, and I am learning how to care for it.
    While on the hair journey, remember to be kind to and love your hair. Treat in gently, and with loving care.
    Love and peace to all

  39. the honey kitchen blog @ » Hair Stories! Says:

    […] Aliya S. King is a freelance journalist, which might explain her witty, informal yet informative, completely captivating writing style. She also is a fellow freckleface, which might explain my total giddiness about her gorgeousity, generously shared with us via photos of her hair as it transforms through the years. If you are traveling your own hair journey and/or just enjoy reading about others’ hair journeys, i highly recommend reading her recent piece, TWA – the only way to fly! […]

  40. Right-there-witcha Says:

    I am right there, your story is my story. So thrilled to see that there is someone that relates, because I thought my friends could not. Then I discovered that if they could, they would but their hair isn’t healthy enough. Anyway, the TWA is just wayyyy too liberating to turn back. It is a form of rebellion also, enough of the attempt to be someone else. It is so irritating to see it being flipped and twirled and tossed, all in an attempt to take on the traits of other cultures…we are jacking up our self images. Whatever, I am truly happy to be nappy. It totally works for me!

  41. Alexa Claire Says:

    I actually found your blog while googling “TWA.” I honestly had no idea what it was haha. I actually read the whole post and looked at all the pictures, and I wanted to comment really quick and say that you do NOT have an eighthead and I love the TWA look best and I absolutely adore your freckles. You’re a gorgeous lady.

    My hair is waist-length, dyed black, and curly/wavy and that’s how I feel most comfortable/beautiful. All I do is wash my hair and then let it dry naturally. I can’t be bothered to do anything more than that! :)

  42. Asia Says:

    Whoa! That’s quite journey and it sounds very similar to mine. I hated taking care of my hair when it was relaxed and I knew it was way too thick for to blow out. So i just grew out the relaxer and cut it and then had is shaped into a TWA at the barbershop. I was in love with my hair-finally!

    The title had me curious because I had never heard of TWA lol but I’m glad that there is a name for what I started off with.

  43. Brakwa Says:

    your TWA is beautiful! rock on sister!

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