“Bald head scallywag/ aint got no hair in the back/ gelled up, weaved up/ your hair is messed up!”
These lyrics from “Chickenhead” by Project Pat haunted me as a teenager when I first heard them. I felt personally attacked by the imagery of a black woman with rough hair being ridiculed, because I had often looked at my own limp relaxed hair (that never seemed to grow beyond my ears )with resignation. It was so sparse that you could almost always see my scalp – I felt like I had one strand per square inch! For years I felt like relaxers weren’t working for me. Not only was the process painful, but the results left my crown looking like a mound of wet noodles. I usually ran around in box braids during the summer and for sports, but even those weren’t all they were cracked up to be. After hours sitting between a stylists’ legs, powerless as my edges were demolished, I was ready to run away from home. Nothing we did to my hair made me feel like I was me . I always felt like I was occupying a costume of what a young lady should look like.
So, when I heard those hateful – and admittedly hilarious – lyrics I felt like the jig was up. It was pure serendipity that India Arie came onto the scene not long after I began searching for new examples of what black hair could be. She was so vibrant and joyful in her “Video” music video that I became obsessed. I wanted to look and feel just as free as she appeared. Goapele came out with “Closer” around the same time, and her locs absolutely captured my heart as well. Those two women were joined by images of Lauren Hill, Whoopi Goldberg, and my cool aunt Gidget who had her own set of locs. Their beauty made me feel so excited about my hair’s potential that nothing could sway me from dreads.
My parents didn’t take much convincing when I told them I wanted to have dreadlocks, which I am so thankful for. After speaking with a hairstylist, my mom learned that I would have to grow out my relaxer to start the locs. We started transitioning my hair before we even had the terminology for it! I braved the box braids situation all through my senior year of high school until I had enough growth to cut off the relaxer and start my little locs. I remember being so enamored with the nubs when they were formed in 2005 that I couldn’t pass a mirror without gawking.
I went off to college feeling like the best version of myself and my locs truly flourished. I played with color, curled them and tried different updos in ways I never could have with my relaxed hair. The only time I encountered any push back against my hair was during a meeting with a woman in a corporate setting. This was my junior year, and I had to interview her about company policies for my class. Everything went well until the end when she suggested I needed to change my hair if I wanted to be taken seriously. I was struggling with depression at the time, so her comment – regardless of her intentions – struck me right in the gut. A few months later, while feeling worse and worse about myself, I went to a barber to have my hair shaved off. That moment was so painful that I vowed to never have locs again.
In the years following, I relaxed my hair in an attempt to look “normal”, but I felt just as uncomfortable and sad as ever. Instead, I decided to wear my hair in different ways to see what felt like me, such as a fro, a close crop, then braids, but nothing could compete with feeling ropes of my own hair floating free in the wind. So, it was only natural that I broke my vow and drifted back to the style that had made me so happy in the beginning of my journey.
I put my second set of locs in on my own, thanks to several Youtube videos and articles on natural hair forums. Instead of worrying what others thought, I was devoted to having more fun with my hair. So, I grew my twists into locs, then dyed them a bright pink that rivaled cotton candy. I was so in love with how I looked and how free I felt. Sadly, those locs were so damaged after the bleach and dye that they had to be cut off once again. Yet, I didn’t feel the same at the time as I did with the loss of my first set. This time, I felt at peace with the decision to move forward. It was finally on my own terms, rather than being steeped in fear.
Before starting this current (and definitely permanent) set of locs on Christmas Eve in 2014, I came to terms with three lessons I’d been avoiding. I wanted to really commit to healthy hair, and these three realizations have helped me to push forward:
- Locs are all about acceptance. Not everyone is going to like them, and I had to accept that. I had to accept that my hair would do its own thing and I had to be at peace with the loss of control.
- I had to abandon the old habits of care. No more harsh chemicals, or waxes, no more going to bed without covering, and at least for now there is no more dye. I want to see how strong they can be with proper care.
- Whether I realized it or not, my hair is tied to my mental health. This isn’t true for everyone, nor do I think it’s wrong or right, but it’s the way it is for me. When I’m taking care of my hair I feel better, I feel strong, I feel nice and that’s alright. I know that hair will grow back and its just dead cells on my scalp, but I also feel the most me with my locs.
The tendrils on my head twist and bend in ways that are unique to every experience I’ve had with them like going on gator tours, volunteering in Haiti, and getting married. Every moment of joy, as well as bouts of sorrow, are weaved into my crown in a beautifully individualized manner. I don’t think there’s one way to look or be that everyone needs to follow. The beauty of our hair is that it’s strong enough to withstand journeys back home to who we want to be. I’m happy now that I’ve come back to myself in a big way and I hope others will find that kind of happiness, too. I can’t wait to share the process as I go.
Thank you for reading! Stay strong out there!