To those who didn’t want me to do this: Sorry, not sorry.
Every time I’ve mentioned getting dreadlocks in conversation (henceforth referred to as “locs” because there’s nothing dreadful about them 😉 ) the person I’m talking to has flinched or recoiled, saying, “Ew, no, why would you want to do that?” or has raised one eyebrow pointedly, saying, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” My favorite is the “texturist” compliment: “But you have such good hair, don’t ruin it.” As beautiful as I think locs are, it’s impossible to deny that it’s a polarizing and controversial hairstyle. They get a lot of love as long as they’re fake or temporary, but natural locs frequently garner visceral disgust.
good, bad, and ugly stereotypes about locs
There are a lot of negative stereotypes surrounding dreadlocks and locs. A style worn by Massai warriors and spiritual leaders in some cultures (e.g. Turkana people, the Akomofoo, and Yoruba) then adopted by Rastafarians in the 1970s as a symbol of spiritual beliefs is fine on the runway but off the runway and off-stage, is still perceived today as unacceptable and unkempt according to mainstream beauty standards. Locs conjure up images of perpetually stoned free spirits who may not have the best hygienic practices. (Remember what Guiliana Rancic said about Zendaya‘s faux locs?) Going to the airport with locs almost guarantees you’ll be double screened and triple-checked by TSA. NYC recently had to change the law to make employers not discriminate against the style, for heaven’s sake, the discrimination against loc-stars in the workplace is so terrible.
(Read more about the history and cultural significance of dreadlocks/locs here because past issues with the hairstyle weren’t just aesthetic.)
Love it or hate it, I’mma loc it up
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about my hair: People will judge me, as a black woman especially, no matter what hairstyle I wear (below are are some fine examples of my various hairstyles).
Straightened hair will have the super-woke and the naturalistas descending to eat me alive. (And I’d never forgive myself because after years of relaxers had me going bald at 12, I swore I would never chemically treat my hair again. So, I’d peck my own brains out, honestly.)
If I wore my natural curly afro, people will put pencils in it, complain about it at movie theaters, and I’d be a target going through the airport because you can hide anything if the ‘fro is big enough.
If I wore cornrows, people will think I’m always egging for a fight or about to drop a fire mixtape…
If I wore braids, it could still be seen as inappropriate and I’d still get profiled at the airport. (In fact, that’s happened to me twice already.)
If I wore wigs or weave, people would think I’m bald-headed and or constantly berate me with the “Why are you wearing someone else’s hair?” comment or the “Why don’t you love yourself?” lecture.
If I wear my hair in two-strand twists, I’d get asked if they were locs and then treated as if they were locs (in Asia, at least. They don’t seem to know the difference.)
Loc it or not, there’s gonna be trouble: unsolicited touches, judgment, discrimination, the usual. So I might as well do whatever I want; at the very least I can make myself happy.
And here’s why
While there are a plethora of cultural reasons that black Americans choose to loc their hair, I must admit that mine aren’t as noble; they’re rather practical:
- Dealing with loose natural hair is exhausting, time-consuming, and quite expensive. You pre-poo, shampoo, rinse, repeat, condition, rinse, deep condition before slathering on oils or cremes to lock in the moisture and give a semblance of definition to finicky curls. This deliberate care requires an arsenal of ethnic hair products that aren’t easily attainable in Korea, meaning I must dedicate half the space in my suitcase to multiple bottles of product or spend twice the amount importing the products via online seller. There’s also the matter of space because all those products have to go somewhere right? I currently live in a shoebox. I need to free up all the space I can get.
- I can do a few styles with my loose natural hair, but whenever I want to try something new, it never looks like the style I was going for (in part because I don’t have an overhead dryer). Do you know how frustrating it is to follow an instructive video to a T but the style still doesn’t turn out right and then you have to resort to an afro puff? Or if you thought you got the style just right but you wake to find that it’s ruined because you slept wrong, and then you go to work looking like a muppet? Take me now, Lord.
- As someone who plans to travel a lot in the next decade, I have to admit that such a demanding hair care regimen that yields inconsistent results is not sustainable. I need to narrow down my possessions and channel my time and funds elsewhere if I want to sate my wanderlust. I needed a style that is lower maintenance, travels well, and is still presentable even if I wake up 30 minutes late for work or even if I spend a long day on Bali’s beaches.
The Loc Advantage
And locs meet every criteria, though they require more regular attention (and money) to maintain during the first year of the locing process. Plus, they are gorgeous:
You’ve probably also seen celebs like Lisa Bonet (the QUEEN), Lauryn Hill, Ava DuVerney, Lalah Hathaway, Willow Smith, and Chloe x Halle rocking their natural locs too!
For my hair texture and length, I would start with two stand twists and never take them out. The hair that would normally shed or break off accumulates around each twist until it gets puffy, almost doubling in size. With regular palm rolling (it’s exactly what it sounds like), the hair around each loc will eventually condense and mat together, creating an intricate matrix of hair inside. That’s the locing process. No pre-poo, leave-in condish, combs, brushes, or rubber bands required. Wash as needed (for me that’s every week, the same as my loose natural hair). Tie it down at night, fluff and moisturize in the morning and you’re good to go. It’s all about letting the hair do its own thing.
A Few Reservations
I’m not completely fearless. Of course I was a bit nervous about never seeing my loose natural hair again; it’s beautiful even though it’s demanding. More than that, I was concerned about what my mother would think. After a rocky childhood, and relative peace during my teenage years, my mother and I now enjoy a very close relationship, despite our opposing stances on gender roles and other generational differences that I’m coming to understand. For example, for the longest time she didn’t like locs because, back in her day, any hair that was kinky, curly, or nappy was only a reminder of black (read: slave) lineage. And of course, any black person looking to improve their status and increase chances of survival wanted to look anything but. Free people had straighter, softer hair, that became the desired look, while kinky-curls were demonized and ridiculed.
I don’t blame her for having vestiges that mindset. I blame the politics of that generation. Throughout her years, her views towards natural hair have changed; she rocked a ‘fro in the 70s and supported me when I had to go natural in early high school, after all. But even she still thought of locs as dirty. She almost had a mini-heart attack when my older sister suddenly cut off all her hair and then decided to start locs. Whether she was more shaken by the buzz cut or the idea of locs on her daughter’s head, I wasn’t sure, but from what I remember, that whole exchange wasn’t pretty.
The last thing I wanted to do was damage my relationship with my mother with my hair choices. One night, with my heart in the throat, I called her from Korea to tell her about my decision.
“So,” I started, “I have something to tell you, but don’t freak out okay?”
She took a breath, “Oh God, you pierced your nose.”
“You got a tattoo?”
Neither of these were bad guesses; she knows me well, I thought, grinning, “Nope.”
I could practically hear her heart beating wildly through the phone. “Then what?” she said in a small voice.
“I wanna get locs. I haven’t done it yet but…I’m thinking about it.”
She let out the breath she was holding. “Oh,” she said, clearly relieved. After explaining my reasons, she agreed with my logic, though I could tell she still had reservations.
“Look,” I said, “I know it’s not your favorite hairstyle, but right now it makes the most sense for me. I’m telling you about my decision because I want you to continue to be a part of my life as an adult. I don’t want us to grow apart just because we have a difference of opinion. And I hope you don’t hate me for this decision or other ones you may not 100% support in the future. I’m trying to be smart about this…I hope you can see that.”
She did. And so, with her blessing, I went to my first loc consultation with a woman far, far away…
Starting the Journey
Okay, not that far. Specifically I went to Pyeongtaek, home to one of the largest American military bases in Korea (and anti-American movements) that lies about an hour outside of Seoul. The stylist I found specializes in natural hair, and prioritizes the health of natural hair. During our consultation she had a long discussion with me about what my expectations were and what was actually possible with my hair porosity, density, and curl pattern. She walked me through the four loc stages and told me how my type of hair might behave in each one. She was thorough. Had infographics and charts. Very professional yet warm and in some ways her mannerisms and verbiage reminded me of my own mother. Completely put at ease, I decided to start my locs that very day. November 17, 2018.
My hair has changed a lot since then. We’ve decided to maintain with interlocking because my soft hair would take forever to loc with just palm-rolling. You can see the progression in the photos below:
December 6, 2018
March 21, 2019
April 11, 2019
May 2, 2019
June 6, 2019
Almost 7 months in, and I’m smack dab in the middle of my budding stage. The locs have gotten puffier and thicker from the shed hair. At this point, my stylist is putting my hair in various up-dos to help the locs condense and keep the frizz under control.
I’m falling more and more in love with my hair even though it frizzes and some locs just want to go their own way. Most of all, I love that (other than moisturizing and retwisting the ones that come loose) I don’t have to do a darn thing to my hair in the morning. Sweet freedom!
Subscribe to the blog for updates on the process. I’ll be writing again for my 1 year loc-versary!