Not at ALL What You Thought

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hairy Issues : Never Say Never

This is about my hair again, so those of you looking for political commentary (which-- What in the world?? Is this your first time here?) should move on.

Some loc lore: the hairstyle's history is rooted (no pun intended) in Jamaica, where Rastafarianism taught that Haile Selassie was the Messiah, Africa was the promised land, and dreadlocks were NEVER to be cut. Personally, I've heard even unloc'd folk come near screaming about the cutting of locs: it's a religious thing, a spiritual thing, something to bring one closer to God, and NO one should cut another person's locs. Ever. (You oughta see how tense I get when a loc'd sister shows up on What Not to Wear. Is Sista going to whoop up on Nick and his scissor fetish?)

Oh, and folk who wore dreadlocks smoked marijuana. Also to get closer to God*.

Further, the process of "locking" the hair can not be reversed. Ever. "Dreadlocks" aren't ever supposed to "unlock." Those of us with the applicable hair* were told if we ever loc'd our hair, it'd have to stay that way unless or until our heads were shaved. Seriously. It's a commitment, one way or the other. A friend of mine, who has had locs for years longer than I have, emailed me recently and said she was having her locs undone. "Yes," she said. "Unlocked." She explained that the process was expensive and time-consuming, but it could be done. I didn't believe her.

I guess I should say something about the process of loc'ing hair. Currently, there are (at least) two schools of artificial* process : palm rolling and latch hooking. Palm-rolled locs are just what they sound like: hair rolled into the desired loc shape, maybe helped along with styling oils or beeswax or gels. Latch hooking threads old hair through the new growth, making the locs tighter and neater. Sometimes the "loctitian" actually uses a latch hook, but s/he doesn't have to. A cousin (who had never loc'd her hair, btw) told me that palm rolled locs could, if desired, be relaxed and unlocked, but latch hooked hair? Never. When I decided to take the latch hook route, I was told that there was no turning back; that latch hooking would guarantee that I could never "unlock" my hair. Never.

Over time, I found out that a lot of the loc lore was just dogma. For one thing, locs are older than Jamaica and Haile Selassie. Loc wearers weren't necessarily Rastas or marijuana smokers, of course. And, finally, locs could come unlocked.

See, I got my hair cut, over the objections of my regular loctitian. When she began to complain that our conversation about cutting my hair was making her eye hurt, I decided to go to a friend who had been employed by SuperCuts, and I asked her to cut my hair.

I was mildly intrigued when, after the cutting, the ends of my locs --that is, the oldest parts of my hair-- began to unravel. "Huh," I thought. "Maybe Amy [the email friend] knows what she's talking about." This is an earth-shattering revelation.

And now I'm obsessed with the stuff. Or, at least, the ends of the stuff. When I first did research on locs, I became aware of "hand in loc disease," where folk waiting and waiting and waiting for their hair to magically lock up can't keep their hands off of it. Leave it alone, says Daezhavoo. It will happen; get your hands out of your hair. I never had that problem. I was never one to play with my hair. There wasn't any to play with. But now, now that my hair is unraveling, I can't keep my hands out of it, feeling the forgotten softness at the ends, finding the latched areas and pulling more hair loose, wondering if there's a point at which the unraveling will stop. Wondering if I want it to stop.

Because, see, at bottom, a lot of black women chose locs because they wanted hair that cascadades* down their backs. Hair that moves. Yeah: Like white women's hair. This style might be or might not be, initially, about "heritage" or "history" or "self-love." Today's locs are about beauty. Otherwise, we would, all of us, be taking that "natural"* route. So now, my hair's at a length I really love, and the locs are coming out. Do I keep cutting to keep the length? Do I keep unraveling --until I decide, "Hey, I've got all this loose hair now. I never could grow it this long before. Could I get it (and keep it) Dead Straight? Dead Straight is the style now, after all. . ."? I'm also imagining myself with long, thick, nappy hair*, and liking the image. I wonder how long it'd last before my hair dried out and began to break off --because it was neither Dead Straight nor loc'd.

With me, though, the answer comes down to just how much work I'd have to do to my hair in either case. Loc'ing my hair means that I don't have to do deep conditioners. I don't have to sleep in rollers. I don't have to use a curling iron. I don't have to use a blow dryer because, after I wash my hair, I can let it dry in the wind. See, I chose locs because I'm a lazy git.

Dear Jesus, my brother, teach us that self-love is at the root of neighbor-love.

*Look. Don't ask me. I don't know.

*Because there are white and Asian Rastas with dreadlocked hair (and dreadlocked non-black folk who are not Rastas). But, I understand, a good wash, with the right shampoo, will end that particular style for them, while for blacks, no. Wash all you want, once that lock kicks in, it's not going anywhere.

*Because there is also the "natural" school of thought, in which one allows one's hair to just do what it do, become what it be when one doesn't wash or comb it.

*Whoopi Goldberg's term.

*Read "dirty and uncombed."

*Yeah, after I unravel my hair, all my fat'll fall off my body and I'll look just like Gloria Reuben.


  • At 10:50 AM , Blogger Elayne said...

    I'm fascinated by this - in part because of the folkloric aspects of it; in part because my brother had locs for a few years before they shaved his head for the whole jail thing; in part because I am a peeling, picking, unraveling kind of person and I am perfectly content to sit for three hours and work out the knots and tangles in a ball of string or yarn so I can only imagine how much fun it would be to help unlock someone's hair; and in part because I wish you were closer so I could touch your hair and feel for myself.

    But for the love of Pete, what does the third asterisk/footnote refer to? I've even done a ctrl-F to find all the *s and I can only match up the first and last two.

    So how is your hair, now? Locked by the scalp but unraveling by the ends? I think we need pictures. I *know* I need pictures.

    ?Ironically? the description of "hair that cascadades down their backs" is exactly why I am obsessed with the idea (but bear neither the funds nor the patience) to have my hair done in those microbraids. I always think that if it could be *contained* in some way, instead of just loose-flying individual hairs all over the place, then I could get the luxurious, artfully-tumbling, loose-but-not-messy look that I want.

    My word verification for this is "taters," and I'm trying to think of some way to link locs and taters. Got nuthin.

  • At 11:31 AM , Anonymous Bethany (Satinswan) said...

    I gotta say, especially living in a midwest college town where I see it plenty because the students want to make a statement that they are not, in fact, midwest college students... That white people with dreads look absolutely ridiculous and no matter whether they are or aren't, they always look like lazy, grubby, chain-pot-smokers.

    For some reason, the style seems to inspire we caucasians to stop doing laundry and brushing our teeth.

  • At 11:43 AM , Blogger Gine said...

    Elayne, fixed asterisk thingy. I think.

    Bethany, you have cracked me up for the gigazillionth time. I've seen some very sexy dreadlocked white boys, myself. . . .

  • At 7:15 AM , Blogger Ranuel said...

    A co-worker and I were absolutely drooling over the hair of a hot young man who came to visit a patient. He had small neat braids of shiny black hair all the way down to his butt (which was also nice).

    2. I want hair that cascades too. I paid nearly $300 to get it a few years back but it reverted in less than a month to it's usual solid mass.

  • At 12:03 PM , Blogger Lori said...

    Gine, I loved your post! I'm a "natural woman" myself (yes, I do wash, comb and style), but I've debated on whether to loc for the past several years. Right now, I like the versatility of my natural style, meaning I can wear twists, twist-outs and even flat-iron when the mood hits me. Not sure I would have that freedom if I locked.

    Oh, also, on my own blog I'm about to launch a series of posts about women who wear their hair natural. I'd love to add your "story" to the collection. If you're interested, email me and I'll forward you the questions. Thanks!

  • At 8:40 PM , Blogger Trin said...

    I know a guy (he's semi famous over here) had beautiful dreads, down to his waist (and he's over six foot so...looong). A few years ago, for reasons that will remain untold, he had to cut them all of. I cried. So did he. Absolute tragedy.

  • At 8:20 PM , Blogger nakita said...

    Please let me know if ur locks have totally un ravelled. I have midback length thick locks which has gotten too heavy. I want to cut it out but heard it can be loosed. I believe the ends are the only part that is needle locked as it got too thick, the rest is palm rolled. Anxious

  • At 8:26 PM , Blogger nakita said...

    Also locks tend to get dry easily therefore I used a lot of natural oils which had pleasnt smells, like vit E, shea and carrot oil.The only time I did not oil is when I was going to wash like a few days before.

  • At 8:02 AM , Blogger Gine said...

    I did take them loose and managed to keep my length --until my stylist cut my hair. /sigh/

    I used the pointy end of a rattail comb. Every day. For hours. For more than a week. My right pointer finger still hurts.

    I'm happy with my new naps, but I would not recommend the process to anyone who has a life!


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