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Monday, July 22, 2024

Land of the locks: One girl’s journey to hair freedom

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Like many Black women, my hair story begins at an early age. My grandmother was the primary hair comber in my household and she always made sure my cousins and my hair was always together. I mean, not a hair was out of place!

We’d sit in the kitchen perfectly still getting our hair pressed every other Friday evening and if you “sweated it back” you knew a spanking was coming.

I guess to make things easier, my mother decided to relax my hair. I was about 6 or 7, which is arguably too young for a child to get a relaxer. Instead of sitting in the kitchen, I was sitting in the JCPenny hair salon at The Village on Grant Street in Gary.

That got too expensive because after a few years of that, I came back to the kitchen for at home box relaxer. Every now and then my mom would find a good hair stylists (I’d imagine to fix the damage she had done to my hair with all of the creams, lotions and potions that were slathered on my shoulder-length hair)

Things changed at age 10 thought. This time was one of my first rights of passage – doing my own hair.

Hair right of passage

My mother would pretty much let me do anything to my hair, except cut or color it, so once I was able to navigate my own sense of style she let me do as I pleased. I guess she really didn’t have much to worry about because at that time I had a conservative style. Cardigans and turtlenecks were more my speed and that required more subtle hairstyles.

I will say, when my cool cousin came to visit for the summer, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into areas I only saw on BET. I’m talking crimps, waves, rod sets and the glue to hold it all together – brown hair gel. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about!

I do remember my first stylish haircut. The hair was parted across my head from ear to ear. The front was cut short and the back remained long. I realized that was a mistake when my 8th grade science teacher told me that it looked like I had been riding on a motorcycle and all my hair blew back.

After that the only haircut I wore was a straight bob. Sometimes it was short, sometimes it was long like Aaliyah’s, my hair idol at the time.

In the 90s, there was a weave explosion but that wasn’t a style I could really get into. I got a French roll one time and the tracks that were glued to my scalp nearly left me bald. If I knew then what I know now, I would have rocked that low hairstyle. But looking back, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it. This style would come later on in life.

The best and worst mistake

Throughout college at Indiana University I managed to get my hair done during breaks and relied on a flat iron to maintain my straight hair while on campus. Once I graduated and was on my own, those paid trips to the salon stopped because my parents truly “cut the cord.”

Being that I was new to Indianapolis, only knew literally two people in the whole city and was poor (I interned at Fox 59 for FREE!), I had to scrounge up a few bucks and relax my own hair.

This turned out to be the best and worst mistake of my life. Long story short, my hair broke off and was incredibly damaged. This forced me to cut off all my hair leading to my first really short cut. It was the ugliest haircut I had ever seen. Probably because I had yet to “find my flair” and probably because I found the worst hairstylist on the planet to do it.

I eventually had to let him go because not only was he a terrible stylist, he began to sexually harass me. I later found out he was harassing my friends, who I had referred.

The hair gods smiled on me and I began going to a stylists named Ron.

You know how old folks used to say that certain stylists had “magic hands”? Well, that was Ron! This man got my hair to grow and I loved going to his shop. This was the first time I had ever been in a shop that didn’t allow ghetto mess to occur. It was peaceful, for Blacks who had sense and full of stylists who could do it all.

By this time I was employed, but weekly trips to the salon were still out of the question. I could only afford my 6-week relaxer and relied on my own capabilities in between. I wised up though and made sure I only used the best products. That didn’t really matter because I still used lots of heat to make sure my hair was always straight.

The big chop

By this time, I was tired of all the…maintenance. I loved Ron and his salon, but hated sitting there for 3 plus hours getting my hair done. I hated worrying about how my hair looked all the time, if my curls were holding and my edges were “nappy.”

That among other things put me into such a funk, I literally did not look in the mirror. I could have had anything on my face, but unless someone informed me of it, I would’ve had no clue.

This depression did open my eyes to a new phenomenon that was happening – natural hair. I mulled it over, talked with Ron about it and decided to cut off my relaxer to wear an afro.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I went to the salon, he washed and dried my hair and I sat in the chair for the “Big Chop.” I hadn’t had a relaxer in months so I though I’d have some length to my ‘fro. Wrong! When he was done cutting, I had an inch of hair.

Ron spun me around and I sat there for a moment in shock. “What did you just do, Jessica?” Once the initial shock wore off, a sense of peace settled over me. I was cute! No…I was beautiful! I was free!

This was the first time I had ever saw myself. Like truly saw ME! Going natural suited me and everyone, except my father, LOVED my new cut. It was like I was a whole new person. I got looks from everyone! Women admired it and men were attracted to it.

As my confidence grew, my afro shrunk. After about six months, I was getting faded up with the clippers.

This is when my sexy really shined! It felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. Not only did I look extremely attractive, but I was truly free from the chemicals, worry and the enslavement long, straight hair had me in.

My big day

I wore my fade with confidence for several years. One day, a friend from college threw a boxing party and out of boredom, I encouraged my friend Monika to go. After the fight, I went to the kitchen to scavenge for another slice of pizza when I caught the attention of a young man.

Later on, many of the guests were leaving and I was ready to go too, but my friend was chatting with folks she hadn’t seen in years. So I took a seat and fiddled on my cell phone. This young man was not having that and invited me over for a chat. I learned his name was Andre and that he went to IU too.

This former IU football player talked with me all evening and had me laughing the whole time. He was attracted to me (and my cut) and I was attracted to him, but decided to leave our fate up to God. Apparently God said yes and the very next day Andre found me on Facebook.

Our online correspondence led to texting, which led to phone calls, which led to dates, which led to spending every day together, which led to, “Jessica, will you marry me?”

I said yes and began working on wedding plans.

Although I had upped my Afrocentrism (is that a word? Oh well, I just made it up), I still wanted a traditional veil to go with my wedding gown. That required hair. I grew my hair and by my wedding day, I had shoulder length natural hair. My cathedral veil looked gorgeous in my up-do!

Pop locking

My long natural hair served its purpose, but I said to myself “what are you going to do with all this hair now?” I wasn’t ready to go back to my fade, but I didn’t really like the time it took to two-strand twist it (how I wore I during the growing process). Locks popped into my brain and I said, “OK!” Since my husband had locks twice, he encouraged me to go for it.

My friend’s sister had gorgeous locks so I inquired about her hairstylists and went in for a hair consultation.

The day I met Sujai, I fell in love. She was so down to earth, informative, natural to the core and her home salon put you at ease. She started my locks and 10 months later, my hair is probably healthier than it’s ever been.

People ask me “So what made you lock your hair?” My reasons aren’t as “deep” as some people’s but I try to use that time as an opportunity to educate people on the hairstyle. Granted I didn’t do extensive research on the style, however I thought all Black people had a basic knowledge about locks. Boy was I wrong.

My locks get a lot of attention from other lock wearers as well as curious individuals who sometimes ask the stupidest questions. I try not to let it offend me, but one thing that I can’t seem to shake is the term “dreadlocks.” There is nothing dreadful about my hair or anyone else who has locks.

The best thing about my locks is the easy maintenance, how it makes me look and that my husband LOVES them.

Locks lesson

Thanks for reading my hair story, everyone. I hope it’s helped you learn learned a little more about me. I also hope it inspired someone to go experience the freedom of going natural or taking it a step further and locking your hair.

I most certainly hope you read my article “We are not our hair” in the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper and learn about the “other side” to locks. Even in 2013, the hairstyle is causing controversy.

For those who don’t like the style, I encourage you to learn about it first before you make judgments. For those who have locks, I urge you to wear this ancient style proudly and educate others when they don’t understand.

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