4 In Bomb Life 101/ Featured/ Hair

Claire’s Life: Locs, Dreadlocks, and the Pitfalls of False Perception

I decided to loc my hair over 10 years ago. I had been a huge fan of box braids, but when I went up to Cambridge to attend Harvard College, finding someone to braid my hair proved both time consuming and expensive. I figured: braids look good on me, so why not try locs? It’s my hair, it seemed as if the opportunity for hair growth was endless, and I could maintain it myself! Sold.
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I also went through this phase of being ‘natural’ i.e. not relying on anything outside of what grew from my head to feel beautiful. Why did I need to buy bundles to look cute, I rationalized? So one sticky summer, I made the transition.
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I was teaching at a summer camp in Roxbury, Massachusetts, an underprivileged, mostly African-American area characterized by violence and low incomes. My class contained approximately 20 teens and tweens. An African-American studies major, my goal was to teach them about their history and about having pride in themselves. But after about two weeks of making them watch Eyes on the Prize and other documentaries, there was a near riot. They didn’t want to know about their history. It was too boring. I gave up. I got much further by taking them to the mall, allowing them to choreograph dances to Destiny’s Child, and play games.

It was in front of this audience that I took out my braids and debuted my new short coils. The girls were not feeling it! When we went to the mall and saw a guy, one girl said, “He would’ve holla’ed at you if you still had your braids.” They called me ‘African’ as if that was a bad thing. For the first few weeks (as anyone who has started locs is well aware), your hair basically shrinks down to almost nothing. So I wore a scarf until my hair looked more full. Imagine my horror when one of the ‘baddest’ kids in the class played a game of snatching my scarf off of my head during lunch period (it was a crazy summer).

I went home to Atlanta after that, and I encountered similar confusion and negativity from my parents and family members. My Dad called my hair ‘pumpernickels’ and asked if I was going to stick to it. My Uncle offered, “You can have that hairstyle after you have the job, but before that, you need to get a perm..” They seemed convinced that I wouldn’t be able to find employment with my new hairstyle, but characteristically stubborn, I stuck it out.
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I started my locs in 2001. That’s why news of a young woman being denied a job because of her loc’ed hair in 2016 is at the very least, disappointing, at most horrifying.

Locs (sometimes called dreadlocks, but I’ve dropped the ‘dread’ because of the negative connotation) are trendy. More and more women are trying the faux loc style. Zendaya Coleman, who famously switches up her hair, twirled at the Oscars with faux locs, and looked beautiful. But then Fashion Police’s Giuliana Rancic took away from her moment, saying she looked like she smelled of patchouli and weed.
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Just a few weeks ago, Marc Jacobs styled his models in his Spring 2017 show with colorful faux locs, but made a PR misstep when he didn’t credit African-American culture for his inspiration (he pointed to rave culture). After feeling the heat, he responded, “funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” Not understanding straightening our hair is not a choice. Apparently it is sometimes a necessity to be successful and accepted in society.
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I sometimes wonder if I’d be in a different space if I complied to cultural standards of what an acceptable hairstyle is. When trying to break into the fashion industry, I continuously heard no, to the point where I had to start my own thing. I didn’t fit the mold, so I had to create my own opportunities.

What’s most disheartening to me, however, is how my parents thoughts and warnings from more than 10 years ago still ring true today. As a black woman, you are still denied opportunities or accused of smoking weed just because of the way you choose to wear your hair.
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I have a dream that one day black women can express themselves in all their diversity, complexity, and versatility. We are smart. We are qualified. We are ambitious (and for what it’s worth, I have NO problem attracting men!). But most can’t see past our hair to understand that.
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I hope I can stand as just one example among many (Ava Duvernay, Whoopi Goldberg, Ledisi, Lisa Bonet) who is poppin, accomplished, and professional.
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Women with locs wear Chanel, we drive luxury cars, we fly private, we can get the job done, we don’t take no for an answer, and we smell like Tom Ford, not patchouli.
Love + Light,
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