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.
UPDATE: One summer, or one end of a semester, I decided to unravel the locs and see what I got. I would work all day and unravel all night, with the help of one daughter. I used the metal end of a rattail comb to pick the locs apart. During the process, I sprayed my hair with a light Aussie leave-in conditioner. At work, my hair was in an updo that hid what I was doing.
Unraveling my locs took slightly more than a week, and the index finger on my left hand has never been the same.
At the end, I had a small Walmart bag full of hair. I also had a lot of soft, unloc’d hair on my head. Since then, I’ve been waffling back and forth over whether I should go back to the locs.
Regina is a Christian, in her 50s, zaftig, has two girls, two dogs, and she likes arguing with strangers on the Internet. She’s a friend from one of my favorite Natural hair groups on Facebook.
I’m always looking for guest posters so if you have something you wanna say the email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “submission” in the subject.
Take care Naturals,
I have a couple of questions: Was your hair wet during the time you were unlocking or did you do it when your hair was dry? Also, did you use any additional product, such as an unlocking gel?
At first, I thought a "unbraiding" spray would work. (I tried the African Pride brand.) It didn't. After that, it was an Aussie Moist leave-in mixed with Infusium. I just sprayed and picked, sprayed and picked, until all my hair was loose. Then a BIG shampoo in the shower and a deep conditioner.
I didn't know unlocking gels existed.