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Letting Go of Locs

Avatar • Aug 10, 2010

By Ernessa T. Carter, author of 32 Candles

I don’t know many other women who have been through not one, not two, but three big chops, but I can pretty much guarantee that even the ones I don’t know, like me, had different reasons for undergoing each of their chops.

My first big chop came at the age of 17. It was the 90s, I was both political and lazy, the perfect attitude for undergoing a big chop. I decided that I would no longer be a slave to fashion, no longer force my parents to spend their hard-earned money on making my hair look more “white.” I transitioned for six months with press and combs and then big chopped with the righteous fury of a militant 17 year old feminist, who thought she knew EVERYTHING.

Mind you, this was before YouTube videos and sites like BGLH, so my hair looked, how can I say this … pretty bad. I picked it out every morning, and wore it in a somewhat matronly short afro that I soon came to hate. However, I had grown too used to not having to spend 30–60 minutes on my hair every morning, so how did I solve the problem? I big chopped again at the age of 18, and this time I kept my hair very short, as close to my head as possible w/o going completely bald and wore big earrings.

I adored this hairstyle and probably would have kept it, except that a little over a year later my mother died very unexpectedly. It’s hard to explain the decisions that you make in the wake of a loved one’s passing. But a year later, I decided to grow my hair out and have it twisted into dredlocks, which I kept for 12 years.

For half of those 12 years, I was an emotional mess, but then I slowly began pulling my life together. I got an MFA, moved to Los Angeles, went into therapy, met my husband, landed my first full time writing job, and got married. If you’ve never had really long hair this might seem like a bizarre thing to say, but I carried ALL of that: my mother’s death, the emotional trauma of grief, every major break-up, and both the bad and good things that had happened to me over those 12 years in my hair. There really is something about this particular hairstyle, it just seems to hold your history inside of it.

August 2008 was a difficult month for me. My husband and I hadn’t been able to conceive in over a year of trying, and our first round of IUI had failed. I was also beginning to become unhappy about the stress of my job as a radio writer. I loved what I did, but the sometimes 60-hour work week and the stress of an ever-changing schedule along with our fertility issues were starting to take their toll.

My hair had been feeling heavy for a while at that point. I loved the length and the look of it, but the emotional weight of it – it felt like too much. Then one Sunday I washed my hair, and I just couldn’t bring myself to retwist it. This was a strange feeling. My vanity and my emotion warred all week, while I wore hats and scarves to work. In the end, my emotion won out. The following Sunday, I gave my husband a pair of scissors and told him to cut my dreds out.

The feeling of freedom that came afterwards was so amazing, that I remained in a terrific mood for the entire week. But then strange things started happening: Beforehand, I had merely been dissatisfied with writing for others as opposed to for myself. But that dissatisfaction ballooned after I cut my hair. Less than three weeks later I quit my job. And less than two weeks after, we began the process to undergo IVF.

In many ways it felt like letting go of my hair allowed me to let go of my job. It didn’t get in my way while I went about the grim business of preparing for an expensive procedure we weren’t sure would work. It was my first act of bravery in what would turn into a year of taking chances. Chances that included finally sending out the novel I had been working on for two years out to agents.

By August 2009, I had landed my book deal, we had moved house, and we had welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family thanks to IVF. I have never received so many good wishes as I did in the year that followed my third big chop.

I keep my dreadlocks in the second drawer of my writing desk as a reminder of all the magical things that happened when I let them go. And I often joke that if I’m ever in need of another big infusion of luck, I’ll big chop again.

Has anyone else had the experience of going from locs to loose-strands? What were your reasons?

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NinaG
NinaG
10 years ago

I can relate to this on some level. I definitely felt an emotional component to me cutting off my locs nearly 3 years ago. I’d been going back and forth with myself for a while about keeping them but I realized the reasons for me to keep them were all external (politics, views about long hair being beautiful, etc.). I was also living in a dreadful city and was extremely unhappy so when I went home for Christmas, I had my locs cut off by the same woman who cut my perm out when I was 15 years old. The… Read more »

NinaG
NinaG
9 years ago
Reply to  NinaG

wow so I forgot about this guest post. I read 32 Candles a few weeks ago. Thanks for reposting this on facebook.

YAHAZIAH
YAHAZIAH
8 years ago
Reply to  NinaG

Wow. I believe it was meant for me to read Ernessa’s account. I saw mySelf in a dream…in 1997. I saw mySelf NaTuRal…with locs…and as a vegetarian. Ironically, the man I was with, told me that locs were not “holy” (he was a young Apostolic preacher). Wanting to keep peace, I heeded his admonishment. Well, a few years later he was gone…and the dream/vision that I’d had started becoming reality. In 2004, I became a vegetarian and also did my big chop. I began loc’ing in September ’05. Over the past couple of years, I have been going through all… Read more »

Danica
10 years ago

I’ve never had locs but I love how Ernessa allowed cutting her dreads to be the catalyst for massive change in her life. Very inspiring story!

Renee
10 years ago

Wow, her story almost parallels mine. People never quite understood the relevance of my locs and taking them down, but it’s amazing to know that there are others out there whose locs weren’t only a hairstyle. I just took mine down about a week and a half ago, so I’m a loose-natural all over again!!!!

I wrote about it as an introductory post on my blog — http://anaturalallure.blogspot.com/2010/08/my-four-year-love-affair.html

I love this!

Camille
10 years ago

Great piece! I combed my 10-year old locs out right after my wedding this May. I really needed a change. I was in such a different place when I started those locs and they just weren’t a reflection of who I was anymore. It’s not impossible that I would loc again, but I sincerely doubt it.

Shones
10 years ago

I know her! Well, not personally, but sometimes you feel like you do. Arnessa, I follow your personal and guest posts on your blog. Congrats on your book. And thanks for posting the Star Wars vids, especially TomTom and Improv Everywhere. Hubby and I walk around the house saying “at the round-abound.” I BC’d three times as well. The first time was in the late-90s when I was in college, after wearing a relaxer for years. I remember having a lot of fear about looking manly, but i was really tired of the chems, the constant upkeep (I guess I… Read more »

Shones
10 years ago

oh, i spelled your name wrong, Ernessa. Sorry.

CashmereCurls
CashmereCurls
10 years ago

I can relate to the idea of emotions being tied to your locs. I had mine through much of my formative years from middle school to high school. This wasn’t the happiest period of time for me since I always felt confused and had a low opinion of myself and my appearance. I made an impulsive decision to cut them off because I started to feel like everything that I thought was wrong with me was tied to my hair. I tried wearing my hair in its loose natural state but because I had self esteem issues that had gone… Read more »

Angela of Neglected Princess

WOW! What a powerful, moving story! It’s amazing how the different areas of our lives effect and coincide. I have just begun reading your book- fabulous!

Ms. Kathy
10 years ago

Never chopped. Got about 16 years of growth. Never regetted going natural.Even started a fun group on FaceBook called “Happy Nappy Heads.”

julia
10 years ago

I had locs for 7 years (I’d BC’s twice before that) and I just cut them earlier this year. While I had them I loved them but, for me, it was time.

ChiChi
ChiChi
10 years ago

I thought she looked familiar. I loved her book 32 Candles!

Lulu
10 years ago

I cut my locks off about a month ago now. After 5 years. I loved those locks immensely. I still do and it’s a hairstyle, or should I say, lifestyle, that I want to experience again. However, I had reached a point where I felt that I was not myself. It had nothing to do with the locks at all, but the locks seemed to provide something that I could hide rather than confront the issues I needed to deal with. I’d been thinking about the chop for a year or more and one day, I was hit by an unexpected… Read more »

Nikki
Nikki
9 years ago
Reply to  Lulu

I can relate to ChiChi and Julia but certainly not to the author…sorry. Our thinking certainly shapes the outcomes we receive in life. To link the cutting of your hair to the sudden good fortune in your life is a stretch for me to understand. I recently cut my locs of 8 years, and guess what, no big changes and good fortune have come; only what I have been working on, that I will certainly achieve whether I am bald or have hair touching the ground. The negativity associated with this hairstyle sometimes takes a toll on those who choose… Read more »

beautywithcurls
10 years ago

I Can Relate My Locks Were With Me Through The Lost Of A Few Loved Ones And Other Issues. It Does Feel Like Locks Hold On To Your Pain And I Eventually Cut Them For That Reason And Others. I Never Regretted It, I Just Evolved And Maybe Life Will Lead Me Back To Locks. I Still Have My Locks As Well I Keep Them Wrapped Up And I Wash Them Every Few Years, Just Because They Aren’t Attached To Me Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Still A Part Of Me.

trackback

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lulu Kitololo, Black Girl Long Hair. Black Girl Long Hair said: Guest Post: Ernessa talks about letting go of her locs http://bit.ly/bvWjf6 #naturalhair […]

Dani
Dani
10 years ago

I very much liked this article.

luvmylocs
luvmylocs
10 years ago

i loved my locs. i cut them when they were almost 6 years old. it was a good thing. they do carry energy that you can’t explain. i will probably loc again at some point. having locs is wonderful and cutting them is wonderful too!

i also applaud you for being so open about your infertility. many women struggle. unfortunately pregnancy isn’t easy for everyone. talking openly about it shows there’s no shame in getting assistance to have a baby. thank goodness it’s an option nowadays. peace to you!

AfroKisses
AfroKisses
10 years ago

I’ve never been loc’ed but I can relate…I actually bc’d three days after my grandfather passed. Hair just wasn’t on my list and somehow I knew it would be cathartic to just let it go.

chi_tracie
10 years ago

I am happy for Ernessa! I cut my 6 yr old locs 8 months ago; and I regret it. Not sure if it’s the newness of not having them but, sigh, I do miss them. I’m hoping to feel like Ernessa does about her hair- soon!

Jamie
Jamie
10 years ago

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU.….….….….….….….….….

For posting this. I’ve had locs for 4 and a half years and I’m cutting them out tomorrow. This came just in time to reassure and encourage me as I move forward on this natural hair journey.

sugarfree
sugarfree
10 years ago

I can relate in that I cut my 6 year old locs about a month ago. I did my first big chop 8 years ago and it was a less emotionally charged experienced the 2nd go round. I know my hair and appreciate it for what it is. I am not looking for a miracle product to transform my strands into something it will never be. I truly feel like I love my hair! My new philosophy is, “Change is good.” I don’t ever want to feel burdened by my hair. I enjoyed my locs and thier various stages; however,… Read more »

Cynthia
Cynthia
10 years ago

Such a beautiful read.

Black Married Momma
10 years ago

I’ve had my locks — this current set — for more than five years. Lately, I’ve thought on-again and off-again about whether I will cut them or take them out or grow them out to have loose natural hair anytime soon. After my deliberation, I think not — at least not right now. I’m very much at peace with the energy in my hair (and, yes, I agree with those who believe it’s enmeshed with the locks), the aesthetics of it, the flexibility it provides, the ceaseless evolution (growth) and the flat-out practicality. However, I am always interested in the… Read more »

AfroTina
10 years ago

I don’t think we realize how much emotion we carry in our hair… I love how explained that. Thank you for sharing your story. I like you site BGLH!

Terri
10 years ago

I’ve had my locs for over six years and have no plans to cut them. I knew I wasn’t ready when I saw someone else getting theirs cut off and had a pretty visceral reaction. I do look forward to the day when I will cut them, but I think everyone knows when they are ready. It’s different for all of us.

lorna jenkins
10 years ago

Thanks for sharing everyone. Nice to be part of this group. This is my second BC the first was back in 1996, i cut my shoulder length natural hair to a ceasar and moved from Cali to NYC out of the blue. (Saturn return made me do it) Recently, July 2010 i cut and combed out 14 years of Locks). Primarily because Locks were not a complete representation of me. There are many facets of me, the Locs limited my artistic ability to adorn myself and my hair creatively. I’m Afro, I’m straight hair, I’m curly hair, I’m long and short hair…now… Read more »

Cardenie
10 years ago

I cut my locs off last August after 5 years. I honestly was just sick of them. Got tired of taking 4 hrs of my time every month to twist them, not being able to just soak my hair if I wanted to because it took so long to dry. With my twa, there is no maintenance and now that my hair is about 6 inches long, it takes me 1.5 hrs. to twist. May take longer as my hair gets more length, but I will just cut it again if I feel like it.

LaNeshe
10 years ago

32 Candles was a GREAT book, she is an awesome author.

LBell
LBell
10 years ago

I appreciated this story…thanks for sharing it. I tend to be skeptical of the whole energy/experiences-carried-in-locs concept. That said, a lot of major positive changes happened in my life during the 3.5 years I had locs. When I cut them off three years ago, I experienced a little bit of a setback…more like a slowdown. I’m still growing…just a little more slowly. I doubt I’ll loc again…if I do I may consider Sisterlocks just because I want to be able to put them up in something other than a ponytail. For me, locs are still mostly a hairstyle. For the… Read more »

Als Simmons
10 years ago

I did in January after 9 yrs of locs. Why I did it? I needed a change, the locs became too heavy and I felt that my life has evolved so much and 2010 will be a new era for me. I miss my locs though. It’s hard getting used to loose hair texture. I have to relearn how to stylee my hair… How to wash and detangle. My hair feels so fragile now. I miss the lower maintenance of locs and the ease of washing and retwisting. But it’s a beautiful journey and I’m glad that I had the courage… Read more »

trackback

[…] to a tight schedule. Sorry about that! Meanwhile, please visit Black Girl Long Hair to check out my guest post about how I came to big chop my locs in the first place. This all has many wondering how others came to choose their current style. […]

trackback
10 years ago

[…] to a tight schedule. Sorry about that! Meanwhile, please visit Black Girl Long Hair to check out my guest post about how I came to big chop my locs in the first place. This all has many wondering how others came to choose their current style. […]

Dionne
Dionne
10 years ago

WOW…beautiful article. I have always believed that energy is carried in our hair, no matter how we style it. My journey is similar but opposite: I started my locs when I wanted a change in my life 4 years ago. The longer they grow, the stronger I feel. They always remind me of how far I come and the progress I made.

Jai
Jai
10 years ago

WOW, what a great article! You guys must read her book 32 Candles, I just finished it this evening and I may re-read it again before taking it back to the library. If you loved the movie 16 Candles, you will love this book!!

Ernessa I look forward to your next novel!!!!

summer
summer
10 years ago

This couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been growing my locs for 7 years last month. I have been toying with the idea of cutting them since last year. I went & had some length cut off last Halloween & it was hard & scary, but not horrific like I imagined (I couldn’t either look at or keep the hair — I didn’t know how to feel about it.) Now I am at the fork-in-the-road again. I LOVE my hair, but I also feel ready for change. And given that I am going through a transition point… Read more »

Bianca
Bianca
10 years ago

I went from locks to hair in August 2009 after twelve years of locks. They were waist length at that point, but for the previous two years my texture had been changing, and the roots would not stay twisted for anything! I’m assuming it is hormone related…but I really have no idea why. So on the new moon I had my eleven year old daughter cut them to my shoulders and I walked into a natural hair salon to have the stylist comb out my locks. She cut three more inches off, then took twelve hours to comb out my locks! I had… Read more »

Linda
Linda
10 years ago

Thanks for the beautiful post. After having my locks for 13 years, I’ve been going back and forth about cutting them off for the last few months. They’re starting to feel heavy, in my way, and like they don’t represent who I am anymore. Up until now, I’ve always felt beautiful with them, and I’ve gotten many many compliments over the years. I do believe that they hold energy. I cut a foot of length off after my mother passed away a few years ago, and I felt lighter–like I had cut years of old “stuff” out of my life.… Read more »

Barbara
10 years ago

I love this post because I recently cut off my locs and it’s great to find other women that I can relate to. Great article!

Chelsea
Chelsea
10 years ago

It was nice to come across this website. I’ve had my locs for 6 years and I have come to a point in my life where I want to cut my locs. I just turned 40 years old and I have a new take on life overall.
After reading these comments, I will have my daughter cut off some of my locs tonight and then I will have my stylist cut off the rest within two weeks. I want to step out on faith and not fear about my hair.

trackback

[…] catch up more on  Carter & her debut novel 32 Candles click here for her interview on Fly and here for a great feature on BGLH where she talks in depth about her natural hair […]

SankofaScholar
SankofaScholar
9 years ago

I know I’m late but THANK YOU for posting this article. I have had my locs for 4 years now and they are shoulder blade length. Ive been contemplating unraveling them but I think I’ll wait four more years, ( I like even numbers) lol. Then I will unravel I miss my fro soo much. But I’m also connected to my locs as well. Great read and keep them coming.

trackback
9 years ago

[…] black women say this. I got the idea to cut it off in October, then waffled back and forth, until just like when I cut off my locs, I found myself with an itchy head of hair, two weeks from my last wash. I needed to either deal […]

lotus
lotus
9 years ago

Beautiful story. Just wanted to add something I was told recently. Your hair attracts energy (good and bad) and if it is kept long, it will carry the energy of the various stages in your life (I suppose it can be compared to when a doctor can tell the stages of your health by examining one strand of hair) so it is no wonder that after going through a difficult time, cutting the hair is tantamount to releasing a burden.

Peace

Ash
Ash
9 years ago

I’m on my second pair of locs and I feel its time for a change. Although I have only had them for two years I just feel its time. I love my locs, but I can’t shake the feeling of the change. I totally feel the energy and I want to thank everyone for their truth because it will help me on y journey.

Sada
Sada
9 years ago

Wow. You said it in a nut shell. For me I’d had frequent dreams about combing them out throughout the 3 years that I had them. Then one morning I woke up so HAPPY! I mean I had so much joy on the inside & I was still half way asleep lol I kept saying “God why am I so happy?” And then I remembered the dream I had…yup! I had taken my locs out and I was explaining to a friend that it was a way to unlock myself from situations and people in the past. I was more… Read more »

diva
diva
9 years ago

wow when I googled the sentence “I think I want to cut my locs.” I had no idea i would stumble upon this amazing story and all of you amazing stories. I recently graduated with a master’s degree and I have been having trouble finding a decent paying teacher’s position, since 2008, even with all my credentials. For the past year I have been trying to relocate to maryland, the state my boyfriend of 8 years lives in, and I’ve been thinking of cutting my six year old locs as well. Lately, I’ve just been feeling like I need a… Read more »

trackback

[…] I’ve actually been natural since I was seventeen. It’s been a long journey from a TWA to 12yo locks and back to a small fro: I wrote all about it here: http://bglhonline.com/2010/08/guest-post-letting-go-of-locs/ […]

cammie
cammie
9 years ago

What an amazing story! I teared up reading this one! Very inspiring!

Gemlocs
Gemlocs
9 years ago

Wow! I’m at the end of my loc journey as well and am planning on my first BC on Saturday. She said a lot of what I’m feeling right now and I never thought I would feel this way about my locs, but when it’s time it’s time. I’m excited about being loose and natural and all that encompasses. I would recommend locs to anyone because they are a work of art and beautiful but I’m looking forward to the freedom of loose tresses and a whole new me.

LYNDA
LYNDA
9 years ago

GREAT READ, SO INSPIRATIONAL !

E
E
8 years ago

I saw this while passing thru Curlynikki and thought you ladies might enjoy it as well.

Titled:NATURAL HAIR: YO BOYFRIEND DONT LIKE IT??

A. Marie
A. Marie
8 years ago

thank you. as of september 2012, i would have been locked for 9 years. recently, it has come to me more and more to cut my locs. i originally locked when my ex got married as i was already natural for about 3 years or so. then i began to enjoy the loc stages forgetting my initial reason for locking. since 2003, i have buried both my parents, travelled globally and am soon to publish my first book by the end of 2012. even as i type, i know that it is time.

Pat H.
Pat H.
8 years ago

I stumbled onto this site. First let me say, thank you all for sharing your stories. I recently took down my locs. I started my locs the day before the 911. And I really loved them, but here lately they were feeling to heavy, and for the most part some of them were getting thin and I had to put 2 and 3 together making it more heavy. Since I cut them, I feel free. But, what keeps coming to my mind is that song by India Arie “I am not my hair” My texture has changed, and now I… Read more »

Katherine
Katherine
8 years ago

16 years I had locks.  I loved them, I loved the connection I had w/them. As Queen Afua says, “they were my antennae to The Higher Power”. w We had a wonderful relationship, my locks were an extension if me. Back in ’96 it wasn’t know as a BC. All people knew was that I’d cut off all my pretty hair. Some pple in my church stopped talking to me like my freedom was contagious, ( I wish it was) like accepting & loving my blackness was a crime. My cowrie shell chokers & militant attitude didn’t help but I was… Read more »

Zahra
Zahra
8 years ago

I just did the big chop about a week and half ago. I’d been growing my locs for about 7 years. I go from locs to an afro almost like a cycle lol. In fact my friend from younger years called me and said hey do you still have your locs I was thinking it is around the time you’d be chopping them off lol, and she was right only this time it was for a much different reason. Short story… I was married, my ex-husband always stressed that he wanted me to have long hair. He was very controlling,… Read more »

Raquel
Raquel
6 years ago

I also big chopped the locks that I had for 8 years–in my case it was to join the miitary

Rachel
6 years ago

If any has cut or is going to cut their hair off plz consider donating and helping someone else out

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