By T. Hall of DopeReads.com
Last month I shocked a lot of people when I posted pictures of my giant Afro on Facebook. That might not seem so strange, except for the fact that for the past five years I have had (dread)locs.
Yes, you can comb out locs.
No, your hair isn’t necessarily damaged.
Yes, it took a long time.
The questions immediately started flooding in, so I decided to write a post on some of the why and all of the how of how I took down my dreads.
Why did you do it? That’s the question that is both the hardest and easiest to answer. The short response is ‘because I wanted to,’ but the longer story is that I went through some pretty interesting Life Changes, and as a result wanted to have an outward manifestation of said Changes. It’s something I wanted to do for a few months before I actually did it, but held back for Various Reasons (what will people think? will I still look cute? etc. etc.) Letting them go meant letting go of who I had built myself up to be over the past five years and starting fresh.
How the hell did you do that? This is the question I have gotten most frequently. It was really simple, actually. Conditioner, a rattail comb, and the souls of at least 3 BIC ballpoint pins. Before taking the big jump I did a little research on Youtube and found this video. It was pretty helpful, and gave me a good point of reference. CurlyNikki also has a post about de-locking here.
Because my locs were so mature (5 years old) I cut 4–6 inches off so that I wouldn’t have to work through so much hair. Combing out locs is exactly like taking down 3 month old braids – you know that tight little knot that you have at the root of a braid when you unbraid it? Multiply that by 10,000 and that is essentially what a loc is. Starting at the bottom, I just used the pen/rattail comb to *gently* pick at the tangles. My hair is pretty pliable when wet, so it didn’t break as much as I thought it would.
How long did it take? I was actually surprised at how quickly (relative to other people’s experiences) my process took. With the help of my aunt and grandmother, it only took me 3–4 days to take down my entire head, and had roughly 88 locs. My grandmother was a beast and ended up taking down about 70% of my hair, even though I initially told her I didn’t want her do touch my head. 80 years of experience working in gardens and fields meant my Granny was a pro (and I had to eat my words, she’s still gloating about how fast she was).
After Care: My hair hadn’t seen the light of day in 5 years, and it felt AMAZING to wash it without being weighed down by the heaviness of my locs. I shampooed using a cheap clarifying product (Suave) and then followed up with an Apple Cider Vinegar/Water rinse (I just used about 1 cup of vinegar, 2–3 cups of water, and poured it into my hair). Then, I conditioned with John Mitchell’s Tea Tree Oil conditioner and let it soak in for a bit. After rinsing that out, I made a hair masque using the following items:
I free balled the honey and the olive oil, but I just made sure to add enough oil so that my hair wouldn’t get sticky. I tossed the three ingredients into the blender and boom! Hair smoothie! I applied the masque to my clean hair and got under a dryer for 20 minutes. This left my hair feeling super soft and manageable.
I ended up retaining about 12–14 inches of hair, which was much more than I’ve had in a while. It was super thick, and it was weird to be shedding hair again (when you have locs all the hair you shed gets folded into the loc). After blow drying, hot combing and pressing it with a ceramic flat iron, my hair came out like this:
Being unlocked is an exhilarating and frustrating experience. On one hand, SO MUCH HEALTHY HAIR! On the other, SO MUCH HAIR! EVERYWHERE! Lol. When I had locs maintenance was fairly easy, but now I have to constantly be checking to make sure my hair isn’t showing out and doing something crazy. I ended up cutting it into a more manageable style because I don’t have time to braid it up and deal with it every night (and I love short hair. A lot.).
Two really interesting things I noticed during this process: one, that as a black woman, so many people (employers, lovers, relatives, friends, strangers) have an opinion about your hair. It’s really kind maddening, actually, because in the end those opinions shouldn’t (but often do) motivate hair choices. The second is that as soon as I straightened my hair, I felt like my Natural Hair Mafia privilege card was revoked, and I was no longer ‘sistah’ or ‘queen’ or ‘Nubian Empress’, but rather just another lightskin chick with straight hair. I don’t have strong data on this, but I definitely felt the difference in how people interacted with and approached me.
So there you have it folks. Have you ever considered locking or unlocking? Let me know in the comments section.
T. Hall is the founder and editor of DopeReads, a multicultural book blog that focuses on fiction, non-fiction and other literary works by writers of color, women writers, LGBTQ writers, and anything else that’s dope. You can follow DopeReads on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @DopeReads