Commentary: Locs of love


Photo credit: Cadence Callahan

A photo of me when I was in the first grade. This is before I began to get box braids and still wore traditional cornrows with beads. This was a hairstyle I wore for the majority of my childhood.

By Cadence Callahan, Voices Editor

I have vivid memories of being a little girl nestled in my grandmother’s lap as she braided my hair. I remember the smell of the gel and hair grease she used as she parted sections of my hair and the tension from the rubber bands as she wound them around individual braids. 

I have always had a deep attachment to my hair and the memories associated with it. I don’t mean to sound vain, but I feel beautiful when the headaches and countless hours spent in a chair result in beautiful and bountiful box braids, locs, cornrows or passion twists. I spent so much time “ooing” and “owing” that I wanted to ensure I would receive compliments. 

I think back to the excitement I felt when I was allowed to pick accessories, beads, headbands and barrettes to compliment the style my grandmother spent much time on. I remember the sound of the beads clacking as I swung my hair back and forth. I would walk with a purposeful bounce so those around me noticed the new style and intentional color pattern the beads created. 

I remember the smell of the sweet coconut shampoo that managed to find its way into my eyes every time my grandmother washed my hair and the rickety step stool I stood on because I wasn’t yet tall enough to reach the kitchen sink. When she finished, I would walk into my great grandfather’s living room to look at him with wide eyes as he called me “bushy head,” a term of endearment.

These are some moments and memories I cherish.

As a child, I looked forward to the weekends at my great grandfather’s house, knowing I would see my grandmother. I appreciated the time I spent with her and couldn’t wait to discover which new hairstyle she wanted to attempt next. Would I get twists? Or an assortment of buns and twists? The anticipation was palpable.

The first time I got box braids, I was around nine-years-old. It was a special moment for me because it was a hairstyle I had admired on older cousins and aunts. There was something about the length, various colors and accessories the women around me used to transform the style that I found mesmerizing. 

I was bouncing off the walls on our excursion to the local beauty supply store to gather the needed materials for the style, a rat tail comb, Dax hair grease, Eco styling hair gel, and of course, the braiding hair. I spent time choosing which color I wanted for the braids. Could I be adventurous and get pink hair? Or blue? Maybe a mix of colors? As it was my first time getting braids, I chose the safest option and decided on black hair.

The process took longer than any other hairstyle I had gotten before (roughly three days). And although the process took so long, I loved every minute of it. I spent my time watching old episodes of a popular sitcom from the 1990s “Moesha,” starring singer and actress Brandy Norwood. Brandy was known for wearing micro braids, a popular style of the late 1990s comprised of incredibly small braids. I took note of the various styles and accessories she adorned, intending to take inspiration from her once my grandmother finished braiding my hair.

When she was close to being done, my grandmother instructed me to fill a metal cooking pot with water and set it on the stove. After doing so, she proceeded to light the fire and the water began to boil. She was preparing to “dip” my hair, a process that consists of boiling water, dipping the ends of braids to seal them and prevent them from unraveling.

After my grandmother finished my hair, and before she could dip the braids, I rushed to the bathroom to admire my hair in the mirror. I was transfixed. I inspected every braid, smiling from ear to ear. To this day, that has been one of my happiest moments. I thanked my grandmother repeatedly and could barely sit still while she dipped my hair.

Over the summer, I participated in a film program with the Youth Media Academy. During the program, I learned numerous film techniques and was instructed to create a film examining a topic of my choosing. I decided to create a film that explored the beautiful relationship I have with my hair and grandmother. I wanted the film to present recreated scenes of my grandmother braiding my little cousin’s hair; where my cousin represented me.

I decided to then write a poem, acting as a voiceover to play throughout the various scenes of my grandmother braiding my cousin’s hair. Throughout the poem, I reminisced on nights spent with my grandmother as she did my hair, highlighted my own feelings regarding my natural hair and called attention to the current lack of representation of Black hair in the media.

After multiple hours of editing, I showed the film to my grandmother. She loved the final result and thought it was a sweet tribute to her. She called multiple aunts and uncles, one of whom made a lengthy Instagram post praising my artistry and ambition. My grandmother complimented my creativity, stating she was aware of my inventive talents and believed I could succeed in any field I chose to go into.

I appreciated all of the compliments and praise from various family members, but I especially valued the kind words from my grandmother. I wanted to honor her with this film and knowing she loved it made me feel like I accomplished my goal.

And although she doesn’t do my hair as often as she did when I was younger, I’ve learned to treat my hair with the same patience and tender care she did. When I experiment with new hairstyles and find inspiration from various boards on Pinterest, I am transported to the time I spent with my grandmother, tucked in her lap, half-asleep, getting my hair done.