As an attractive black woman with 36-27-40 measurements, burgeoning model Wahidah Fowler shouldn’t have a problem getting cast in any hip-hop video. But she also wears locs. During the course of her career, the Brooklyn native has been faced with directors who wouldn’t feature her as a lead because of her hair. Still, Fowler has been able to find work on her own terms.
“I have never put on a wig just to suit a casting agent’s liking. I am a package, if you don’t like what I have to offer, you can pick the next girl,” she says. “However, thanks to my hair and diversity I have managed to brand my image more effectively than women that wear a more traditional hairstyles, like a perm.”
Despite the hurdles, Fowler has appeared in a range of videos from Juelz Santana to Maino, worked as a TV correspondent for CBS and appeared in Black Hair Sophisticates magazine. She represents a rising number of professional women who have decided to grow locs and celebrate the ancient style while dispelling common public misconceptions in the process.
“I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t have color in my hair or my locs should be covered because they assume I’m Rasta. Or, they tell me I shouldn’t wear locs because I’m not Rasta,” says Franchesca Ramsey, a YouTube superstar known for her hair tutorials and comedic sketches.
While most people associate the hairstyle, primarily known as “dreadlocks,” with the Rastafarian religion, its initial origins are unknown. According to Dreadlocks.org, for centuries, loc’d hair has been a symbol of a highly spiritual person who is trying to come closer to God, from Christianity to Hinduism. Renouncing the world and material possessions, they didn’t even comb their hair, which is how “dreads” form. In today’s world, some people find it offensive to refer to locs (alternately spelled, “locks”) as dreads.
But for Rasafarians, the word “dread” was associated with God fearing people and they considered their hair to be holy and powerful, hence the term “dreadlocks.”
Bob Marley introduced dreadlocks to pop culture in the 60s. He dedicated his music to spreading a message of reform and spiritual growth via his Rastafarian faith but according to the book Nice Dreads, the hairstyle started gaining even more popularity when more public figures like actress Rosalind Cash and Alice Walker began to wear the style. Today, the coiffure ranges from free form to meticulously maintained, salon-style.
However, while mainstream media outlets like CNN, the New York Times and even Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary Good Hair have chosen loose natural hairstyles as a topic of fodder, women in the loc’d community who feel ignored have chosen to represent their hair on their own terms.
“Many people’s misconceptions come from incorrect information. But instead of going off on people, I try to educate them on how a hairstyle doesn’t equal a certain lifestyle; that goes for people of all hair types,” says Thomas, who also blogs about beauty products, travel and food. “I don’t go around with a button on my shirt that says ‘Ask me about my locs’ but when these misconceptions present themselves, I feel like it’s my duty to attempt to correct peoples’ thoughts.”
“Women who wear locs are usually overlooked and I think that we are considered second class naturalistas due to the fact that most of the female public figures usually either have processed hair, weaves or natural hair in its loose form,” says Synethia Ennis, a school teacher who has a popular blog and YouTube channel that features various hair styling tutorials. “I basically want to show the versatility of locs. [They] can be styled in a variety of ways and I am proving that on a regular basis.”
Ennis and Ramsey sometimes share hairstyle inspiration and links to each others videos, which include tutorials on how to create pinup-style looks, French rolls and more. But when Ramsey recruited several popular YouTubers with locs for a collaboration video where they humorously shared their stories about the ignorant comments, assumptions and rude gestures people make toward their hair, the result was one of her most popular videos to date at over, 217,000 views.
“To this day my grandmother thinks my hair is weave. Whenever I correct her she says, ‘It’s yours cause you paid for it Frannie,’ laughs Ramsey about the incident, which was one of several inspirations for the video. “She’s always had a very sassy personality so I try not to take it personally and usually end up just rolling my eyes.”
Brittany Thomas, Social Media Specialist and founder of LocRocker.com, who also blogs about beauty products, travel and food, says that one family member actually questioned her sexuality when her loc journey began. “She called my hair ‘lesbian locs’ and said that many lesbians wear loc’d hair.’ Who knew sexual identity could be tied to a certain hair style? I calmly explained that I wasn’t a lesbian and went on this rant about how stupid it was to make such an assumption.”
Another common assumption expressed about people with locs is that that the hair is dirty but according to Nice Dreads (and common sense, depending on who you ask), the cleaner the locs the easier they form, and the easier they are to maintain.
Grooming, for most loc wearers is simple once a routine is established but when it comes to people’s attitudes and reactions, that’s where things get unpredictable.
Contrary to popular belief, Ramsey and Thomas don’t believe their hair has ever hindered their professional growth. But for Charity Clay, a potential employer’s negative remark forced her to stand her ground.
“The interview was for an auditing position with an accounting firm and after they said how impressed they were with my resume the lady interviewing me asked, ‘So If you get the job, what are you going to do with you hair’ I told her that if I had to change my hair then I couldn’t accept the job.”
Clay is currently enjoying life as a sociology lecturer in pursuit of her PhD and basketball coach on the side, while Ennis, Ramsey and Thomas are most likely busy planning their next posts with a purpose.