Locs & Law School: How Locing My Hair Made Me More Free

Photo: courtesy of Sydney Clarke.
Back to school is all about preparation. Students buy school supplies well before their first day, order textbooks, and plan their outfits a week in advance. Everyone knows the first week of school is your chance to dress to impress. For me, the most important thing I do is plan how I’m going to wear my hair
In the past, the start of school was always a time to stress about whether my twist out — still wet from the night before — would unravel or if humidity would lead to shrinkage, erasing the hour of blow drying I fought hard to preserve. My back-to-school routine went like this: internally crying about spending $120 or more to have my hair braided then pulling it together once I looked in the mirror and saw my fresh braids grazing my hips. You couldn’t tell me that paying all that money was a waste because getting my hair done elevated me to feel my prettiest. I was that girl and no one could tell me anything until my roots got fuzzy and screamed it’s time to start the routine over, sis
Advertisement
As I go through orientation and start my first assignments, I know this back-to-school routine is the most profound one I’ve experienced yet because this fall marks the start of my second year of law school. After throwing myself into the stress and anxiety that is the first year of law school — or 1L year — I’m starting this school year with a sense of relief and excitement. Relief because I don’t have to acclimate myself to a completely new learning style and academic structure and excitement because I feel incredibly comfortable in myself, which is a far cry from the summer before law school. 
Photo: courtesy of Sydney Clarke.
For me, hair has always been an indicator of identity and personality, whether it was an accurate reflection of the individual or not. All the ideal versions of myself are built around specific adjectives: “successful,” “smart,” “talented,” “beautiful,” and my hair is an extension of that. If my twist-out bantu knot was pulled into a puff for church, I was “polished.” If my braids were in a bun to play sports, I was “driven.” But one style always seemed so far removed from those attractive characteristics: dreadlocks or, more commonly, locs
Locs have always seemed to be at the bottom of the natural hair movement totem pole in mainstream (read: white) media and quite frankly, even within the Black community. Despite having two aunts who’ve had locs for years, I struggled to see myself adopting a style that felt tied up in so much negativity. Locs seemed to be the antithesis of who I was. I knew societal stereotypes heavily influenced my bias because locs have somehow been associated with being dirty, less hygienic, unkept, and highly unprofessional (remember when Zendaya was unfairly ridiculed for wearing locs to the Oscars?). Despite the praise the natural hair movement receives on its surface, one of the movement’s many flaws is that, at times, it excludes the most natural style from the collective community’s exaltation — and along with it, type 4C hair textures. For all these reasons, I felt I couldn't bind myself to locs and the assumptions that come with them because I didn’t want to inevitably have to prove that I was still beautiful, talented, and smart — especially when I knew I was planning to pursue a career in law. 
Advertisement

I knew starting locs would be a long and tedious process, but seeing my hair grow with every retwist, I started to appreciate myself and my new found beauty.

In the summer of 2020, one of my friends posted a photo of herself with soft locs and I couldn’t shake my intrigue. So for my 21st birthday, I decided to give my own verdict on the style. I sat in my stylist’s chair for a few hours and after watching a few Netflix movies, I looked at myself in the mirror and was stunned. The style I’d been running from almost instantly became my favorite, and I got soft locs two more times before I had to be real with myself; I loved myself with locs. They framed my face perfectly and I felt confident walking around with my locs past my waist. I called my aunt in North Carolina for advice and after the millionth pep talk, I made the decision to loc my hair. 
My locs started as coils and rested on my head in skinny spools of curls As the months went on, I noticed budding which made my locs puffy in random areas as the hair started to grow and tangle. These locs were short and skinny instead of thick and long, but I stayed the course. While I’ve gotten a surprising amount of support for my hair, I’ve also gotten push back from family members and  I can feel the looks from friends who are too polite to say how they feel. There were times where I didn’t feel beautiful. There were times I wanted to cut my hair off and go back to a loose natural look. But I didn’t. I knew starting locs would be a long and tedious process, but seeing my hair grow with every retwist, I started to appreciate myself and my new found beauty.
Advertisement
My story doesn’t stop at that heartfelt realization.  Reality set in immediately as back-to-school season crept up on me. I was going to law school. I was going to be a Black woman in law school — excuse me, a Black woman in law school with locs. Black people make up 5% of the legal profession and the number of women with locs is even smaller. Not only is the legal profession overwhelmingly white, it’s ripe with biases and expectations largely based on how people physically present themselves. And although some firms are now making an effort to include and support more minority candidates, the work is far from over. 

Much like my experience with locs, the reality of law school turned out to be very different from my expectations... just as quickly as I looked in the mirror and loved my locs, I soon realized that law school was going to be my journey. 

I wasn’t naive enough to think that as a Black woman with locs, I’d be welcomed into this space with open arms and absolutely no ignorance or bias, but I also didn’t want the potential worst-case scenarios to stop me from taking a chance on myself. Much like my experience with locs, the reality of law school turned out to be very different from my expectations. I expected to go through three years of law school with little to no friends because I thought the obsession with competing against each other would put friendships on the back burner. Mentors and family members of mine gave unwarranted advice that cautioned me that law school would snatch away any time I wanted to spend with my partner or that I wouldn’t be able to do anything that wasn’t law school related. I was ready to suffer for the sake of my degree. But just as quickly as I looked in the mirror and loved my locs, I soon realized that law school was going to be my journey. 
Advertisement
Photo: courtesy of Sydney Clarke.
In law school, I’ve made friends who celebrated my birthday after only knowing me for two months. I’ve stayed in the library studying until my brain couldn’t process the words in front of me, but I’ve also gone on date nights and spent my Sundays at my grandma’s house playing with my baby cousin. I worked in a firm where no one made me feel othered and I never had to recite Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” to my coworkers. Ultimately, I’ve forged my own experiences through a dense forest of assumptions and generalizations to tell my own precious story of my first year of law school. I am going to be a lawyer with locs and so far, they haven’t been the barrier to my dream that I once thought they would be. And this is not to say I think that I’ll always go through my career without biases or ignorance from colleagues — unfortunately, the very existence of The Crown Act to combat hair discrimination proves this issue is alive and well— but it has been refreshing that my back-to-school experience hasn’t been more stressful  than it inherently is just because of my natural hair. 
My locs and law school journeys run parallel to each other. My friend, Mabel, keeps reminding me how long my hair will be when we graduate and that’s my equivalent to our parents’ marking our growth on childhood door frames. My decision to go through both processes for myself, despite expectations and negative connotations, has cultivated a fearless spirit that does not allow me to settle for any experience aside from my own — my identity can be any adjective I want it to be. Managing my expectations freed me of the “what ifs” that would stifle me if I gave them space to grow. 
My back-to-school routine is a lot different now than just a few years ago. I started law school orientation with a fresh retwist and I walk tall on campus knowing the jobs I worked over the summer will give me the opportunity to work in an industry I’m passionate about. My advice to anyone reading who is scared to embrace a piece of their identity because of what people might think, ignore them, listen to your gut, and just do it

More from Hair

R29 Original Series

Advertisement