|Steven Jackson is #hairgoals|
By Veronica Wells
Once my locs got to a certain length, after nearly a year-long awkward phase, they immediately became a topic of conversation for the Black women I’d meet out and about. Years ago, as an after work mixer was winding down, one such Black woman told me how much she admired my locs. She asked a few of the standard questions about maintenance and how long I’d been growing them. But the conversation ended differently than most of these encounters.
Small talk makes me anxious; but this budding conversation, bridging the worlds of dating and Black hair, immediately piqued my interest.“What do you mean?”
“It just seems like it would be too much,” she said. “I can’t be with a man who spends more time in the bathroom than I do. That just seems like a whole lot of primping.” To illustrate her point, the woman, who was wearing her hair in a modest top knot that day, bent at a 90 degree angle and pretended to gather a handful of imaginary hair. She pursed her lips as she positioned her make believe locs at the top of her head before meticulously securing them with an invisible hair tie. Then, for good measure, she ran her fingers upward around her perimeter.
The dramatization was comical so I just stood watching. But at the end of it, she seemed to get to the real reason why she wouldn’t date a man with locs.
“I can’t have a man whose bun is bigger than mine!”
There it was.
While part of her concern seemed to be rooted in the notion that maintenance and haircare were associated with femininity; (Those pesky gender roles.) the bigger issue seemed to be jealousy, length envy to be specific.
The desire for length is something Black women, relaxed or natural, know something about. After all, we’re the Black girls who carefully secured towels and t-shirts to our heads and swung the fabric, imagining that the feeling of the cloth against our backs were strands of our own hair. As we got older, we were the young adults who used our new camera phones to document our hair journeys with length checks. We’re the women who scour the internet looking for products and strategies that promote length retention. The other day I found myself mourning when another woman cut her waist-length locs off.
Length and the appearance of length is important to us. And not just women. Black folk period. My first love wore cornrows when we first met one another in middle school. Years into our early twenties when my fro was flourishing and he was rocking a fade, he wondered if my hair was longer than his cornrows had been at their height. The man was discussing the length of hair that was no longer attached to his head.
Before I met my current boyfriend, who also has locs, I didn’t think I had any of this type of length envy when it came to dating partners. I appreciate my locs and certainly the way they look on Black men. In fact, in my wildest dreams, I saw myself with a man with locs. And in my fantasies they were always long, longer than my hair. Still, once I realized my boyfriend was going to be around for awhile, I started thinking about the day my hair would be longer than his.
Years later, I thought I’d reached that milestone. I’d just come home from the salon, after a fresh retwist and you couldn’t tell me nothing. I was draping. My boyfriend just so happened to be at my place and now was the time to measure. From the looks of things my locs did seem longer than his. But just as I was ready to walk away the victor, the student who’d finally beaten the master, he said the only real way to tell was to pull his hair and see how far it went.
I had forgotten to account for shrinkage.
My sister was the judge. She pulled one of my boyfriend’s locs and it went to the middle of his back while mine were just above my bra strap.
My sister said, “Daaaanng. It’s not even close. He’s killing you.”
A second after the winner had been crowned, I felt just the slightest twinge of disappointment. I wasn’t there yet.
Thankfully, it was only a few seconds later that I reminded myself that it wasn’t a competition. While I can certainly empathize with women who might feel a way, if both you and your man have hair that is healthy and growing, regardless of length, then you both look good as a unit. And that’s winning.