One thing I've learned for sure is how to have thicker skin because people really do say the darnedest things sometimes. It can be hard to gauge when people are coming from a place of ignorance, genuine curiosity, or if they're just trying to be a smart aleck, but I'm learning how to not get too defensive regardless of what's said. It’s hard though. By far the most difficult has been not having my loved ones' 100% support.
Before I started locking my hair and wore a shrunken afro 99.5% of the time, my boyfriend flip-flopped back and forth between curiosity and trying to be funny about what he thought of my nappiness—and with the latter, the conversation usually ended badly. For instance, whenever we were in a store that sold boxed relaxers, he would point out the model on the box and say something like 'Why don't you wear your hair like that?' Seems harmless enough but maybe a month after cutting all my relaxed hair off I'd decided I didn't want chemicals in my hair any longer, which I'd made clear to my beau, so his references to permed hairstyles made me feel as my choice meant I was now less attractive to him. I would rather he come right out and say that he didn't like it. Other times I'd be in the bathroom doing whatever to my hair and he'd pop in to be nosy. Most times he wouldn't say anything, but he'd look at my head in such a way that nothing even needed to be said, it was written all over his face. I never felt he was trying to purposefully hurt my feelings but I came to understand that not just the fact of my being natural but really the mentality behind embracing natural beauty was so foreign to him that he didn't even realize when he was out of line. None of the women he’d ever known or dated before me were natural, so I had a huge hurdle to clear. It was hard because I wanted him to still accept me for me and not my hair, yet it was hard for him to understand that my being natural wasn't just a phase but it was a lifestyle change. Now that I’m locking he’s more receptive, probably because it means I’m going to let my hair grow long rather than keep it really short. I could get defensive about that too, but I don’t have the energy. Besides he’ll love me anyway!
Another of my biggest 'critics' is my mother. My mom always comes from a place of love, but because she says whatever comes to her mind, there have been times when her approach was more harsh or sarcastic than I was expecting. You think I'd have learned after 24 years of her being my mother not to take it personal, but even still she knows how to 'take it there'. She probably liked my fro the least of all my loved ones hence I figured she'd have quite a mouthful to say about my baby locs; however, she shocked me when I recently went home to visit. The only side-eye worthy comment she made was "Wow, they're so neat and clean!" Now one of the most common (and quite ridiculous) myths that exist about locs is that intentionally dirty hair encourages locking, so I assume this is why my mother was caught by surprise.
But this journey is for me—not my boyfriend, my mother, my supervisor or anyone else—me!
So to those who are considering locs or even just wearing their hair natural, remember that it is not only a personal transition but it may also require a mental transition for your family and friends. Some receive more support than others, while some need the support more than others, but at the end of the day it’s up to you to decide how your choice affects you should those around you disapprove. If you're that family member, significant other or good friend, please take the time to be supportive and encouraging--even if you don't understand or agree.