I toyed with locking my hair for nearly a year before I actually did it. I was fed up with weaves, braids, and wigs. I was also tired of spending thousands of dollars a year on hairstyling. Then the pandemic hit, and it was suddenly the perfect time—no open salons, no open beauty supply stores, and no emotional capacity for hair maintenance. So naturally, when my best friend began locking my hair back in 2020, it was with all certainty that my “locs era” would be both lengthy and legendary.
The new sense of ease was exactly what I anticipated, but I didn't expect such newfound intimacy between my best friend as she maintained my locs. Or the pride I'd feel as they grew. It was the most connected I’d ever felt to my hair; something about watching those coils form was absolutely visceral. Each stalk of tangled 4C curls had its own unique surface and shape, like fingerprints. I was so in awe of the art my hair created I just let it do its own thing. Every few weeks, I took photos of my back to track the length of my hair. I rejoiced when my hair casually passed the threshold of my shoulders.
I can’t help but wonder if I could have avoided what happened next by taking more pictures of the top of my head. I was two years into my loc journey before an aerial photo finally drew my attention to considerable hair thinning at my crown. It was the fall of 2022 and a particularly stressful life season; just a few more weeks would pass before I had a full-on bald spot. To say I was horrified would be an understatement. My hair was literally falling out in my hands every time I touched my head. I bawled at the sheer sense of misfortune and defeat.
My hands were sweaty as I sat in the dermatologist’s office to await my fate. I was desperate to hear that this was all fixable. Instead, I was diagnosed with two forms of alopecia. The first was traction alopecia, brought on by years of tight braids and ponytails. The second is genetic and affects Black women disproportionately: CCCA (central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia). The doctor explained that the retwisting of my locs is what had advanced the traction alopecia. He noted that stress likely triggered the CCCA and could lead to permanent hair loss from scarring and follicle death. He warned me that he was about to deliver bad news and backed up a bit before looking me in the eyes and saying, “You’ll have to cut your hair. Unfortunately, this style is no good for your situation.”
Denial ensued. I fought the prognosis for days. I told myself that a white dermatologist couldn’t possibly know what he was talking about when it came to Black women’s hair. I even spent over a hundred dollars on a hair treatment allegedly proven to treat CCCA, but my hair was falling out faster than the product could grow it back. It wasn’t until my older sister shared that the same thing happened to her that I accepted my fate—my hair loss was truly hereditary. Something about finally knowing that this likely would have occurred no matter what finally gave me room to grieve.
Though this life season seemed to grow more challenging by the day, I was acutely aware that this literal shedding was right on time. I had just made a major life decision and resigned from my job, and I had recently finished eight weeks of intensive talk therapy. It was time to let go in more ways than one. I took a couple more weeks to cry it out, but I knew what decision I would eventually make: to shave all my hair off, to surrender. By last November, I knew wholeheartedly that I was ready. In fact, my hair started to feel like it was weighing me down. Ever so poetically, the same friend who started my locs would be the one to cut them down.
She’d come for a weekend visit, and we went to the movies to see a blockbuster centered around a Black superhero and the army of beautiful, bald Black women fighting to defend their kingdom. Two hours of watching these warriors fight the good fight with their exposed crowns was exactly what I needed to seal the deal. As we left the theater, I turned to her and asked, “Have you ever used a set of clippers?” She was totally caught off guard but here for the spontaneity. We came back to my place, lit incense, prayed, and played singing bowls to mark the emotional occasion. As each loc fell, I felt a spiritual release. The notion that hair held energy had never felt more real.
I closed my eyes tightly before stepping into the mirror. When I opened them, I was pleasantly surprised to feel…pretty (I was very worried about how my large forehead would fare). My facial features were on full display, and I genuinely loved what I saw. I was filled with pride yet again, this time for my capacity to submit. I took selfies and sent them around to friends and family, all of whom were excited and complimentary. And then I took my very first bald shower and placed my head under the water—which, I must say, sealed the deal. That level of freedom was unlike anything I’d ever felt.
Journeying through hair loss taught me so much. I learned that I am both stronger and more gorgeous than I ever thought. As tough as it was to experience and accept, I am more confident in my beauty than ever, both inside and out.
Iyana Robertson is the award-winning creator of BET Digital's "Finding," "Rate The Bars," and "I Talked To" series. She is a savvy storyteller who has contributed her creative, technical and organizational expertise to Viacom, BET, VIBE Magazine and POPSUGAR.
Find products that promote scalp health and protect your protective styles from the tension that comes with wearing tight styles on Hair.com.