I’ve always been an admirer of locs. They represented strength and patience, but it took me a while before I was ready to begin the process of growing them. In high school, I was too afraid of what everyone else would think to make such a huge decision. Back then, natural hair wasn’t necessarily popular to wear, and I was nervous about going against the grain. My relaxed hair was just starting to break off from the chemicals and I needed to do something fast. My edges were strained and weak from the constant glued-in extensions. I had two choices: I could keep getting relaxers or I could return natural.

After carefully weighing the pros and cons of each, I decided “returning natural” was the best decision.

Making the decision was the easiest part of the journey; putting some action behind it was the hardest. I transitioned my hair wearing micro braids and straw sets. But after a year of growing the chemicals out, I went to a barber and had him cut off all of my hair, except an inch of my kinky curly mane. After six months of training my hair to twist, I finally started my locking journey.

The first year was the roughest. Getting adjusted to my new style was difficult, especially when I approached the “in between stage.” That’s the stage when your twists become extremely kinky without a re-twist to allow them to start locking. Feeling pretty during this stage was an emotional rollercoaster; the pressure to have long, straight hair or a weave was real in high school. It wasn’t cool to have locs and natural hair wasn’t the trend. Imagery on TV didn’t make it easy for Black girls to feel comfortable in their skin, let alone with locs on top of their head.

But I managed to take it easy on myself and kept consistently reassuring myself that I was beautiful. On days when I was really feeling the emptiness of not having hair, I’d spruce up my look with some big earrings and makeup to act as my saving grace. I really began to understand the relationship between Black women and their hair during this cycle and it opened my eyes to the emotional side effects that come along with going against the popular grain.

Somewhere in between the first inch of my natural hair growth and today, my hair transitioned into becoming therapeutic for me. They’ve experienced my best moments of confidence and my worst of insecurity. I swear if my locs could talk, they’d tell me how they were shaken with uncontrollable joy after I learned I was selected for my first magazine internship. Or maybe a few locs behind my right ear would whisper the horror story of being repeatedly retwisted out of anxiety once my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

On days when they were ready for a touchup, they’d probably sing the entire Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album from start to finish, which has always been our ritual styling time theme music. And on days when I feel like giving up finding my place in a world of media that still looks down on natural hair and deems it “unacceptable” or “un-pretty,” they’d probably remind me of the moments I made it through as a young freelance writer, despite what negative colleagues said about my hair.

The best part about the journey is the fact that I’ve mastered the art of styling my locs. When they’re styled in an updo, I feel regal and elegant. When worn straight down with a fitted cap, my inner tomboy comes out and I feel licensed to be one of the cool cats. It’s the subtle attitudes that emerge with each changing style that make all the difference.

I’ve learned that while all types of hair are beautiful, I don’t have to have straight or long hair to feel glamorous, chic, or pretty. No one does. I’ve learned that our hair as Black women really reaches deeper than we think. It’s a prized possession that we must remember we own—not media, men or society. I’ve learned that our hair makes statements, sends messages and even garners national attention. That’s how deep it goes.

LaParis is a freelance beauty writer from St. Louis currently residing in Brooklyn, New York. She is also the creator of the blog tailoredsilhouette.com