It was a really nice sunny day in a summer filled with too many dreich rainy ones. Today, the bike commute between Crail and St Andrews (10 miles) didn’t feel that challenging or long at all. I was just pedalling along idyllic pastures and daydreaming happily. I was thinking to myself how cool dreadlocks looked…
Hang on, what’s stopping me from getting them myself?
Not a lot, actually. This summer was the bridge between finishing secondary school and moving away to university – once I left my parent’s home I could wear and do what I liked, I’d be totally independent. University was my chance to explore who I was as a person – if that involved dreadlocks…well, then this would be the perfect time to find out. Dreadlocks. Man, dreadlocks would be cool.
This wasn’t a totally unprecedented decision. As a Christmas present when I was in 3rd year at Madras I’d got my hair braided. I had been inspired by the BBC’s Jamaican history/culture month and my mother had found me an African hair salon in Kirkaldy. I had fairly short and unremarkable brown hair at that point – once I’d had the artificial hair braided in it became long and exciting. I reckon the braids were also a way of sticking my finger up at the bullies in my school: I don’t care what you think of me. The artificial hair extensions lasted a couple of months before they became too itchy and my hair too intolerably greasy. Combing the braids out involved me screaming in pain over my mother’s bath tub, I recall. Anyway, I had an established Thing for Afro-Carribbean inspired hairstyles.
After reading around the subject of dreadlocks I came to several important conclusions. Firstly that I wasn’t going to let them form naturally (matted quasi-dreadlocked hair is fairly disgusting). So I’d have to go with the back-combing method, which is the most effective way to get Caucasian hair knotted up. I wasn’t brave enough to attempt to put them in myself (and I didn’t want to test any friendships by asking my friends to help me out). I needed a pro.
Dreadlock pro = a Loctician.
In mid-December I took an early Saturday morning train down to Newcastle to meet a guy called Aleisso who styled himself as a loctician.
…and 8 hours…
…and several broken plastic combs later…
…I had dreadlocks.
Short and spiky baby dreadlocks: Aleisso back-combed my hair really fiercely so my shoulder-length hair was now barely past my ears. They stuck out at bizarre angles for a month afterwards, until they loosened up. As one little boy on a train commented that winter – “It’s like a spider…”
Growing up as a child, I always was slightly…different. I always felt like I was the odd one out: how I thought, how I dressed, how I behaved. Never to the extent of feeling alienated, but it did always seem that I was…marked in some way.
Dreadlocks don’t do anything to nullify that, in case you wondered.
Now complete strangers can tell within 2 seconds of looking at me that I’m different. In every country I’ve lived in I hear shouts of “Rasta girl!” when I walk down the street. People who’ve just met me remember my name and face VERY quickly – before I remember theirs, embarrassingly – I stand out like a sore thumb. It has sometimes been v. clear when I’m with older adults or those from less liberal educational backgrounds that they don’t quite know how to treat me. They don’t quite know what I am: a dope smoker (…NO), a crazy leftie (…um, I think I’m a neo-liberal?) or somebody who’s just irrevocably different from them.
I don’t think it’s just the novelty of being a white person with dreadlocks, it’s also to do with being a female and effectively shutting your hair off from any kind of beautification: you can’t dye dreads, you can’t wear many hair accessories, you can’t get dreadlocks cut into a fashionable style. You don’t comb or wash dreadlocks either. For a woman, saying such a strong Fuck You to commonly-held notions of femininity is unusual. Hence I’ve been asked if I’m a lesbian (“Dreadlocks are a very gay thing.” “…They are?”), and why I saw a lot of girls at a Women of the World event sporting them.
Despite the shouting in the street, I’ve not had to deal with very many objections from people about a white person turning what is a religious movement (Rastafarianism) into a fashion statement. Perhaps that issue is becoming less prevalent…or else I’m not walking through the places where it would be a problem…or else the objectors don’t think it’s worth publicly reprimanding me over. In my experience, black people are more likely to tell me that they like my dreads. White people are more likely to express curiosity and ask to touch them (dreadlocks are like hairy sponges, in case you’re wondering).
I’m used to the “being different” part now – it has its advantages too. Once people get used to me I think they realise I’m not that different all in all…
Other Interesting Facts
1. My natural hair colour has become decidedly blonde since the dreads were installed. It’s either the splitting of hairs tips or a case of sun-bleaching. People ask “ARE you a blonde?” No dammit, I’m not.
2. My dreadlocks are certainly sentient. For starters they LOVE eating jewellery, I think my earrings are their main food source. Like meerkats, one dreadlock always seems to stick up on sentinel duty, no matter how much I tug at them. Dreadlocks also sometimes fuse together: I’ve had to attack a few with scissors in a bid to stop my hair becoming one big dreadlock.
3. I reckon that 10-20% of my body weight is in fact dreadlock. Seriously, those beasts are heavy.
4. My USA “Trail Name” is the Rasta Goat.
5. Across the Eastern Seaboard ballrooms, men have learned to beware dreadlocks flying at them at high speeds. Though when I returned to the UK, I think some secretly missed it. Getting my hair into a DanceSport updo requires (a) the help of multiple female ballroom veterans (b) super-sized kirby grips (c) more super-strength gel and hairspray than the rest of the ladies’ team combined.
So Happy Birthday, dreadlocks. I still love you.