A "Dreadfully" Enlightening Experience
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
What I learned from having dreads. If you are interested to learn the social theories of a dread head let your curiosity proceed.
It all began on one windy day on a boat in Canada. Truthfully it began a few days prior in a bead shop with three of my closest friends. While picking out friendship beads to put in our hair the matter of dreads arose, and I responded,
“Hey, yeah I should do dreads.”
Then Niki Responds, “I’ll do it for you.” She wasn’t kidding. We began this adventure while working at a summer camp in Malibu, Canada. It quickly became a group project with the help of our friends, including the author Bob Goff, but the majority of my hair’s dreaded entry into the world was done on our departure from camp on the boat named The Princess, at the time I had no idea of the irony. Many people have asked me over the last nine months if I have at all regretted dreading my hair. There were several occasions that I “dreaded” dressing up because dreads brought a different sort of obstacle to looking fancy, but there was really only one moment I regretted it. That moment was the night before I left Canada, the dreads were only half way done, as I fell asleep a panic came over me, “What am I doing?” I thought to myself feeling my half-dreaded mess in the dark. I considered all that I was giving up: being pretty, boys flirting with me, control, caring what others thought about me. At that moment I decided I am no longer trying to be any guy’s perfect girl, I no longer wanted to be controlled by what other people thought. I asked the universe to teach me through this process, and my prayers were sure answered.
Back to the moment on the boat when fifteen of my friends each cut a chunk of their hair off to be dreaded in—yup. The Pamoja Pamoja dread which means “together, together” in Swahili became the mascot of our time together in Canada. As we finish the last dread I was nervous to look at myself, but so excited for this extreme change my soul had been craving. I looked at the crew and the first response to my new hairstyle was,
“You look like Donny from Wild Thornberrys!”
It hit me in that moment I had a decision to either get embarrassed by such a comment or take ownership of it. Lesson one of dreads: To be confident in who you are no matter what you look like or what other people think. I responded by making the noise of Donny
Thornberry. Joy overcame me as I learned my first dreadful lesson.
When I surprised my mother at the airport with my new hair-do she was not pleased, but she consoled herself by remembering she had raised an independent daughter who enjoyed social experiments. She was correct. Having dreads was the social experiment of a lifetime. If you interacted with me in the last nine months you probably didn’t realize you were being observed for data of the curiosity of how humans react to dreadlocks in different scenarios. You were all very amusing.
My hometown, Tri-Cities, Washington reacted brilliantly, my friends at home greatly enjoyed this change. Not surprised by my extreme endeavors and even more intent on being friends with the kid with dreads. I met more people in my town than I ever had in that month because dreads are a social device that allow anyone and everyone to feel allowed to ask you questions at any time. My mother decided she would no longer go to the grocery store with me because everyone just stared. To see a normal looking teenage girl that wasn’t on drugs, but had dreads was quite a paradigm shift for most. The intensity of my social experiment magnified when I moved back to Southern California. One might think dreads would be more acceptable there because of the diverse culture, but it actually just categorized me. Everyone looked at me with many assumptions. On occasion, my closest friends assumed I didn’t care about anything. Dreads bring this persona of an “I don’t care so I’ll just go with the flow,” sort of attitude. Although I am quite a type B personality I found myself fighting to be taken seriously. I simultaneously lived in frustration and pleasure due to dreads. While walking the street once I smiled and nodded to a businessman who deliberately got off the sidewalk to walk away from me, two seconds later I walked next to a homeless man, who stopped to say hello to me. Reaching a new world of people just by my outer appearance was fascinating.
Lesson two of dreads: No one ever assumes you are flirting because dreads are an automatic friend zone ticket. This was frustrating for me at first, because I realized I was giving up boys even noticing me. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it hit my pride a few times, but ultimately was a lesson I needed to learn. I also learned that if a guy was talking to me it consisted of more genuine friendship, because he didn’t look at me, think to himself, “She’s not a potential,” then move on to a pretty girl. I met a good amount of genuine people with dreads. These wonderful people were interested in me as a human being and were not just talking to me for their selfish gain. Many people taught me how to be a genuine friend to any sort of person through this experience. Because I no longer was a competitor to be the most beautiful in the room, not that I was before but you’ve met girls, I became a comrade, a confidant, and I felt free to say whatever I wanted. I no longer had to act a certain way for the boys to like me. I could just hang out. I learned to depend only on my personality in social interactions. I began to use dreads in my favor, I could now talk to anyone on a casual level. Friendship exploded in my world. People assumed I was interesting. It didn’t matter if I was actually interesting or not. It turned out to be a good trick, because awkward conversation just went away as everyone could always revert to asking me about my dreads. Ironically, I met some of the most interesting people in the last nine months, but my theory is that the most interesting people are not into how interesting they are. Instead, they are more curious about the world, creativity and other people. Dreads are intriguing. Interesting people were drawn to me and I lucked out with some of the coolest people in the world as my friends from this year of my life. Thanks, Dreads!
Beauty became a much-discussed topic in our apartment. The girls I lived with were, in my opinion, three of the most beautiful girls on our school’s campus and then there was me the “hippie” kid with dreads. My opinions changed during this time. At the beginning of dreads, I had become judgmental of people who did their hair and makeup thinking I was better, because I accomplished getting over needing to do these superficial things. But then I had to repent of criticism and being judgmental. My roommates taught me so much of what beauty looks like on the inside. Yes, many boys already thought my roommates were beautiful, but I don’t even think these guys realize that the real reason they are drawn to these women, who are so magnificent on the inside. Just because I didn’t wear makeup or do my hair I could no longer judge anyone who did, I was not better than them. It was just different. Beauty is not defined by the outside, but it can be an expression of the soul. People get so caught up in outer beauty that they never get deep enough in themselves or in their hunt of the opposite sex to really satisfy their need for beauty. My new theory is if you are dissatisfied with your outer beauty you should probably start learning how to beautify your heart. It is the beauty of your heart that will flow out of you. I also think it is when you start getting to know people for who they are that you find true beauty.
Compliments given by me quickly changed from “You’re so pretty,” to “You’re so rad.” This is generally speaking, of course, but I have become very fond of this change because “being rad” is much better judge of someone’s character than solely their outer appearance. Not that I am the best at receiving compliments, but I feel as if people had to go deeper to give me a compliment. It was more genuine. It meant more to me when someone looked me in the eye and told me something nice about me, instead of looking at my hair or makeup and telling me I am pretty. There would still be people here and there that would attempt to give a compliment of my appearance. I placed them into two categories. There were the people that would tell me I was pretty because they thought I didn’t think I was pretty and needed to hear it—especially at Christian college. Therefore, I wasn’t always sure if that was genuine, but still appreciated. Then there was the category of people that would complement my outer appearance, but then end with the words, “but seriously.” They wanted to emphasize that they actually meant it, they weren’t joking, because I have dreads.
Basically, this whole experiment forced me to see beauty through a new lens. Confidence and security are beauty, not if your hair lays perfect everyday. If your hair complies each day then I say congrats you have accomplished what most of the girl population has been striving for, but it doesn’t define you.
Other dreadful things to note were I was offered weed approximately ten times more than I had been previously. When my response to people was “I don’t smoke,” jaws dropped. My existence was an oxymoron for many people. I also met a number of hippies who could not grasp the fact that at the time I was religious and had dreads. That seemed impossible to them. Welcome to breaking stereotypes 101. People were surprised to discover I was capable of having dreads and a brain. I found out that often hippies tend to be the philosophical type—wondering of meaning and existence—so my conversations with many I met broadened my horizons and thoughts. After six months of attending college in Los Angeles, I took a short Hiatus from school and moved to Hawaii to do some religious reflection. At one point during my time in Hawaii I got into a philosophical conversation with a very intelligent teacher. He was taken back by the things I knew. The dreads often tell the generation before us that we don’t care about anything. My interest in history and philosophy came as a great surprise to many “real adults.” I am not the most brilliant kid on the block, but I do care about learning. I often found myself breaking stereotypes for those older than me. I had to fight to be taken seriously, but when I was it was always a great conversation.
There is also an unspoken world of The Dread Connection. If I were to see someone else with dreads anytime, anywhere we could look at each other and nod. The simple nod spoke volumes of our understanding for one another's lives even though we had never met. The way we see life was similar because of our shared reaction from the world. We knew we were on the same team—the nod felt like we were comrades. I could be spilling the secrets of this genre of people, but many of you have probably seen it and never realized. People with dreads just understand each other. Your missing out, but it is really in any sort of scenario that a commonality unites people. My theory is that you probably have one sort of connection with everyone so friendship with anyone is a possibility.
When it comes down to it dreads taught me a lot about the world. My curiosity for human beings has thickened and why I love people is revealed more every day. Having dreads inspired me to be friends with anyone and break any sort of awkward social barriers with a simple conversation. Even in the frustrating times I learned so much and I have no regrets. Even when my grandma told me I shouldn’t do it again. It feels good to break social norms and prove that things can be different than they are right now.
Now that they are gone I miss them, but cutting them was a moment of freedom, walking into a season to grow and not be stunted by tangles. I’m thankful for all I have learned and I walk forward with no regrets.
I will always be pleased about that one time I had dreads.