My Year of Living Hairily (With Sweet Dreadlocks to Boot)

I decided to take my hair-happy experiment one step further: I stopped shaving my legs and armpits. Then my dreads were no longer the only part of me receiving disapproving looks.

Jan 18, 2014 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

I love dreadlocks. I just do. I love the way they look on everyone -- men and women of all colors and shapes can rock the locks. I don't know why I love them so much. Maybe it goes back to my '80s obsession with big hair, or maybe it's my rebellious side, but I always wanted dreadlocks.

While living in rural Alaska in the early part of the century, a place where civilization appeared to have been shunned in exchange for the opportunity to crap in the woods, I decided to finally go for it and stop brushing my hair. The only maintenance I performed was washing my hair monthly with a bar of peppermint soap. I allowed my long red hair to twist into stiff tendrils like ropes hanging from my scalp. Lovingly, I rolled the rough knots between my palms lathered with essential oils, shaping them into smoother locks, caressing them as if each one was a precious pet. I tied them into a crown and strung them with beads. I wrapped them in scarves and bathed them in moonlight.

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Me with my red dreads.


I was so caught up in how awesome my hair was going to be that I didn't stop to consider how I might be perceived. People started to treat me differently. My hair preceded me. When I entered a room, people stared at me as if the usual etiquette did not apply. People made assumptions about me based on my hair. The main one being that if I had dreadlocks, I must smoke pot, like Bob Marley.

In grocery stores and libraries, people crept out of the shadows to offer me various forms of drugs. I was, upon sight, excluded from jobs that involved suits or small children. When traveling, I had an easier time meeting people who seemed to assume, based on my hair, that I was cool and approachable.

I decided to take my experiment one step further and stopped shaving; then my head hair was no longer the only part of me receiving disapproving looks. Lifting my arms, I revealed the long, protruding red fluff of armpit cover. Wearing shorts, I showed off tufts of hair that grew like vines down the smooth curves of my shins.

My sister screeched, “Why don't you shave? You look like a beast!” I responded, “Why do you shave?”

“Because it looks better. You can actually see my legs. You look like a man.”

She raised a good point. Chest-waxing metrosexuals and male models aside, most men are comfortable with their body hair -- the choice to shave their face or head is only a matter of style. My husband is blessed with an abundance of kinky hair all over his body, carpeting his torso with a fragrant soft turf to lay my cheek upon. I luxuriate in his body hair, run my fingers in circles through the thin layer of fuzz that sweetly cleaves to his heart. I assure him that teenage girls who sneer at the thought of seeing him shirtless are not barometers for sexiness. I proclaim, un-self-consciously, that everyone should just learn to accept their natural state of hairiness.

However, as my experiment progressed, I learned something important about myself -- I had a boundary that could not be crossed. At first sight of one of those thick black follicles peeking out from beneath the shadow of my chin, I plucked. I took down each one of them like a stray mosquito inside my tent. As for the dark shadow above my lip, I preferred to avoid the confusion and embarrassment of an innocent child notifying me that I had a mustache.

I once knew a woman who had a full-on beard. She owned that beard. She loved herself just the way she was. Her beard began to grow after she survived a near-death car accident and to her it was a lifeline, her strength –- her communion to keep on living. I got used to it after a while, her beard; I stopped noticing it and it became part of who she was.

Sometimes I envy people with beards. I imagine how it would keep my face warm in a blizzard or how I could stroke it pensively when I forgot what I was saying. Alas, I don't have enough testosterone for that hair experiment.

But how I loved my mane of luscious dreadlocks. If they got in my face, I could just use one of the locks to tie all the other ones up. And aside from the convenience, I loved how they looked. Big hair, woo hoo! But after a year, some of the drawbacks I experienced began to outweigh the benefits. In general, I found them uncomfortable -– my scalp was itchy, the tendrils were abrasive against my skin, and all snuggling with my husband felt buffered by my big, wild hair.

Suddenly desperate to shave my head, I asked my husband to help. Though he was sad to see my sexy dreadies go, he was curious to see how I'd look bald. In the instant the clippers stopped their soft purring and the last lock hit the floor, my world cracked open and a new me fell out. I was released from meaningless time-consuming activities that I never even knew existed.

I no longer checked my hair in the mirror before I left the house because it always looked the same: bald. I no longer needed to wrap a towel around my head after I showered because my hair was already dry, nor did I have to push my hair behind my ears to get it out of my face or pull it out from under my shirt when I got dressed. As an added bonus, strange men no longer tried picking me up at the post office -- they automatically assumed I was a lesbian. The pleasure was short-lived, however, as my hair quickly grew back and it was too much effort to keep it consistently shorn.

Nowadays, my hair is long again, growing as it pleases down my back. I shave my legs, but only in the summer, enjoying the feel of the razor exfoliating my skin. I will always miss how I looked with dreadlocks, but I doubt I'll ever try it again. I'm glad I did it though. One day when I'm old and my hair is thin and falling out, I'll reminisce to my grandchildren about back in the day when my locks grew wild and free.

Have you ever tried or wanted to try dreadlocks?

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