Once upon a time, everyone who heard of my plan to put dreadlocks in my hair had a specific piece of advice to give. Usually they were tips based on second-and-third-hand experiences; other times, they were warnings about my future. They sounded like this:
“Oh, god, you can never wash your hair again! Did you know that?”
“You’ll have to shave your head afterward. Did you know that?”
“Everyone will think you smoke weed and are a loser pot head. Did you know that?”
“You won’t be able find a job. Did you KNOW that?!”
Ahhh, blanket statements about stereotypes! How snug and comforting they all feel, being hurled by well-meaning friends! I didn’t really care about these warnings. I had a firm game plan: put dreads in, and see what happens. I was positive I could wash my hair with dreads; I knew that shaving my head wasn’t the end of the world like some people seem to think, and actually is something I plan to do someday; and furthermore, being a non-loser, I was firm enough into my personal identity to not care what perfect strangers might assume about me because, hi, a small percentage of people are always going to think SOMEthing negative about you despite your best efforts.
Bottom line was: did I want the well-meaning but misguided advice of my social network (and beyond) to influence something that was a dream I’d had for years and years and years?
I can see the benefit to intervening in a loved one’s life choice if it involved something like, oh, I don’t know, deciding to become a private escort, or picking up a sleek new heroin habit.
But changing my hairstyle? Come on. Let’s reserve the stiff-lipped life advice for things that really matter, like procreating, earth stewarding, and ethical dilemmas.
Five years into the dreadlocks, I am happy to report that none of the advice I was given ever came into fruition. Well, almost none of the advice.
Bugs did not nest in my scalp, nor did all of my dreadlocks merge into one huge unmanageable hippie cranial cord. I do not smell — bad, that is, because my dreads are quite fragrant. People don’t assume I’m a loser — though some assume I smoke weed and tend to ask me in public spaces while traveling if I have any (sorry, guys). A small percentage of people assume I’m Rastafari (I’m not) and that my allegience has been pledged to Jah (it hasn’t).
The big one for me, though, was the job thing.
I get a lot of people who come to me wild-eyed and salivating, wanting dreads so desperately but too afraid to take the leap into locking up for fear of ruining any and all future job prospects.
“If I put dreadlocks in my hair, I just won’t be able to find any jobs,” they tell me, eyes suddenly misty and contemplating the horizon. Somehow, they know the certainty of this. I’m not sure if they have a crystal ball or a time-warping capabilities forged from a black hole in their basement, but they know.
To be fair, some of the job prospect outlook depends on what you want to do with your life. I never had dreams of being a versatile hair model, an employee where neat, carbon-copy business attire rules over anything else, or working someplace where machines whir and spin at high speeds and could therefore catch my dreadlock by the tip and pull me into the complex, crushing gears of a truffle-making machine.
My post-graduate goals were speak Spanish and help people. I figured I could do that AND have dreadlocks, right?
More than right. Not only did I have dreadlocks, I had multiple jobs with multiple bosses and multiple career opportunities.
*collective gasp from the audience*
*a couple theater-goers look around in shock, trying to locate the source of that scream*
*someone tries to recoup their spilled popcorn from the floor before their friend notices*
In the past five years, the opportunities and experiences have been diverse.
I worked as a bartender with dreadlocks. I worked in retail with dreadlocks. I worked at a finance company with dreadlocks. I worked as an interpreter with dreadlocks. I worked at a health clinic with dreadlocks. I ran an OB-GYN office with dreadlocks. And finally, I had health insurance and a very-responsible-sounding 401(k) with dreadlocks.
You know what didn’t happen?
Nobody judged me for having them. Nobody said, man, you’d be a much better employee if you didn’t have hair like that. Nobody tried to demote me because of my hair. And probably most interestingly, not a single person has said, God, those are hideous and you look like a loser.
(Editor’s Note: Someone once DID tell me that I can’t have dreadlocks while not Rastarfari, since that is ‘what dreadlocks mean’. I directed them to educate themselves about the multiple and multicultural histories of dreadlocks around the world, which includes a wide variety of uses, methods, and meanings.)
I can’t speak for all people that have dreads, of course. Maybe some people have them in an effort to distance themselves from things like office jobs and traditional savings accounts. Maybe others prefer that marginalization that sometimes accompanies knee jerk reactions to the choice to lock up.
But I don’t believe that dreadlocks inherently equates to anything other than what it means for the person wearing them. In fact, the more people there are with visible “alternative choices” in terms of physical appearance that prove themselves to be intelligent and valuable human beings in general, the better.
Any chance to break down stereotypes is a welcome one. I’m excited for the day when people look at me and, instead of thinking “Wow, that’s a white girl with dreadlocks, she must be X and Y”, they instead think, “There’s a person I’d like to learn more about”, free from assumptions and pre-conceived notions.
We would all do well to remember this about every person that crosses our paths, as well.