Saturday, May 4, 2013

This One Time I Had Dreads...

Dreads: The Social Experiment.
What I learned from having dreads. If you care at all about 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 to that 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, yah I should do dreads.” Then Niki Responds,
 “Okay I’ll do it for you.” She wasn’t kidding. We began this adventure while working at the Younglife camp in Malibu, Canada. It quickly became a group project with the help of our friends, including even Bob Goff, but the majority of the dread entry into the world was done on our departure from camp on the boat named The Princess, oh the irony. Many people have asked me over the last nine months if I have at all regretted having dreads. 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 about half way done as I fell asleep a panic came over me, “WHAT AM I DOING?!” I thought to myself with the half dreaded mess I was. 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 boys perfect girl, I no longer want to be controlling. I asked that the Lord would use it to teach me. Teach me it did.
Back to the moment on the boat when fifteen of my friends each cut a chunk of their hair off to be dreaded in: yahhhhhh. The Pamoja Pamoja dread which means together together in Swahili. 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 look at the crew,
“You look like Donny from Wild Thornberrys!”
It hit me at 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.

After my mother found out I had dreads and was not pleased, 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 actually met more people at home 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 real intensity of my social experiment really took place when I moved back to Southern California. One might think dreads would be more acceptable there because of the diverse culture, but it really just categorized me. Everyone looked at me with many assumptions. On occasion even my closest friends would just assume I didn’t care about anything. Dreads bring this persona of an “I don’t care about anything, 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 actually 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: fascinating.

Assumptions dreads cause: 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. Hit my pride a few times, but a lesson I needed to learn. I also learned that if a boy was talking to me it was a lot 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. The genuine 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. 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 had to depend only on my personality. 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. Didn’t matter if I was actually interesting or not it was 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 thanks to dreads.

Beauty became a much-discussed topic in our mod (my house at college). The girls I lived with were in my opinion three of the most beautiful girls on campus and then there was me the scraggigly 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 make up thinking I was better because I accomplished getting over needing to do these things. I repented of criticism and being judgmental. My roommates taught me so much of what beauty looks like on the inside. Yes many boys think they are beautiful but I don’t even think these guys realize that the real reason they are so beautiful is because they are truly beautiful inside and out. Just because I didn’t wear make up 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 received by me changed from “Your so pretty,” to “Your so cool.” This is generally speaking, of course, but I have become very fond of this change because cool is much more a judge of character than solely an outer appearance only sort of compliment. 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. 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. Therefore I am not sure if that was genuine but still appreciated. Then there was the category of people that would compliment my outer appearance, but then end it in the words, “but seriously.” They wanted to emphasize that they actually meant it.

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 that works out for you then I say congrats you have accomplished what most of the girl population has been striving for forever, but it doesn’t define you.

Other dreadful things to note were I was offered weed approximately ten times more than before, 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 I was a Christian and had dreads. That seemed impossible to them. Welcome to breaking stereotypes 101. There were an array of reactions to my having dreads and a brain as well. To some it made sense to others it confused them. Often hippies are the most philosophical people in the world so my conversations with those types broadened my horizons and thoughts. At one point during my time in Hawaii with YWAM 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 so to care about history and knowledge is something. I am not the most brilliant kid on the block, but I do care about learning. Finding myself breaking stereotypes even from 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 dread connection. If I were to see someone else with dreads anywhere at anytime 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 the world’s reactions to us so we knew we were on the same team. 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 everyday. 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 learned and I walk forward with no regrets.

I will always be pleased about that one time I had dreads. 


  1. This is fantastically written! Is that a word, fantastically? You amaze and astound me. I often said to people, not that they were questioning your dreads, but because I was feeling the need to explain them, that I believed that for you it was a social experiment. I did not realize at what level of learning it was for you. I do have to say that, I do not recall saying I would not go to the grocery store with you. I know I mentioned the intriguing results of public outings with you, and will admit it was a very new territory for me and not my comfort zone at times. No doubt my graceless comments are often taken out of context, for that I am sorry. But, I know you know I love you unconditionally and it was not only a journey for you but for those who love you. Another journey as the mother of Amber, no regrets only the words of your step dad "isn't that how you raised her to be"!

  2. Amber you are and incredible woman!!!! Never ever change! Thanks for sharing your journey it was fun to read ;) -meg