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Getting Dreads: A Personal FAQ

This is a bit of a departure from what I usually like to post here, but several people have mentioned wanting to hear about my “dreadlocks journey”. They want to know why I made this choice and what it’s been like, both getting and having dreadlocks. This is my (very long) non sequiter dreadlocks post, often without transitions and very stream of consciousness, because otherwise I’ll never get it posted. Without further adieu . . .

I got dreads because I like them.


I didn’t get them to promote a particular political or social agenda. Pretty much anyone who assumes that I hold to any one set of beliefs based solely on my hair will find themselves sadly mistaken somewhere. My politics are such a conglomeration right now that I’m pretty sure no political party would claim me and I certainly don’t hold a particular affinity for any of them.

I didn’t get them to be a rebel. I suppose I wouldn’t have them if there weren’t some part of me that likes challenging the status quo, that doesn’t mind being the person who makes everyone scratch their heads because I don’t fit nicely into any of their neat little boxes. But I’m not saying a big, “Screw you!” to anyone (Besides, how passive aggressive would that be? I’m more about direct conversation and, if need be, confrontation).

I’m not much of a hippie. I don’t smoke pot. I’m not a uber-practitioner of attachment parenting.

I just like dreadlocks.


Ever since I saw the story of a gal with hair more or less like mine who got them and realized they were a possibility, they’ve felt like a home to me.

I know that many people won’t like them. That’s ok. There are a lot of people out there whose hair style I would never choose, but they’re still my friends, colleagues, the people I do business with and hang out with and love. I hope that people can continue their relationships with me even if they really don’t get what I’ve done with my hair (I also suspect that many people will like my hair more when some of the awful myths about dreads are dispelled).

And about those myths…

  • I still shower regularly.
  • I still wash my hair.
  • I can still dress my hair up if I want or need to.
  • I can still look professional.
  • I’m not any more prone to lice than anyone else.
  • My hair is still healthy.
  • I can brush them out whenever I want.
  • I can still dye, style, and cut my hair if I want to.
  • Dave likes them.

So far, the reactions I’ve heard have been largely positive. There are whole segments of friends who haven’t said anything, and I assume they either don’t care much what I do with my hair, they don’t really get it, or they don’t like it but they assume that I’m an adult and so have the right and ability to make my own decisions about my hair. I’m mostly fine with that. After all, I don’t say much when I don’t like someone’s hair, unless they ask me directly (though, in all fairness, I don’t always notice when people change their hair. It’s just not central to what I see when I see someone.) There are a few people I’m close enough to who I’ll probably ask what they think eventually, but I don’t feel like I need to do that right now.

When it comes to strangers, I’ve only had a few people mention them, and all of the comments have been positive. I’ve had people tell me that they tried them and it killed their scalp, or that they’ve always wanted them. Every once in a while, I see someone looking at me oddly and it takes me a few moments to realize they’re probably looking at my hair. I forget that I have the dreads, sometimes, so I end up returning someone’s weird look with a confused one of my own and usually they look away before I figure out what is going on.

I think a lot of people don’t notice, at least in brief interactions. I usually wear a scarf of some sort and I often pull them back because otherwise they get in my face (just like my hair did pre-dreads). I don’t know if I’ll continue that or if I’ll eventually want to wear them down more, when the kids are older and less prone to play/pull on them. Some of it depends on how they end up looking.

Speaking of which, they won’t always look the way they do right now. They’re new, and they still need to lock up. Once they really start that process, they’ll look better. There will be fewer loose hairs, fewer bumps, and more uniformity. The bare spots will largely get covered and they won’t stick straight out. The whole process will take somewhere between 1 and 3 years, though they’ll look a lot better (and different) at 6 or 8 months than they do right now.

With dreads, it’s about the process. It’s about the journey. It’s about waiting and seeing what happens. It’s about living with doubt and uncertainty and, at the same time, wonder.

You may think “wonder” too strong of a word, but I adore the dreads, and I love watching how they change and developing the skills to care for them well. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and look at the ones that like to stick straight out sideways and I wonder if I should have done it and I still adore them. Sometimes I think they’re already fatter than I wanted them to be and I wonder if my hair will do this right and if it’s normal to have quite this many frizzies and loose hairs and if the roots are really supposed to loosen this much and I still adore them.

This much adoration is probably a good sign. I’ve never liked my hair this much before. To paraphrase Anne Lamott, I finally have really, really cool hair.


As for why now, I chose to get dreads now because the time seemed right. I don’t have a job where I have to make them look good during their awkward, adolescent phase. I have a bit of time to baby them and work with them before the baby comes. We had the money and there really wasn’t anything else that I wanted for my birthday or Christmas or anything else.

I mention gifts because I decided to have them done professionally. It’s a long story, but the short version is that I had a friend try to do them and I tried it myself and I could tell that I’d never get them the way I wanted them and I’d just be frustrated and hate them and get 2 or 3 in and then take them out again.

I chose carefully a stylist who had experience and who would put them in naturally, without wax or a dread perm or anything else. I couldn’t find anyone in my area who would do them the way I wanted for a price that seems reasonable, so I chose to work with Stephanie, in Portland, because I could see examples of her work online and because I could read stories of how wonderful she was as a person and to work with. Mostly, though, going to her felt right. She has a heart that welcomes pilgrims of all types, on all types of journeys, and I felt at home with her.

Still, that meant flying to Portland, which is no small feat with two little folk who need my attention during the majority of every day. With the help and blessing of several people, though, I got it settled. Simon has been struggling lately with being away from me so, while I left him with people he knows and trusts, I didn’t want to be away overnight. Stephanie works fast, so it wouldn’t be a problem as long as everything went according to plan.

I was nervous, though it was more about getting there, about catching all the public transport that I needed to catch, about making sure my maps were good and I had the right address and…and…and…

I got there about 15 minutes before my appointment, and so I went to one of my favorite stores, which was just down the street from the salon where I was meeting Stephanie (Queen Bee Creations FTW – I’d never been to the brick-and-mortar store before but I love their products online). It was calming to wander their little store, to buy a small something for the baby and take a couple of deep breaths and really begin to believe that this might actually be happening.

I think I’d thought about getting dreads for so long that actually doing it seemed impossible.

But then I found Stephanie, found Akemi salon, which was a warm, quirky, welcoming place. I told her what I wanted, showed her pictures, and we jumped right in. It was almost surreal, feeling her separate my hair into sections and start the process of making the dreads.

People say that getting dreads hurts, but it wasn’t particularly painful for me. In fact, I really didn’t notice the tugging. Mostly, I enjoyed talking to Stephanie and watching her hands as they flew through each dread, like they worked on their own.

And then, after just an hour and a half, she was done. I paid her and didn’t realize I was shaking until I hit the pavement outside. It was something about having finally done it, having completed something that, up until then, I’d really only thought about, and having made a change that I’d wanted to make for so long. I walked for a few blocks, looking around, noticing and not noticing the houses and yards and shops around me.

Then I was able to decide what to do with myself. Since I had so much time, I went to Powell’s, which is pretty much one of the world’s most perfect places. I bought books for Dave, wandered a bit, sat a bit, and then it was time to go home.


It felt a bit like coming out of a dream slowly, the traveling back to the airport and then back home. By the time I came home, I felt like myself again, just me-with-dreads. And that’s how it feels now. Some people say that a woman who changes her hair is going to change her life. Maybe that’s true, though I don’t feel like I’m all that different. Maybe the changes happened a while ago, and I’m finally at a place where I can wear them on the outside.



  1. MichelleHaist says:

    I’m impressed, Sarah.  You are such an eloquent writer.  I read your entire blog, and I especially liked when you said, “I suppose I wouldn’t have them if there weren’t some part of me that likes challenging the status quo, that doesn’t mind being the person who makes everyone scratch their heads because I don’t fit nicely into any of their neat little boxes.”  I can really relate to that sentiment.  Like you, there’s a part of me that likes challenging the status quo, and I know I don’t fit into anyone’s neat little boxes, either.  Screw those neat little boxes!  :)  P.S. Sorry, that I didn’t comment on your new awesome do, when I saw you on Sunday.

  2. KarmenWhiteMadan says:

    To each their own.  If I were brave I would probably have purple or blue highlights in my hair….=)  My family already thinks me quite the rebel because I have two tattoos.  I believe my mother’s words were, “I don’t know why you would want to ruin your skin like that?!”  Your dreads look lovely on you.

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