Oh the post titles just get better and better.
I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now – just waiting for the mood to strike.
For years I considered getting dreadlocks. Off and on, in fact, since about 1993. So, um, a while then.
Now, I don’t identify with a “tribe” per se. In fact, I can be fairly skittish around tribes and groups. I like to connect with a diversity of people, and often find that tribes invoke a certain amount of conformity. Even amongst the counter-culture. Or sometimes, especially amongst the counter-culture.
Having said that, I do find I often have more in common with the tattooed, dreadlocked, body-modified, so called “freaks” than I do most others. I’m a freak, after all. And I really have deep aversion to a conservative mind-set that judges others negatively, based purely upon how someone dresses, their ethnicity, sexuality, or their appearance in general; and this as a test of whether they conform to a certain ideal or moral imperative that they (up)hold.
However, I don’t stand out myself, particularly. My ears are pierced, and that’s it. I did have a belly piercing years ago, but that just annoyed me no end, so I removed that one.
I have no tattoos. The idea just never gelled with me enough to get one. Or I couldn’t find one I connected to, or felt passionate enough about. I think if my body ever needed identifying, they’d know it was me by the lack of distinguishing features! I suspect I’m pretty much the only person in my circle who doesn’t have a tattoo.
To be honest, even though I love beauty and beautiful things, my preoccupation with beauty takes me in a slightly different direction. I’m just not interested in spending a great deal of time and money on my appearance. I think it may be that I’m fairly abstract.
Having said that, I’m very much an “embodied” person. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that we’re just walking brains. We at least partially express who we are through our bodies, through movement, and the senses. Skinny-dipping by moonlight, mud between the toes, rain on skin, woodsmoke and incense, and the rolling stretch and ache of muscles dancing, running.
To be honest, I’m actually pretty happy with me, my body. Long ago, I chose to love it. This has attracted a lot of criticism at my audacity. Audacity that someone as “imperfect” (as in, not like a model), as me could dare love her body and who she is – mon dieu!). It stirs up people’s merde. Women’s especially, and those who struggle with body image. But it’s not my merde to carry. All these ancient and cultural wounds that get laid on us. I just want others to enjoy their beauty too.
I do feel that my identity this way is quite fluid. And I like the freedom of that. In fact, the only person who has ever really hit the nail on the head for me, and reflected how I feel, really quite intimately, about “personal style” and dress is Amanda Palmer in this interview. Pretty much everything she says.*
I don’t like to be pinned down, put in a box, and categorised, (lordy! who of us does?) as belonging over here in “this” group of people, and not “that” group. But I’m aware that we humans do this instinctively. It’s how we primally recognise danger, and it’s also often how we spot our kindreds. But it can also be unkind.
But as much as I’ve observed the be-suited corporate person overlook and judge the ones who are colourfully dressed, with multiple piercings, and dreaded hair, I’ve also seen this operate in reverse. And I’ve also seen those who know how to rock a delightful fairy-goth sneer at the girl in the long flowery dress and cardie; or a women’s circle of hippy chicks snub and actively exclude a woman who had come straight from her day-job, dressed in suit and high heels.
They would never discover their wonderful convergences – that they like the same music, or share the same wicked humour, or love of books. We’ve probably all experienced shades of this, at some point in life. Either dismissing, or being dismissed.
We’re all capable of arrogance, hey? It’s too easy to begin to identify with those outward markers, to the point where it becomes the focus. And then we can begin to see through people. Or fear them.
I adore colour, but I often wear all black in social situations. A uniform of sorts, it brings me a sense of stillness. I can forget about how I look, and observe more. I don’t like to be the focus of attention. Although sometimes I do find myself a focus. I still, after all these years, (weirdly, in my 40’s, more so than ever), am approached on a near-weekly basis by complete strangers, and told that I look like “a short Julia Roberts! No, really – you do!”
This has been the case since I was 19 or 20 years old, when that dodgy film came out, and a boy in my undergrad english lecture, sidled up to me and told me, “you look just like Julia Roberts, you know”.**
Since then it’s been frequent enough that I have a polite response prepared so that I can smile, and move on. Quickly. It comes from both women and men. But there have been men (that I don’t know) who have been quite aggressively, (intimidatingly), pointed about me receiving it as a compliment; and they’re offended if my facial expression doesn’t show that I’m as thrilled or flattered as I “should” be. But that’s a whole other issue. For a start – um, men I don’t know. Personal space. Boundaries.
But I digress. Back to dreadlocks.
The thing is, I’m an extremely low-maintenance woman. I take about 10 minutes to get ready most days. Maybe 20 if I have to posh up for something. And dreadlocks have always looked like hard work. Also, as someone who can’t sleep with any jewellery on, (not even sleepers in my ears),*** the thought of sleeping with dreadlocks was slightly worrying to me.
Over the years I’ve chatted to friends and acquaintances with dreads, as well as professionals wot do dreadlocks; and I’ve also read a ton of stuff. Pretty much all of the advice I received about dreadlocks was that my type of hair would dread up ridiculously easily. But…it would behave like velcro. So keeping the dreads separate and defined would be a lot of work. They would instinctively seek one another out, and form one dread to rule them all.
But I tried it anyway. And it did dread up ridiculously easily. And…it behaved just like velcro. I lasted about half a day. I could already tell that it was going to be ridiculous for me. And the pain! Satan’s balls. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep properly, and I just don’t understand suffering for a look. I mean, that’s why I don’t wear high heels these days. With dreadlocks, I felt like a swaddled baby, fighting her way out of her wrappings.
I also noticed the judgements came thick and fast. This I found interesting more than anything. To be on the receiving end of people’s attitudes. I gathered it all up like a magpie.
I’m already a fringe-dweller by choice, but the silent and suspicious hostility I met with in certain quarters (in public space), was not only a bit of a downer, but it was also yet more attention I didn’t want, nor seek.
Some people were lovely of course, and you could even say this could be considered a litmus test of someone’s character. A test of their prejudice. But ultimately, I have no interest in testing people. People are people. And I actually enjoy being approachable, which I didn’t feel as much with dreads. Maybe when I too was a strawberry blonde 20 year old, the experience may have been different. But I’m nearly 45 now. Not that age is a barrier, because I’ve seen older women looking really quite fab with dreads. But we each wear things differently over time, don’t we?
So it all comes down to a sense of freedom for me. Just like any choice of this nature. For some, getting dreads, (or any other example of body modifying) can be liberating. They become more themselves. This is a Good Thing, non?
But I’ve returned to my version of au naturale. I’m really happy that I tried dreads though, because now I won’t always wonder what it would have been like. And I continue to admire dreads on others, and I think they can look beautiful. But for my own part, I’ll keep my hair long, and hennaed. For now anyway ; )
Has anyone tried dreadlocks? If so, what was your experience of them?
*Except that I’m not as enthusiastically naked as AP. Also Amanda Palmer says she doesn’t like online shopping, and apart from charity shops, that’s all I really do! Not that I buy clothes much. I can’t bear going into bricks-and-mortar shops, most of the time. The lights! The confusion! The time spent just shopping! Changing rooms! Cue irritability and existential woes about spending my life’s precious hours shopping.
**No. I f***ing don’t. This isn’t false modesty – I really don’t like it. None of my family and friends think, I look like JR either – and they know me well. They rightly think it’s ludicrous. Obviously there’s an echo of something there – from a distance. Maybe. But, honestly.
***I believe I may have sensory issues…I can’t abide anything on my body or around my body that hampers my sense of freedom. This is a big reason why I wear my hair long and don’t have a fringe (bangs), because my hair gets in my way otherwise. Also, I can only sleep on pure cotton sheets, and wear natural fibres, I’m extremely sensitive to noise, aromas, lights, and textures. I know this sounds neurotic at best, barmy at worst. I’ve always been like this. My parents stopped dressing me in red as a child, because I used to go, um, wild, whenever I wore that colour. So this is added context for anything I do with my hair and body.