So I want to write a hair update with a bit more information about my dreadlocks, since many people have asked me about how my dreads were made and how I maintain them and maybe you can explain Leah what they're SUPPOSED to look like? exactly what kind of look ARE you going for? To which I say, the process is the product; embrace the hairstyle as it evolves.
No, I'm just playin. There is a finished look I'm going for. I imagine an ideal dread, a perfect cylindrical spear the consistency of wool felt. Dense and half an inch thick and ending in a tiny point. I imagine a whole head of these, sometimes up in a bun or sometimes flying in the wind or sometimes decorated with beads or chicken feathers that I hot-glue to beads in my copious free time. I don't know if I'll get there shy of a year, (and I don't know if I'll ever have time to join beads and feathers with hot glue) but it's something to look forward to and offer as an alternative in case you think my current hairstyle looks like crap.
On the other hand, I do really like the way my hair looks now. Yes, the dreads are kind of big and messy, but I'm getting used to the look. I love how much volume I've always got on top of my head. Seriously, I think it makes me look skinnier. I mean, um, I am skinnier. Skinnier and skinnier.
When you think of forming and maintaining dreads, there's a continuum. On one end there are the natural dreadlock people who advocate neglect and nothing else for forming dreads. Touching your hair with anything but water and kitchen tinctures is tantamount to fornicating with the Whore of Babylon. ("Dan, how do you spell Whore?" "With a W. Are you writing about the Whore of Babylon?") I admire these folks for sticking to their guns (er, guns filled with flowers or whatever) and for looking like they woke up on the wrong side of the tent for the better part of a year. It takes a long time for natural dreads to form, you see, and there's a lot of messy looking hair in between. I'm sorry guys, I just don't like the look. Natural dreads tend to be really irregular in size and shape, and often you get big flat ones that look like you left a kitchen rug in your hair. I say that in the most respectful way possible.
On the other end of the continuum are the KnottyBoy sales reps who maintain mature-looking dreads from day one via a route of wax, gels, sweat, and hair-pulling tears. Whereas the natural folks say the best way to start dreads is to do nothing, the big product folks say the best way to make dreads is to do A LOT. Backcomb your hair till it turns into a big ratted mess, secure with wax, maintain with gel, wash with special shampoo, palm roll the suckers until your fingers hurt. You get the idea. The upside is your hair looks nicer. The downside is you feel like the same sort of hippy-as-consumer who buys Seventh Generation diaper now co-branded with the Lorax Movie(!).
In the middle of the continuum are Black people who don't need as much product to set up nice dreads... they can twist them and leave them while looking like neither mountain man nor Poison. And also I suppose you could segment your hair with rubber bands and leave nature to take its course with a little more guidance. Personally I was unaware of this whole debate when I contracted with a hairdresser to start my dreads. And even if I knew, I'd probably still buy into the dreadlock industrial complex. I'm only an aspirational hippy at heart. I'm truly very bad at allowing nature take it's course.
So I went for backcombing and "instant" dreads. Well, instant is a misnomer. It took six hours to section my hair into one-inch segments, back comb each segment and roll it together with wax. And then there's the months it'll take for the puffiness to compress and for my hair to actually dread, wherein the puffs of matted hair turn into felt-like cylinders. And only then will they really become "dreads" rather than backcombed hair. The idea is that over time the hairs grab onto each other and pull tighter, just like a handful of wool roving compresses under a felting needle. (Yeah Leah, just like that, says the majority of the blog readership who don't dream about a new hobby in needle felting.) As this happens, it'll be like I'm going through several different hairstyles. There's the funky way it is now, kind of puffy and crazy, and the future more polished look that I'll get to in six months to a year, if I can last that long without succumbing to mold or lice.
Not that it's any more likely that I'll get lice now than it ever has been. It's just that lice are hard to kick out of dreads. And even if they weren't, last time I got lice (which was in 1995 and the only time I ever got lice... from an airplane if you're wondering) I vowed then to shave my head if I ever got them again. I had long hair at the time, and that friggin tiny comb was torture.
Mold is another issue. I have to be careful to get my hair nice and dry after I shower, and I'll probably do a deep clean anytime I swim in the pond this summer. I've been using a blow dryer on my hair after the shower of if I go out in the rain. It feels a little silly to be blow drying dreadlocks, but at the same time it feels reassuringly feminine.
After the initial dreading session my hair started to grab on to itself pretty quickly. This has been a real boon. I've washed my hair twice already, and I had expected to come out of the shower with lots of work to do shoving errant hairs back in place. Instead, everything mostly stayed in its nice dreaded segments, albeit frizzier than before. I had been using more wax to tame the frizzes, but then my mom bought me some accelerator gel for my birthday and I've been using that instead. It's overall better for my hair because it washes out completely, unlike the wax which will NEVER LEAVE YOUR HAIR OMG YOU RUINED YOUR HAIR FOREVER YOU CORPORATE SHEEP say the natural dreads people. Either way I feel I have very little to worry about structurally speaking - the dreads are keeping separate from each other and not unraveling - so the gel or wax is just for aesthetic purposes. If I want the dreads to look neater and tighter I use some product. If I feel like embracing the messy look, I do nothing.
Of course, it's all relative what "messy" means here. Others might think I look like complete bedlam all the time, and perhaps they're right. But for my own sake I can tell the difference.