Dreads at 3 Months: Redefining Beauty

My dreads are three months old.  Which means for ninety something days now, I’ve been carrying around these ropy, tangly, matted knots, instead of the long, thick wavy hair that partially defined me for all of my previous 38 years.   And they look, well…  they’re a huge mess.  Their current appearance does not do much to help the opinions of my mom all the people who think that dreadlocks are unkempt or unwashed.  Despite my tender loving care, some days they look a little bit – or a lot – of both.  I feel this overwhelming need to say that out loud, because I can feel the looks.  I can feel the wordless stares.  Not necessarily because I have dreadlocks, but because I have crazy, messy, rebellious teenage dreadlocks.   They’re a mess.  I’m aware.

They are filled with crazy loops and twists and lumps and bumps.  All of which are a normal progression in the journey of dreadlocks (and actually a good sign that they are doing what they are supposed to do), but somehow very different in reality than they were when they were merely hypothetical.   There are things to do to “tame” the loops a little quicker…  there are techniques that involve basically poking and threading with big needles, and/or I could always find a salon that does dread maintenance.

BUT.  And it’s a big but.  I’ve decided to embrace the chaos.

Some of the “maintenance” recommended by certain websites and schools of thought can actually cause a lot of damage.  And the last thing I want is to commit to a long-term hairstyle, only to have them thin and fall out because I didn’t treat them properly!  More than that though, is this linear idea that neat, perfect and uniform = beautiful.   Did I decide to take this drastic and bold step with my hair, only to make it look like everyone else’s?  If I’d wanted that, I could have gotten perfectly round extensions.  No, what I signed up for was a journey.  I’m surely not done with my own journey of growth, so why should my hair be any different?  I have bad days and bumpy days and setbacks… but I am learning to trust that there is beauty, not just in the end, but in the process.

I didn’t like what I’d started to see in myself over the past several weeks as my hair changed.   Me, forever proud not to be overly attached to things like make-up, hairstyles, and fashion…   I was mourning my old hair.   I’d be fine for a few days,  hiding it all under a buff or bandana, and then I’d take a good look in the mirror, wanting to look nice for church or dinner or just a day out.  On one shoulder would be the confidence. “You can own this!  You’re awesome!”  And on the other, would be that insecure teenager again.   “But.  But.  It’s not pretty.”

I am so much more than my hair.

At the same time, my hair’s become an outward symbol of an inward process, more so than I ever could have imagined when I started this journey three months ago.  I look forward to having mature, beautiful dreads in a couple of years.  I do.  But now, I look forward to the journey even more… loops, bumps, and all.

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.

The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened!

The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

It never was able to fly…

As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.

Struggling is an important part of any growth experience. In fact, it is the struggle that causes you to develop your ability to fly.


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Filed under about me, acceptance, being happy with what is, dreadlocks, life, self image

18 Responses to Dreads at 3 Months: Redefining Beauty

  1. Mcmichaelfish

    I appreciate you putting this out there. I’m about 9 months into mine. I blame that fact that I’m not maintaining them on a broken wrist but the truth is I don’t want to. I have kiddos and  a life. So for now they are on their own. NOBODY says anything. I find it interesting that folks act like they don’t see the dreads which makes me think they hate them. I’m ok w/ that. I can’t imagine not having them. How boring would that be? I stopped  wrapping my hair at night because I was just to tired to deal w/ it. I’m thinking that caused my locs to really shorten up. I’m ok with it tho. I do catch myself thinking… I can’t wait till they are long and fully matured. Then I have to let go of that thought cause it is what it is… and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m loving this journey. 

    • pathlesstaken

      Nine months, very cool!  I too find myself thinking about the future when they’re long and mature… and have to snap myself out of it.  I love them too, and know that this is exactly the way they’re meant to be right now.  An awesome journey to be sure.

  2. Annie

    Mine are about 5 months old now and they are the same. I don’t do much maintenance and they are lumpy and bumpy and messy, they are wispy and a bit wavy. I like them 🙂 Conventionally pretty? Maybe not, but I look through my favorite dread photos over on pinterest and I think they are pretty, even my young messy dreads are nice in their own way. I think it is time to wrap a few and add a bead or two 🙂

  3. Patti @ Canadian Unschooler

    A few weeks ago my 8 year old daughter cut bangs on her 2 younger sisters.  REALLY.  Short.  Bangs.  In solidarity with them, I allowed my hair to be cut in the same style.  And I HATE it.  I wanted to prove to them that ‘it’s only hair’ but oh, it is so hard to look at myself in the mirror and see the hack-job on my hair!  

    I’ve decided that this is meant to be a growth experience for me and that I will somehow be more mature and grateful as a result.  But I’m not sure if I can handle the next 6 months until my hair grows out!  At least I feel like I have some company in my discomfort.

    Joy to you, Jen!

    • pathlesstaken

      Wow!  I think that is awesome, and I *know* that you can not only handle it, but gain something positive from the experience as well. <3

  4. hobomama

    I love reading people’s journeys with dreads. So interesting to hear your thoughts — and this process really does cause a lot of thoughts!

    • pathlesstaken

      It really does!  It didn’t quite realize just how much of a mental process it would be when I started it.

  5. Craquemonkey

    I really appreciate this!  your message really resonates with me, thanks for sharing your journey, bumps and loops and all!!  🙂

  6. Brandy Cormier

    I just started the journey about 3wks ago …. using the natural/neglect method {which means I have nothing but separation and tangles right now lol}. This is my 2nd time starting this journey. I was all about how much I missed my hair, how I couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that last time, so I brushed them out.

    I must be in a different place this time because I’ve barely looked in a mirror …. I didn’t take note of when I actually stopped brushing my hair and beginning this journey again …. and time has been FLYING since I haven’t been so obsessed over my hair lol

    I’m looking forward to the day I can start putting beads and wraps in them 😀

  7. I think I started my second set of dreadlocks at about the same time you did since mine are three months old now. I cut off my first set last June because I had allowed a lot of negative energy to permeate my experience and part of that was not accepting them for what they were.  Following the natural, neglect route does not make for uniform, round dreads and I sort of let that be an issue for me.

    This time, I am letting them be. I separated, backcombed and did a bit of twist and rip. And that is it. Like you say, if I wanted high maintenance, I wouldn’t have chosen this. I want them to be what they are.

    It is a journey, inward and outward. It is a learning to accept. Breathe and accept. Breather and accept. Just this.

    In the end, I think the knotty, twisted, natural dreads are so much more beautiful.

    Let’s do this sister!!!

    • pathlesstaken

      Awesome, thanks so much for sharing your story.  I love knowing that there are other people out there going through the same sort of journey. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Dreadlocks – One Year Later

  9. Maddy

    Mine are the same at 5 months, have you had any progress?

    • jen

      Maddy, I recently combed out my dreads right at the 3 year point. I really ended up loving them. They matured nicely between year two and three, and then I just really wanted to comb my hair again, and feel the water on my scalp in the shower. But it was SUCH a great journey to have them, and I’m so glad I did it!!

      • Sarah

        Hi Jen 🙂 Thanks for this post. I’m at about 4 months and starting to feel pangs of self consciousness about my hair but I’m still loving the journey (just not the frizz!). Do you have any pics of your hair after a couple of years, please?

        Thank you 🙂

  10. Jen your experience with dreads seems quite similar to mine. I let mine happen naturally (at age 40 – suddenly realised that I’d wanted them for 20 years, so why not give it a try) and they were messy and curly at first, but I had no desire to make them uniform or neat. I loved having them, then after a couple of years I missed combing my hair and being able to have a whole range of hair styles, so I started taking them out. My hair is thick and very curly and they don’t come out easily – I’ve been slowly working on them for many many months and I’m down to only 4 left now, most of my hair is back to normal (although shorter than it used to be) and soon i’ll have dread free hair again – which I appreciate greatly now that I have had the dreads, and I’m also so happy that I had that period in my life with dreadlocks which I loved.