In the six weeks since I had my hair locked, I’ve grown comfortable and confident in my new image. Getting dreadlocks was an essential step in manifesting my true personality after thirty years of suppression.

Erin tightening my dreadlocks, Currumbin, January 2011
Dreadlocks take quite a lot of initial maintenance to look good. I've been going frizzy, so today I visited Erin to get all my locks tightened.

Our daughters, waiting for me while Erin tightens my dreadlocks, Currumbin, January 2011
David looked after our girls, feeding them a late lunch on this groovy van-seat-bench and showing them around the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary next door.

Erin tightening my dreadlocks, Currumbin, January 2011
Erin worked with a tiny crochet hook, wrapping the hairs around it and pulling them back through each lock.

Lauren and Erin, January 2011
Erin was so friendly — a beautiful dreadlocked sister — and I enjoyed our afternoon together!

Erin, January 2011
Erin is really interested in fire-twirling and juggling. She gave the girls a little demonstration when she was finished with my hair.

I was four years old when I was thrust into the hot, sunny climes of West Africa. My earliest memories of Africa are of running around with Hausa boys, collecting scorpions, lizards and caterpillars while my two older sisters were at boarding school in a neighbouring country. I dressed like the other African kids — topless and cool in shorts.

It was after we moved to a city and lived in a compound with other Westerners that I first began to feel the pressure to conform in my standards of dress. When the kids came home from boarding school, I learned to wear a shirt or a dress so I wouldn’t get teased.

When I started boarding school at age six, I was introduced to a society where image dominated character. For the duration of my schooling, I felt oppressed by the American standards of beauty and dress. As a pale-skinned, freckly redhead, there was no way I could compete with the tanned, blonde All-American ideal.

Even away from the “Little America” of my boarding school, I was still plagued by an ongoing identity crisis. In West Africa, white foreigners are a tiny minority, and I and my sisters stood out in a crowd.

Sometimes we used this to our advantage — we could always find each other in the sprawling markets by simply asking which way the white person had gone. Inevitably, stallholders would point us in the right direction until we were reunited with each other.

But my uniqueness meant that I felt burdened under the constant scrutiny of strangers. How we dressed and conducted ourselves was duly noted and discussed. Add to this the extra load of projecting ourselves as “good Christians” because we were clearly missionaries, and my authentic character was sacrificed on the twin altars of Looking Good and Doing the Right Thing.

When I moved to Australia in 1996 as a nineteen-year-old, I discovered a new identity as a hidden immigrant. I looked like a typical Aussie and appeared to fit in until I opened my mouth — then my American accent gave me away.

It took me six months to realise that I was no longer under public scrutiny. I didn’t stand out when I entered a store. I could browse and leave without the shopkeeper feeling slighted if I didn’t greet him or her. It was liberating as well as an ego-crush — I was no longer special.

For the first time in my life, I fit in — albeit only on a purely physical basis. This was an important revelation for me, and over the past fourteen years I have worked hard to maintain that status. After being different for most of my life, I found it a relief.

In order to blend in, I bought semi-fashionable clothes. I conformed to the mass-marketed fashion sense and cultivated a boring, predictable style that was passable and certainly not unique.

During these years of conformity, I secretly sneered at those who didn’t blend as well as me. When I saw individuals who took no regard of current fashion trends, I pitied their ignorance and reviled their style.

Then last year, when God set me free from my own deep-rooted hypocrisy, when a deep inner transformation started to purge out my iniquity and I found my heart filling with love and trust, I discovered that I no longer needed to fit in.

My one-way leap into Love meant that I stopped judging others based on their outward appearances. And so I, too, was free to unleash my unique personality through my fashion sense.

First I started with a small piercing. Then I began to cull my wardrobe of the clothes that I didn’t love — leaving almost nothing except items in shades of coral and red.

Before we began travelling in November 2009, I was already talking to David about getting dreadlocks. I liked my long hair, but I found it tedious to brush out every day.

In October 2008, I began a natural haircare routine, giving up shampoo and washing my hair with bi-carb soda and apple cider vinegar instead. I have loved the simplicity of washing my hair this way, and I anticipated dreadlocks as a continuation of that simplicity because I would no longer have to brush my hair!

When reading about dreadlocks, I identified with its early modern roots in Jamaica. For a while, any Jamaican who locked their hair could be arbitrarily thrown into prison. It is a classic case of judging by appearances — something I’ve excelled at in the past.

Just as I have judged people wrongly, I may now be misunderstood myself. But I know that as I continue to grow into a more lovely person, those who meet me will realise that I cannot be stereotyped based on my appearance alone.

Now, instead of looking down my nose at a subculture of people who present themselves in a certain way, I have chosen to identify myself with them. The poetic justice for my past ugly hypocrisy is that as I meet those who live life on the edges of society, I find I have more in common with them than with my socio-economic peers.

We share values of simplicity, love, universal goodwill and tolerance. I am eager to learn from those with expansive hearts and be inspired by creative minds.

So my journey to dreadlocks is not just about seeking a simpler hair-care routine. It’s also about stepping forward as a non-conformist. It’s a defiant finger held up to society’s heavily marketed norms of beauty and a beacon to our own four daughters — you are beautiful when you are free.

Lauren, January 2011
To me, dreadlocks are about freedom, and I embrace the extravagant expression my freedom affords me!