Tyra Banks and the Roots of Dreadlocks


In a recent Instagram pic, Tyra Banks showed off something old and something new: a smize along with a full head of dreadlocks. It was reminiscent of last year’s reveal by Zendaya, who rocked the same look at the Oscars, drawing some controversial criticism about her bold look in the process.

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Of course, any hair — hell, no hair — would look stunning on Banks. But her Insta did make us wonder about the roots of dreadlocks and their cultural implications. So we took a look at the history of a hairstyle that tends to ruffle feathers — and no, it didn’t start with Bob Marley.

While it’s true that Rastafarians, a religious group that emerged in Jamaica, are some of the most recognized pioneers of dreadlocks, the long, matted tresses were originally worn by Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Aztecs, and Africans (the earliest Africans to wear dreads were the Masai tribesmen, of Kenya, who exist to this day).

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Dreads were also worn in India by Hindu yogis and holy men and women, who considered their locks sacred — an extension of their spiritual practice. In fact, dreadlocks have been incorporated into a number of religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity.


By the time Rastas adopted ’locs in Jamaica, it was post-emancipation, and the group was thought to use the style a symbol of defiance against the Europeans who had enslaved them. But it’s also part of their religion —specifically tied to a special vow each Rastafarian takes — and even rooted in the group’s dietary principles of vegetarianism.

Fast-forward to the 1970s, when Rasta king Bob Marley brought reggae — and dreads — into popular Western culture, not just with his trademark look but also by proudly honoring his mane in songs like “Ride Natty Ride.”

And then, just like reggae went mainstream, so did ’locs. In the past few decades, stars of all races and ethnicities have proudly paraded around their dreads, including Lenny Kravitz, Lauryn Hill, Adam Duritz, Ani DiFranco, Jason Momoa, Whoopi Goldberg, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, almost every member of the band Korn — and yup, even Kylie Jenner.


(By the way, though both Banks and Zendaya sported faux dreads, real ones involve sectioning off hair and using a special wax to make it stick. Granted, there’s much more to maintaining them, so we recommend consulting an experienced stylist if you want to experiment with this look.)

It’s almost impossible to bring up this topic — similar to that of henna tattoos and bindies — without asking the question: Is this cultural appropriation? It’s a topic that has people torn.

“Cultural appropriation becomes an issue when a person fails to recognize the importance or significance of foreign cultural practices and instead turns those practices into something without substance or meaning,” noted blogger Dante McAuliffe. “In other words, if you’re going to adopt aspects of a foreign culture, make sure you don’t commercialize … those practices.”

As Maisha Z. Johnson of Everyday Feminism notes, “We can start by talking about hair, but if that’s all we talk about, we’ll miss the chance to learn something valuable about how mundane actions, like the way you wear your hair, can make a huge statement about whether or not you value people of color who are struggling with the atrocities of oppression every day."

Still, while "it’s certainly problematic when the ‘appropriated’ culture is ridiculed or the appropriation is merely stereotypical,” wrote Chrispin Sartwell in the L.A. Times, over all, he added, “I am in favor of the practice, and I don’t think we can or should do without it. Appropriate with some respect, I say, but also with considerable insouciance.”

The majority of Banks’s Instagram followers, it seems, totally agree, calling her new ’locs “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” and “everything.”

So we throw the question out to you. Dreadlocks: Cultural appropriation or a harmless style statement?

(Photos: Instagram/Tyra Banks)

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