A story for Brisbane Times which was also filmed and edited into a two-minute video. Click the below image to view the video, and read the article text underneath.
From dreadlocks to shaved
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According to Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, “a primary-coloured beard is a perfect arsehole-detector”. I’ve long felt the same way about my dreadlocks, which I’ve had in place since September 2004.
Connolly referred to the tendency of dreary folk – or “beige people”, as he would call them – to reveal themselves in the presence of someone whose unusual appearance upsets them. So too with my hairstyle, which elicits a range of responses – verbal or otherwise – when I meet people for the first time.
At music festivals, I’m frequently assumed to be holding pot or other treats by both punters and police. When shopping, staff tend to drop their manner a few notches and engage with me in terms of “dude” and “man” far more often than “sir”. At election time, LNP and ALP hawkers don’t bother pressing fliers into my hands – it’s assumed that the Greens are the political party for me. In the street, charity peddlers smile and see me as an easy mark; someone naturally sympathetic to whichever planet-saving scheme they’re pushing.
It’s endlessly fascinating to me how much people can read into a hairstyle. I’ve gotten far more enjoyment from observing how people react to me than from the dreadlocks themselves, which I chose purely for vanity: I liked how they looked on some of my favourite musicians, most notably the singer from Gold Coast hard rock act Sunk Loto, so I decided to try it on for myself.
I’ve never regretted the decision, though seven and a half years of growth – coupled with the gradual thinning and breaking of the locks on top of my head – meant that it was always going to be a finite style.
For years, my plan had been to support the Leukaemia Foundation and their World’s Greatest Shave initiative by turning a fairly drastic measure into a public spectacle. Handily, one that would encourage those around me to donate money and support a worthy cause.
Since 1998, the annual shave has been undertaken by over one million Australians, who’ve raised over $120 million for the Foundation. Donations support families when they need it most, by providing leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma patients – there are over 11,500 new cases across the country each year – with a free home-away-from-home near hospital during their treatment.
The Foundation also funnels millions into blood cancer research. Although survival rates are improving, blood cancers remain the second biggest cause of cancer death in Australia.
In light of these life-and-death scenarios that occur with troubling frequency – today, 31 Australians will be given the devastating news that they have one of the above three blood disorders – shaving my head to raise awareness and money for the cause always seemed a very pedestrian decision.
I’m cancer-free and perfectly healthy – touch wood, I’ll remain that way forevermore – yet the concept of losing my ridiculous hair suddenly became an asset for leukaemia sufferers and their families to benefit from. Most of the people in my life at the moment have only ever known me with dreadlocks: I moved to Brisbane to study in 2006, after graduating from Bundaberg State High School the year before.
I knew that going from full-head-of-hair to bare would spur the people around me to donate. I set my fundraising goal at $1,000. This seemed a reasonable amount. Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family, I reached this goal three weeks after starting the campaign. At the time of writing, the total climbs toward $1,500, which is astonishing to me.
The shave itself took place earlier this week at a Price Attack salon in Indooroopilly. Leukaemia Foundation’s Beverley Mirolo was there to make the first cut, followed by a few of my friends. My girlfriend was particularly happy to shave off my sideburns, which had grown unruly after months of neglect. I watched in the mirror as a new me emerged. Suddenly, I looked vastly younger than my 24 years. Vastly different, too, though not as alien-like as I’d expected.
I love how hair can become a social object; a topic of conversation, a reason to interact with another human. Those with dreadlocks know this better than most. It’d surprise you just how many people are curious enough to stop us in the street and ask to touch our hair. (Just as common: “is that your real hair?”)
This is what I’ll miss most about my dreadlocks: looking slightly different from other folks, and watching them adjust their interactions to suit their idea of what my hairstyle represents. But for now, I’m embracing the baldness: tomorrow, I’m taking it a few millimetres further and getting my first ever ‘open blade’ shave, which will reduce my head hair down to nothingness. Wish me luck.
Andrew McMillen is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @NiteShok. You can donate to his World’s Greatest Shave fundraising here.
Above photos taken by Scott Beveridge. More photos from the shave can be found by viewing the story on Brisbane Times here.