Asha Mandela has what you might call a head-turning head of hair. The 50-year-old mother from Atlanta has been called the “black Rapunzel” for her 55-foot dreadlocks, the world’s longest.
"My hair has become part of me. It is my life. I will never cut it," Mandela told The Mirror, adding that she maintained her locks even while undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The tattooed, bejeweled mother of one has also overcome two strokes and two heart attacks.
But her roughly 39 pounds of hair have also affected her spine. "The doctors seem to think I have a curvature of my spine and that it's the length and the weight of my hair that's making me curve,” she said. "Some have said my neck has collapsed at the back and that I need to be careful because I could start having spasms in my spine and probably be paralyzed."
Still, Mandela wants to keep growing her hair. "Cutting it would be equivalent to suicide. It would be like being a zombie."
The mother of an 11-year-old boy says her locks have helped her love life. "My hair has never caused a problem with intimacy. I think it adds a little spice on top," she added.
Mandela, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, said she began growing her hair 25 years ago, inspired by a spiritual calling. “I started having dreams and visions about changing my lifestyle,” she told Barcroft TV.
Her mother wasn’t happy about the life decision. “'After all the years I brushed your nice curls, why do you want to look ruff-scruff with wild hair?'” Mandela said, describing her mother’s reaction. Eventually she came around.
“Well, I thought about what you said, and although I don’t approve of it, if that’s what it will take to bring you closer to God to live a spiritual and decent life, then I guess it’s OK.”
In 2009, Mandela made headlines when she earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest dreadlocks. At the time, they measured 19 feet, 6 inches long – but one strand of hair measured 55 feet, 7 inches – nearly three times the official length.
Washing her dreadlocks also proves to be a challenge. “I wash my hair once a week,” she said. It can take up to two days for the strands to dry.
“When I first started, it was more of a spiritual journey. It wasn’t anything to do with a fad or style in fashion,” Mandela said. “After 25 years of growth, my hair has really become part of me and I feel that if I ever cut my hair I’d really be taking away my life.”