Asha MandelaAsha Mandela, the woman with the world's longest dreadlocks, credits her hair for helping her pull through two heart attacks, cancer, and two strokes. 'Cutting it would be equivalent to suicide. It would be like being a zombie," the 50-year-old who lives with her second husband and son in Atlanta, Georgia, told the Daily Mail.
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Mandela stopped cutting her hair in her 20s. "I started growing my hair 25 years ago, when I started having certain dreams and visions," she said. Growing dreadlocks was part of a spiritual journey to completely remake her life. Now, she says she has countless fans who call her a "living legend" and the "ninth wonder of the world." Weighing in at 39 pounds, she has to carry her hair in a cloth baby sling when she goes out.
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At first, her family, who originally hailed from Trinidad, didn't approve. "My mom told me to remove the mop from my head before I am welcomed in her home again," she recounted in a 2013 interview. "She said to me, 'Imagine I put nice Vaseline and lard in your hair and groom it so nicely...now look what you did to it.'"
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Mandela handles her dreadlocks carefully, washing them once a week, and conditioning them with natural oils. After it becomes wet, her hair can take up to two days to fully dry. In the late 1990s, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Miraculously, her hair didn't fall out. According to a 2010 interview, she tied her dreadlocks up into knots in order to preserve them.
In 2009, with the help of a haircare expert who specialized in dreadlocks, she began to untie her hair. After 12 hours of painstaking work, she discovered it had grown to unbelievable lengths over the years. In 2008, she was the first person to obtain the Guinness World Record for longest dreadlocks, and a year later, she broke her own record with a strand measuring 19 feet, six inches. A year later, Guinness decided to rest the category, since dreadlocks can be lengthened by twisting in extensions, making Mandela the first and only record holder.
But, nearly 20 feet of hair is nothing. Last week, one of Mandela's strands was measured at 55 feet, 7 inches-almost three times the length of her official record.
While Asha refers to her hair as "her baby," there are physicians who call it a health hazard. "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, this real-life Rapunzel said, "My hair has become part of me. It is my life. I will never cut it."
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