Aevin Dugas got her first perm when she was 11 years old. She begged and pleaded with her mother to let her do it. But not long after getting the goop on her head, it was clear things weren't working as planned for this Louisiana native.
Instead of leaving her with a silky-straight mane, the perm left the locks that once coiled down her back shriveled, broken and pitiful at the nape of her neck.
Less than a year later she got another perm, but this time, things turned out much worse. "I had a deep chemical burn across my whole head," Dugas said. "The chemicals ate through my scalp. My whole head was a scab. It was like a helmet."
Dugas eventually had to go to a dermatologist for medicine injected into her scalp to get her hair to grow again. She later swore off the chemicals, and boy, did it do wonders for her Do!
In the more than 12 years since she's been off the stuff, her Afro has grown to an astounding 4 feet 4 inches around, a world record.
We caught up with Dugas -- a petite bombshell a la a young Chaka Khan -- this week at a cocktail party hosted by the Guinness World Records folks.
Dugas joined Ashrita Furman -- who holds the record for the most Guinness world records (this guy once pogo-sticked 11.5 miles up Mt. Fuji!) -- to make the rounds and promote Guinness World Records Day.
CHECK OUT THESE LEGENDARY 'FROS: (Story Continues Below)
At the Nov. 17 event, competitors from around the world set their sights on breaking any number of world records.
In England, they tried to fit the most people in a single pair of pants. In Ireland, leprechauns were massing in hopes of becoming the largest gathering ever (Really? No, really?). Someone in France constructed what they hoped would be the largest rag doll. And a bunch of high school students in California planned the longest "Soul Train" line ever assembled.
Speaking of "Soul Train," Dugas, 36, in all her 70s-inspired glory, said as a child she was mesmerized by the "Soul Train" dancers, their funky moves and of course, their bountiful Afros. But her first true inspiration was her mother's, followed by the follicly-famous Angela Davis, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross.
"People think I'm automatically stuck in the 70s," she quipped to The Huffington Post, lounging on a sofa at 48 Lounge, a New York City hot spot. "I am a 70s baby and I love the 70s but I have so many different looks and styles. I'm not just going to walk around in platform shoes or walk around in polyesters. They assume that I'm just, you know," she said, throwing a fist in the air.
Dugas said she submitted her measurements (of her hair!), to the folks over at Guinness after her sister posted a picture of her with a full-blown Afro on Facebook. A friend saw the post and urged her to try out. Which she did. But her initial measurements weren't good enough. A second measurement, though, qualified her. The results were verified and the rest is history.
"My life has changed tremendously. I went from every day going to work, going home to traveling. I've been to London, to D.C., to New York, back home and back to New York. Who knows what else is going to come after this. It's just changed a lot," she said.
Dugas said the newfound fame has definitely broken the monotony of her life as a social worker in Garyville, La., at her family's group home that serves women with developmental disabilities. "The ladies just love the hair," Dugas said of the clients.
Her huge halo of hair has gotten her into a few, shall we say, hairy situations. On the way to New York's 48 Lounge, a man said something dirty and disrespectful about her and her bush. Also, "People like to touch it and pull at it," she said.
"Out of nowhere, people have reached in and just pulled it. And you know my thing is if you ask, you can pat it but don't just yank my head," she said. "I think you should go to jail for that. That's assault!"
Dugas said she's gotten used to all the stares, the people whipping out cell phones and snapping pictures, and of course, the men who find it so groovy that they can't keep their tongues in their mouths.
"Most black men love my hair. They love it. Everybody loves it. Everyone says it is so sexy," she cooed.
And yes, she said, there are a few downsides. An Afro the size of hers makes peripheral vision problematic. It's great during the winter months but it gets crazy hot under there during summer. And she's even gotten it stuck in car doors. She also has a healthy fear of candles, campfires and open flames. (She's working on getting the 'Fro insured.)
But ultimately, the accolades and sometimes unwanted attention is worth it, Dugas said.
She knows the impact her proudly sported Afro could have on all the girls who "have problems with wearing their hair in its natural state," be they little black girls, white girls with poofy hair or sisters in constant battle with their Jew-fro's.
"It's your hair. That's what you were born with," she said. "Whatever kink it is, whatever curl it is, however tight it is or loose it is, you should love it. That's what God gave you and that's what he wanted you to have."
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