Since college I have always been considered beautiful. Although this was not the case growing up. I was always the short, awkward, stick thin, freckled face girl. I was cute, but never sexy. However, thanks to late puberty and some birth control hormones, I eventually grew into a woman.
I got a lot of attention from guys and I learned how to use my looks and body to get what I wanted. I was manipulative and became an incredibly selfish, self-seeking person. It was like a game and I loved having the upper hand.
I continued on in this manner for many years, rarely finding the pursuit of complete validation and a consensus of my attractiveness fulfilling. Because guess what? Beauty is not “one size fits all.” Sadly, I was never able to prove myself as the universally sexy Marilyn Monroe type (especially since I lacked the blonde hair and large boobs).
The feeling of needing to prove myself and receive acceptance through my exterior beauty took a toll on my self- esteem and self-worth. I thought that if I wasn’t considered beautiful or sexy or attractive to everyone then I wasn’t good enough. This caused me to spend much of my early 20s trying very hard to be beautiful and desirable.
I had defined myself by my beauty.
I wasn’t able to go out in public without putting makeup on first— something that has completely changed, as it is a rare day you’ll find me with any makeup on. (It just takes so much effort to take off...) I thought I had to be a prized trophy. Not being noticed was as good as being dead. Being invisible was obliteration. I had to stand out.
I used provocative clothing and my lustrous locks to be apart from the rest. My hair was thick, wavy, and over two feet long. I was known as “The Girl With The Hair.” It was my pride and joy. My hair became my identity.
Living in Italy
After living in Italy for a year, I was ready for a change. I felt like a different person and was ready to take a big aesthetic risk to express that feeling.Then one summer day, after an Italian heartbreak, I decided it was time to start over. I sat down in the seat and told my hair stylist that he could do whatever he wanted with my hair. He looked at me quizzically, assuming that I had just misspoke my Italian. Yet I assured him that he could cut it however he liked. He was thrilled. And the transformation began.
I was in the salon for hours. Between cutting and bleaching and more cutting and shaping and styling, I left a new woman. I felt different. I felt freer and a little spunkier and ready to start fresh.
I learned from this experience that hair is easily mutable. It can be cut, it grows back, it can be colored, etc. I used to get tattoos or piercings when I was feeling impulsive, but now I had a new, less permanent and expensive, outlet.
The new hairstyle received rave reviews. I learned how to style it and was excited for the long summer nights hanging out in the piazzas. With a new level of confidence I felt like I was accessing a different part of myself and my personality.
I realized I didn’t like my hair being quite that short and decided to let it grow out a bit. (How frustrating it is to have hair but not be able to put it in a ponytail!) I kept up with the highlights and got used to straightening it. I adapted well to the Italian style and enjoyed the attention from the Italians for my looks, often hearing, “sei bella,” meaning “you are beautiful.”
Italy made me feel beautiful
Naturally, I grew accustomed to being adored and I relished it. It was easy to capture new love interests in a country full of such passionate men. I became preoccupied with my looks and what I would wear and my “going out” ritual was one of fun and sanctity. I was well-known and admired as beautiful in our small town from men and women. My attachment to my new hair and my looks became stronger.
I left Italy more out of necessity than desire. I had finished my graduate schooling and needed time to write my thesis and not have to pay rent during. So I decided to move back to the states, if only temporarily. My heart broke as I crossed the Atlantic. And I also believe a little piece of the mirror that held my vanity broke as well.
Meanwhile in America
Since I had been out of the country for over two years I didn’t have a group of friends or piazzas to hang out in all night. I went on a deep soul-searching journey upon returning to the states. Spending hours reevaluating who I thought I was and what my goals in life were. I mourned the loss of my life in Italy and tried to figure out how I could manage to go back, soon.
Still craving attention and approval and wanting to preserve my beauty, I applied to a bunch of modeling and acting agencies. I kept getting rejected, or worse, not even being notified of my rejection. I thought it was probably due to my height (5′ 4′′) since I had done print modeling in the past and had been told that I was beautiful and should be a model. A lot of agencies wouldn’t even consider you if you weren’t at least 5′ 9′′.
I was confused and kept asking myself, Why don’t they want me? I started to feel bad about myself and frustrated with the paradigm that the media had established: That extremely tall and uncommonly skinny women are what is beautiful. That big lips and big boobs and a big ass, with an unrealistically small waist are what is beautiful. I kept comparing myself and falling, well, short.
I started a social media movement based off the premise that we should challenge the modeling industry. Believing that if we could get shorter women and women who weren’t the typical “market beauty” we would be able to start shifting the paradigm of an unhealthy idea of what beautiful is.
The movement was called “Redefining Our Beautiful.” It started out simply as a challenge to the modeling industry, and it evolved over time to be about vulnerability.
Through my empirical research and promotion of this movement, I realized that external beauty is not eternal and is very insignificant in the broader scheme in life. It can be ripped away from us by an accident, by age, — another frustration is the media’s incessant message that youth is beautiful and that as women age we become less beautiful — by numerous reasons.
We must realize that it is the internal beauty that remains inside of us. The vulnerability and the authenticity that we can cultivate in our hearts and souls and relationships are what is truly beautiful.
Being moved by my movement
From this experience, I slowly started to realize my pitfalls with my own perception of beauty that I had carried with me throughout the years. Just like the movement, I, too, started to evolve. I started to let go of my need to look perfect and be perfect and get attention from everyone.
While I have always been a nice person, I have also been a selfish person. I started to weed out the selfishness in me and the manipulative aspects of myself (oh boy, was this a journey, especially when it came to men). Slowly, I started to transform from the inside out.
I counted all my amazing blessings and decided I wanted to give back and experience a different culture, so I decided to volunteer in Thailand. I had already planted a seed about internal beauty being more important, and so I took that mindset with me to Thailand.
Ironically (and serendipitously), the Thai culture is obsessed with external beauty. The skinner the woman, the longer her hair, the paler her skin, the more beautiful she is. I had strangers come up to me and grab my waist and say “soi mak,” meaning “you are very beautiful.” I was often told I was beautiful and was admired for this quality.
After doing the work for myself on redefining what beautiful meant to me, I found this to be very strange. Why am I being praised and lauded for something that I had no control over? Yes, I eat healthy and so I am not overweight, but even that was good genes, and everything else I had been blessed with.
I had this feeling inside of me that I wanted to be committed to my movement, my redefining process. So I made a decision to shave my head.
The pivotal point
I had seen other beautiful women with shaved heads who had recently stepped into more empowered and spiritual roles. As I watched them I was able to relate. I wanted to let go of the paradigm that I grew up with and that was reinforced across several different cultures. I was ready to let go of my beauty and my identity and the past. Finally, I was ready to go all-in.
I shaved my head.
And I filmed it. I made a whole series on YouTube documenting why I decided to shave my head, the actual shaving of my head
(twice), and then how I felt the following weeks afterwards. I received such positive feedback from strangers and friends about their reactions to my videos and my new look. Friends told me I was even more beautiful. Many people who I had never met before had opinions about my looks and told me that I should never let my hair grow back again.
Ignoring other people’s opinions
It was a strange experience making a life-altering decision in a foreign country, surrounded by people I had just met a few months ago. Before I shaved my head I told my fellow volunteers at the dinner table. The men seemed to have the strongest opinions:
You don’t have the right-shaped head.
You’re going to look ugly.
I don’t support women with shaved heads.
I was shocked by the responses I got from people who had nothing at stake by my decision. It was middle-aged men who seemed to feel threatened by an empowered 21st century goddess.
I had no idea that my shaved head, or even the prospect of a woman with a shaved head would create such resistance. Funnily enough, most of the men who had previously expressed their negative opinions said, “It suits you,” once they saw the finished product.
Also, I want to mention that Thailand is known for their ladyboys (something I learned about upon moving there). Their culture loves the feminine: long hair, skinny body, and delicate demeanor. Consequently, the Thai women were utterly confused when they saw my shaved head.
Instead of constantly trying to explain the reasons behind my decision, I eventually settled on “It’s hot here.” That usually quieted their questions. I realized I don’t have to explain myself to everyone.
The “New” Me
My hair is growing back. It’s been interesting to look back at photos as it has grown out. It has felt super awkward at times because I’ve never had it this short and don’t really know how to style it. I shaved a side of my head and added some built-in decoration that I use to feel powerful and to center myself with my intentions, which reminds me why I started this physical transformation in the first place.
I’ve used this human body to play and to experiment. I wanted a physical manifestation of the spiritual and personal transformation I have gone through. Moreover, I wanted to release my attachment to my looks and to truly feel beautiful from the inside out.
From vanity to empowerment
I’m definitely not blind to vanity. Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and think, “You are so beautiful,” and other times I’ll think, “You’re not pretty.” Likewise, there are moments when I am mesmerized by the profundity and wisdom in my soulful eyes, and other moments when I fixate on the wrinkles.
Some days I love my hair and the bounce and curl, and some days I don’t. However, I no longer attribute my worth to my looks anymore. I know that if I put on a little makeup I’ll look prettier and I’ll usually get compliments, but I don’t always feel like it.
Allowing myself to be okay with not having to stand out of the crowd. I don’t always have to attract attention. I learned that my true beauty resides within and that the external is just a bonus. It’s like the decorations on a Christmas Tree; you can add pretty lights and ornaments, but underneath it all, it needs a strong foundation to stand tall.