Shedding Hair and Shedding Fear

I have wanted to shave my hair since high school, when I met a beautiful, free-spirited friend who sported a perpetually shaved head.  I have decided to shave it now because, after finishing my PhD at Stanford and having my first child, I now know that I can take on much more than I had imagined, and I’ve been trying to put everyday fears aside.  

I’ve been attempting the things I have always wanted to do, but have been too afraid to try.  Following one lifelong dream, I tried out for a punk band, failed, and then helped form my own.  On the career front, I aimed my thesis paper for the highest impact journal and negotiated for a bigger salary. In general, I have been working to live a life free of the fear of things that don’t warrant my fears.  

Additionally, as a parent, I have been working to teach my little son to trust himself, to distinguish between the crucial, elemental fears that help him to survive and the useless fears that prevent him from living a life full of boldness and new experiences.  I am preparing to teach the same to my in-utero daughter someday.  All of this to say, it was time to face the fear of exposure I had always felt at the thought of shaving my head.

After reading my sister’s brave and honest post about the experience of shaving her own head, I started to think more about what that fear signified for me.  It wasn’t only aesthetic or practical.  I don’t often worry about being insufficiently feminine, and pregnancy has gotten me past many of my fears of a dramatically changing body or appearance.  

What I fear is being seen by others as dangerous, untrustworthy, or unfamiliar in a threatening way.  I realized that I have worked hard to keep up the appearance of normalcy, modeling my career, aspects of my personality, and my relationships to avoid appearing too “fringe”.  

Why?  Because when I was 14, after periods of major depression and a few destabilizing manic episodes with elements of psychosis, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  At the time, I was told by people whom I loved and trusted that having a mental health label would mark me forever as an “other”, unlike the people around me, and this planted the seed of the shame I have carried about my diagnosis.  

Compounding this, before learning to manage my disease, I was outwardly marked by it.  In middle school, when everyone was striving for normalcy or a way to fit in, my lack of impulse control and sometimes erratic behavior made it hard to cultivate and maintain friendships.  

High school was easier – I found a niche that fit my unpredictability, learning to channel it into a type of apparent fearlessness that attracted friends.  But the cost was a perception by my peers that I could not be trusted, that I was flaky and spacy, that I had chronically poor judgement.  My erratic behavior led one friend to quietly ask another why I constantly acted like I was on drugs.

 In addition, I was cutting myself regularly, but trying to hide the scars from friends and family.  I wanted to be perceived as “fun crazy”, not “crazy crazy”.  This continued into early college, culminating in flunking out of my freshman year and a suicide attempt that landed me in the ER for several days, first unconscious, then incoherent.  This prompted an intervention by my panicked family that resulted in a several month stay in a dual treatment rehab clinic for mental illness and drug abuse.  Afterwards, I spent several years in and out of inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities.

 For the first time, I recognized that people I loved were afraid for me.  Their fear felt like a daily burden, and I was determined to turn things around and show everyone that I was fine, that I could function and take care of myself.  However, after several years of stability, I had an extended period of psychosis that introduced a new, more deeply internalized fear.

 At the time, I was working as a teaching assistant to middle schoolers, struggling to keep myself together and trying to reconcile my irrational thoughts and feelings with the real world around me.  Years of hearing terms like “bipolar” used to describe someone unstable and irrational, of hearing stories of young people with mental illnesses doing dangerous and violent things, of media and popular culture feasting on tales of unstable women who harmed their partners or children, had left me with the sense that I might be someone who could not only be feared for, but be feared.

 Now I felt that I could no longer trust myself and my perceptions, and I became convinced that if I were exposed, people would literally be afraid of me.  After recovering from this psychotic episode, I found a medication that provided long-term stability, discovered running as a way to dampen the remaining highs and lows, and went back to school to become a scientist.

(photo Constance Brukin)

 I now work in a profession where dependability and trustworthiness are my most essential assets, one that relies on careful and methodical thought and analysis.  In addition, I have become a parent, one of the greatest responsibilities a person can undertake, one that requires consistency, self-control, and again, trustworthiness.

 I am privileged that by now my disease is, for the most part, hidden, that I can pass unnoticed through most of my life.  But when a senior scientist with no knowledge of my diagnosis makes jokes to colleagues about my “having a mood disorder”, or when I make errors that call my dependability into question, I feel panicked and unmasked.

 Similarly, dyeing my hair has always seemed a bit risky and potentially unmasking, but it is increasingly socially acceptable.  To be a woman with a SHAVED dyed head seemed to represent a much more dramatic non-conformity, a way of renouncing societal norms and intentionally standing out as someone who goes against unspoken rules of fashion and gender.  It seemed like something that could out me as fundamentally different from those around me.  

I did it anyway.  Here is why, and here is what I have learned.  First of all, while for practical reasons I must still sometimes tread carefully when talking about my mental illness, in shaving my head I am renouncing the shame of this disease.

 I am powerful, I am a survivor.  My experiences have given me a perspective that is unique and important.  As I have increasingly outed myself, I have met women who share my symptoms as well as the fear of what their disease will mean to others in their lives.  THEY are powerful, THEY are survivors, THEY have taken their lives and transformed them into enriching, successful, connected existences that anyone would be glad to call their own.  

Like me, every one of them has been afraid to talk about their own experiences, and every one has been inexpressibly grateful that someone else is talking about theirs.  We are afraid of owning one of our greatest accomplishments, surviving and thriving with this disease, because we live in a society that questions womens’ emotions, experiences, and perceptions, and pounces on any excuse to invalidate them.

My beautiful naked head symbolizes a shedding of my fear of who I am, and a symbolic shedding of the fears of all women with this disease and other mental illnesses, of the stigma that keeps all of us (your friends, your neighbors, your parents, siblings, and other relatives, and maybe even yourself,  millions of your fellow Americans, over one billion people on this planet) hidden away from the world cowering in fear of discovery.  As the brave, beautiful, and bipolar Carrie Fisher demonstrated with her words and her example, we are all many things; for some of us, one of them happens to be mentally ill.  Or, as Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes”. I am a mother, a scientist, a runner, a musician, a wife, a sister and daughter, a friend, and someone with bipolar disorder. And I am not afraid.

Check out Brook’s Transformation from a few months back HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Combat Negative Reactions to Your Choice to Embrace Natural Hair 

Here is a guest post from our friends at Hairstylehub.com on transitioning to Natural Hair, and how to keep it positive. Thanks, Maureen for sharing your personal insights with us, and as always, we hope to educate and inspire, and invite you to share your personal hair stories by emailing me at howtohairgirl@gmail.com

How to Combat Negative Reactions to Your Choice to Embrace Natural Hair

Natural hair has become more and more common over the last decade. Women are making the decision to embrace their natural hair for all sorts of reasons. Many credit this spike in popularity to the wealth of information about natural hair care that’s now easily accessible, as well as the wide range of products catered to natural hair that are now available.

Personally, I was tired of the uncomfortable (and sometimes downright painful) process of getting relaxers and I was ready for a change. Regardless of the motivation behind the decision, learning to embrace one’s natural hair is a journey for most women. A big part of that journey is learning to break free from negative ideas that we’ve been conditioned to believe about natural hair. But even once you’ve done that, you might still find yourself bumping heads with people in your circle who still subscribe to the notion that natural hair isn’t beautiful, presentable, or professional. Here are some ways to deal with negative comments about your natural hair.

Consider Transitioning

If you have not yet taken the plunge into the world of natural hair and you have hesitations about how you and others will react to seeing your natural texture, consider transitioning. Transitioning lets you grow out your hair for an extended period of time and cut off your relaxed ends when your natural hair has reached a length you’re comfortable with. When I transitioned, I blended my natural new growth and my relaxed hair with curly styles such as braid outs, roller sets, and  rod sets. Transitioning allowed me to gradually get used to seeing myself with textured hair, which made my eventual big chop less shocking and drastic for me and those around me.

How To Respond

In a perfect world, all of your friends, family members, and colleagues will be (at best) supportive of or (at worst) indifferent to your decision to  embrace your natural hair. This was the case with me, but I lucked out. You might have at least one person in your circle who is critical of your decision, which could lead to off-handed comments about your hair. If this happens, try not to get defensive. Be confident and politely let them know that natural hair is beautiful and that you made this decision for you and no one else. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about such a personal choice, but you can offer one if you choose. You never know: you might be able to turn an awkward encounter into a teachable moment.

Surround Yourself With Positivity

One of the best things you can do when you are newly natural is surround yourself with like-minded people. If you have friends/family/colleagues who have natural hair, use them as a support system: ask them questions, get advice, vent about your frustrations. You won’t need to explain or defend your decision to return to natural hair because the people in your support system have already made the decision themselves. If you are the lone natural in your circle, you can always turn to the internet to find a support system. There are a variety of natural hair blogs, forums, and social media pages where you can find and connect with other naturals from all over the world. I joined an online natural hair forum while I was transitioning and it was hugely helpful. I learned a lot about natural hair care and connected with some great people.

Get To Know Your Hair

One of keys to a successful natural hair journey is finding products and styling techniques that work best for your hair. This can be a tricky process and it’s often a source of frustration for many new naturals. Experiment with products and do research on what types of products generally work best for your hair texture (keeping in mind your hair’s thickness, density, porosity, etc). A bad hair day can take a toll on even the most confident among us. I generally practice new hair styles over the weekend so I have time for a do-over if it doesn’t come out the way I anticipated.

The Take-Away

So if you ever encounter negativity in response to your natural hair, remind yourself why you started your journey. Hold your head high and remember that your natural hair is beautiful and one of the many characteristics that make you unique. If you’re not yet completely comfortable with your natural hair, don’t be afraid to fake it ‘til you make it!

New Wash, Rainbow Hair Colorist Dream Cream

Hi babes. I have been working with this cool independent hair company out of New York City called Hairstory Studio for a few years now. I originally was attracted to what they were doing because the visuals stories of hair transformations that they show in their instagram and quarterly magazine, and their Less is More philosophy on washing hair.

They launched their brand with a product called New Wash, which is a botanically blended and expertly formulated cream hair wash that doesn’t suds or lather…….And I tried it out and loved it.

It may confuse some of you who come here for no-shampoo inspiration to see me talking about another product for sale, but hear me out. I am a real skeptic, but I gave it a chance and I wanted to share today what I love about this stuff called New Wash, and the way the company works and why it is a dreamy opportunity for Hair Colorists.

I signed on as a hairdresser affiliate for Hairstory, meaning I make a small percentage of each sale that comes through their website when I am listed as a referral at checkout. I knew that in my clientele and readership, there was a place for a non-shampoo system that wasn’t quite as crunchy as the Baking Soda/ Cider Vinegar technique. And, because I do so much rainbow color and bleaching, I needed an alternative wash that was a bit more color/chemically treated-hair friendly.

I soon learned that it was with the rainbow hairs is where New Wash REALLY shines, and it has become an essential tool in my hair color kit as a base for mixing color and for using to gently wash and condition brightly colored hair without any color loss or buildup.

And as a colorist and affiliate of the company, I earn enough points from the sales of it to my color clients that they send me my own large bag of New Wash for free whenever I need it, and so I am able to use it exclusively in my color formulas. Thats right. Every bowl of color I mix is made in a base of New Wash. Why do I love it? Because it is the PERFECT consistency for color application, it glides on the hair beautifully, it is creamy and smells wonderful like roses and black tea, and it isn’t filled with chemicals. It is a rainbow hair colorists dream cream. 

(this is a transformation done using New Wash as my color mixing base)

While a bottle of the product may seem costly for the first time buyer, what I tell people is this: When you invest the time and money into rainbow hair, you need to also invest in a care plan for it, so that you get the most out of it. When you have bleached and colored hair, you need to wash it much less often and you never want to strip it. With New Wash, a little goes a LONG way so your bottle of product will last a long while and your hair will be so much happier and more hydrated and colorful.

With that said, hair stylists, and colorists, I hope that you will register here today for your free bottle of New Wash to try out, and make sure to let them know that How-to hair Girl referred you! Affiliates like these are how I make a living and continue to share my experience here with y’all. If you are a client, friend reader, sign up today for 25% off your first purchase.

And, just FYI, Hair Story Hair Balm is my hair’s favorite balm.

Check out my Instagram today for a custom color mixing video demonstrating my favorite ways to mix with New Wash!

xo, RJH