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!

Energetic Self-Care for Empathic Hairstylists

Every hairstylist knows what it is like to come home feeling drained, anxious, un-grounded, wired, exhausted, buzzed, zapped, empty, overfilled. Sometimes we experience all of these feelings at the same time, and it can take a long time to wind down, it can make sleeping hard, and we can be very irritable with our families and friends.

After a day behind the chair, we have effectively soaked up the energy of everyone who has been in our chair, and every hair that we cut. This is an invisible side effect of working with the emotional and energetic weight of other peoples hair. It is very real, and it is something that we need to be careful and mindful about, just like we care for our physical bodies.

Today, while this baby naps in the other room, I am attempting to pull it together enough to share a few important tools for Energetic Self-Care to help hairstylists, and anyone else who works closely with other peoples identities and physical bodies.

Grounding

Before you start your day, take 5 minutes to ground yourself. Do this before you have had your coffee. Find a quiet place without distractions. If you can sit on the ground outside somewhere that is best……Pavement is okay but grass or dirt or anything natural is ideal. Put your phone away.

Take some big breaths through your nose, deep into your belly. Release any tension that your body is holding onto. Clear your mind by visualizing a big, old tree whose leaves are gently moving in the wind. The sun glints through its branches and it is strong and solid. Visualizations are like watching a movie in your mind, but with the alchemy of imagination.

Imagine that you are this tree. Picture it in your mind. If it is too much of a stretch to imagine yourself a tree, just imagine the tree as itself. Don’t get frustrated if it seems hard to keep your mind quiet enough to focus on being a tree. This is a practice, it gets easier, and every day will be different. The intention of grounding is enough to help ground you so don’t get hard on yourself. Imagine that your roots are growing  into the ground. Imagine them busting through soil, making their way deep down into the earth.

Feel the feeling of being held to the earth firmly, strongly in your body, rooted to the source of energy and strength that the earth provides. Breath here, and be here for a few minutes.

Throughout the day, when you start to feel like you are losing yourself, remember this tree and its roots. Come back to your body.

 

Uh Oh! baby crying. Be back soon!

 

Breath

Start to be aware of your breath. Understand that when you breath in, you are clearing new space and nourishing your entire body with oxygen and when breath out you are breathing out what you no longer need, physically and energetically. When we take on negativity or unwanted feelings from other people without knowing it, our breath becomes our ally for letting that energy go. But this takes some awareness. Often we hold tension in one part of our body throughout the day, without even knowing it. This restricts our breath, our vital life source.

Check in with yourself every so often, and scan your body for where you are holding tension. My belly is where I hold the most tension, also my jaw. Breath into these places, long and steady. Soften them. Breath out all the energy you hold that you have taken on from others. We don’t need to carry it. We need to help them channel it, and then breath it out ourselves.

Sheilding

When you find yourself feeling bombarded or unprotected, or like you are soaking up too much and it is starting to weigh on you, perhaps you are working with a particularly intense person, or being a listening ear for a client who is going through some heavy shit, It is time to put on your shield. This is self-protection and self-preservation and is showing respect to both yourself and your client. They don’t want to bring you down! But many folks also don’t know how much we take on as stylists……Again, energetic self-care is so crucial.

This is a tool you can use at the beginning of the day, during a service when things get energetically intense, or before a particular client shows up who you know you need some energetic boundaries with.

Take a few deep breathes. Close your eyes for a few seconds and call in your color of the day. You might see a color clearly in your minds eye. You might here a voice that says “yellow!” in your mind, or perhaps you will see your color spelled out P-I-N-K. Don’t second guess it.

This is the color of your shield today. And the color is important. You may choose to use the same color for every sheild but I like calling in my color on a daily basis because I can’t ever decide on one to stick with.

Imagine that a halo of colored light is spreading over your entire body, covering you with a soft glow, an aura, if you will. This is your shield, and it is an energetic boundary that keeps  dark energy from entering your forcefield. When you start feeling bombarded, or like you are taking on too much from someone else, imagine this shield protecting you, as their energy bounces off of you and dissipates into the air.

Clearing

A common way to clear energy throughout the day is smoking, and lots of us do it without realizing why we feel we need it so much. It is obviously not a healthy option and I think that we crave a way to clear off energy that hangs on us in between clients and this is why we so often reach for tobacco. We physically need to clear ourselves of what we carry for others. A nice alternative to smoking is smuge and incense. I smudge after every day behind the chair, myself and my work space. Check out this DIY.

My favorite way to clear energy in between clients is sweeping the floor. It brings me great pleasure as a meditative whisking away of stagnant energy that is held in the hair that has been cut away. Imagine as you sweep, that you are clearing unwanted weight and energy from your workspace and making a safe and peaceful space for you and your next client to drop in together.

Restoring

This is my favorite part. Water is life. Water is the most healing and restorative medicine for empathic people. Remember this…….Any time you are losing your shit and need to calm your nerves, or heal a broken heart or a broken ankle, go to the water and let her work her magic.

I take a bath after a work day. Simple as that. I often add epsom salts for my soar muscles and herbs and flowers depending on what I have around me but water alone is the medicine. Be near it. Be in it. Listen to it, watch it, drink it (Spring water if possible.)

My recipe for honoring and healing and restoring my hands after a long day (we all know that our hands are our hardest working and most important/ under appreciated tools, not to mention the physical entry point for energetic transfer between our clients and ourselves )is simply this……….

Rest your hands on the surface of water. A bowl of water, a sink full, a bath tub, a lake, whatever you can. Gently let your hands float ever so lightly on the top of the water. There is an unmeasured and profound restorative energy source that lives on the surface of water and has the capacity to recharge your whole body through your hands.

This shit might sound so woo to you. And it is. And it works wonders. Please try it, and take good care!

I invite you to share this post with friends who may find it useful, these tools have really helped me and I wish I would have learned them long ago!

 

Brook’s Hair Transformation

Babes:)

Welcome back to the 3rd Edition of HTHG’s Ritual Hair Shave/ Paint/Transformation. This time, we feature my sister and muse, Brook.

Brook had wanted to shave her head for years. She had a beloved friend in high school who had a shaved head, who we all woman-crushed on for her fierce look and rebellious independence.

Brook recently started singing and song-writing in a punk band, and to celebrate her first stage debut, it seemed the perfect time for a shave and paint. So, we shaved her head, leaving a few bits and pieces around her face and featuring the uniqueness of her awesome head shape and hairline. Then, I bleached her and mixed up her colors. 

This time, I had drawn out a rough idea of what I wanted to do with her color, and free-hand painted it into her hair. Was such a blast. She is such a brave Aries woman.

Check out our IG for more video footage of this series, under the hashtag #hthgtransformation

xo, HTHG

Maddie’s Hair Transformation

Hi babes. Welcome to round 2 of Ritual Head Shave/ Hair Transformation. Meet Maddie. She answered my IG call for Head Shave Models, and I answered her call for wanting a reason to shave her head. 

She was reserved about wanting to fully expose her ears, which is so common for women.  When we shaved her head, we revealed her beautiful ears and she was just stunning. 

For her color concept, I worked from inspiration of these green bubbles. I had had a sense that green would be an important color to her, and it was, and it looked perfect on her.

Check out Howtohairgirl IG for more video footage from this series, and stay tuned for next weeks Transformation edition:)

xo, HTHG

 

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