Finding Beauty By Shaving My Head

Today, I shaved my head completely for the first time.

I’ve played around with short hairstyles for a while now. I’ve even shaved bits and pieces of my hair – side shaves, mohawks, but this was my first time going completely bald, although it’s always been something I’ve been curious to do. Ever since I was little, when I first saw Sinead O’Connor, I always wondered if it was something that would look good on me. And today, I decided to just do it.

And when I first looked at myself in the mirror, I cried.

I think a lot of women would have that reaction. Heck, I think a lot of women would refuse to shave their heads in the first place. Because, as women, we tend to rely on our hair quite a bit.

I still remember the days of having long hair and getting upset when the hairdresser cut a little bit too much off, thinking that it made me uglier or whatever. And, from what I understand, this isn’t a rare occurrence.

Admit it, women: don’t the majority of us relate to Samson – as in, we think our strength is in our hair?

Women are often made to feel as though their beauty and their femininity is in their hair. They’re told that, if they cut their hair, then they’ll look too boyish, or too masculine, or not pretty enough. So women cling to their hair like a lifeline, their symbol of beauty and femininity in a society that values this above all else in women.

I did this too. Until a few years ago, when I very gradually started cutting my hair short. First a long bob. Then a short bob. Then a pixie cut. Then a mohawk. Now, nothing.

And there were a few times where my femininity was called into question. One time, at a convenience store, a woman trying to sneak passed me said, “excuse me, sir,” but upon seeing my face, she apologized profusely. But that’s pretty much the full extent of it.

I’ve never felt ugly with short hair. I’ve never felt more masculine than I was before. In fact, if anything, I’ve always viewed short hair as an improvement for me – I’m not really the sort that enjoys styling my hair all that much, so when my hair is long, it just sort of hangs there like a bunch of dead weight on my head. Short hair was always… cuter, I suppose you could say. It allowed me to look nice and stylized without actually having to do much. Short hair was my quick trick to looking like a supermodel in ten minutes, no hassle, no waiting.

Which leads me to where I am today – bald.

As I said, it was always something that I’d wanted to do. I’d almost done it a few times, and then talked myself out of it. I suppose that, even though I was comfortable in my femininity with short hair, I always worried that no hair would be a little bit too much.

But today was the day. I was going to do it, because I felt that I needed a change. Maybe not necessarily externally, but internally. I was feeling stagnant. I was feeling stuck in my own head. And maybe shaving my head wasn’t going to fix that entirely, but at least it was doing something that I was afraid to do. It was a sign that I was welcome and open to change.

As Coco Chanel said, “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”

Women rely heavily on their hair. For us, hair is the perfect representation of what society expects from us. Beauty. Softness. Femininity.

And that isn’t to say that we can’t be any of that without hair. Quite the opposite, in fact; hair represents these things for us, but at the end of the day, it is but a symbol. Beauty and femininity is something much deeper than that. Both are individual experiences, something for each person to define and explore in their own right. We’re given a set definition by society, but this definition is malleable. We can change it to fit our purposes.

I suppose that, what I’m trying to say here is this: I shaved my head because I wanted a change. I expected the whole process to be freeing, the way that you read about when you’re looking stuff up on the internet, trying to talk yourself into doing it: and with each lock that fell away, it felt as though a weight had been lifted from my head, that sort of idea. But the truth is, no: it was kind of scary. When I first saw myself in the mirror, I cried, because there was still that part of me that was worried that I had just shed away every sign of my beauty and femininity.

And then, once I dressed myself up to my liking, and I got used to the sight a little bit, I began to feel a bit more confident. I began receiving compliments. I began to realize that I still looked good. And the freedom that came from that was not necessarily the freedom that I expected, this shedding of patriarchal ideals of what a woman should be. I was still beautiful. I was still feminine. I just was these things, without the universal symbol of all that attached to my head.

And, yes: women are more than physical beauty. That should not be the end-all and be-all of womanhood. But we live in a society that rewards women for being beautiful, so it’s very difficult to stop wanting to fit into that definition. And so long as that’s true, I think that it’s important that we realize that we can expand what beauty means to us. And there are many ways that we can do this. Whether we are talking about hair, tattoos, piercings, body shape, body hair, stretch marks, cellulite, wrinkles, or what have you – beauty is whatever you feel confident in. It is whatever makes you, you. And you can play around with what that means, you can experiment as much as you want, and in all of your experimenting, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you are still beautiful.

Whatever you do, don’t allow society to limit your freedoms, just because you’re afraid to fit into a narrow, incomplete definition of what beauty is.

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It Is Okay To Talk About Your Depression

Recently, I have noticed a few people on social media passing around a very interesting quote about depression. I’m not going to lie, it caught my attention – and not necessarily in a good way. Upon looking into the source of the quote, I discovered that it originated as a tweet from rapper Post Malone. The full quote reads:

“shoutout to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in your life. especially those who did it by themselves bc they never showed it or let anyone know they were hurting. to silently battle & win is hard, be proud of yourself & all the progress you’ve made”

I’ve read variations on this quote that end after the words, “especially those who did it by themselves”, but its this part that I want to focus on in particular – this idea that people who suffer in silence deserve a little extra kudos than the rest of us.

Because, yes, shout out to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in their life. Anyone who has successfully done this, no matter how they did it, is amazing and strong and deserves all the praise and attention for getting themselves back into a healthy and happy lifestyle.

And, yes, to silently battle and win is hard. Very hard. Downright impossible, for many people.

Personally, I am of the opinion that we, as human beings, are pack animals. We need other people in our lives – and not just for simple survival either. Yes, building human communities helps protect us from being eaten by wild animals, but more than that, creating close bonds with other people helps protect our mental health.

Rats, for example, are pack animals. And if you keep a rat alone for too long, it will show symptoms of depression. The same thing will happen to humans.

And I’m not necessarily speaking of extreme, physical isolation either. Simply feeling emotionally isolated from other people will result in intense depression as well. This is actually a rampant issue within our society – particularly for men. Essentially from birth, men are told that “boys don’t cry”. Men are encouraged to bottle up their emotions, to never burden anyone with how they’re feeling, to show “real strength” by going through life without ever letting anyone in or opening up to people. This has contributed to a society where depression in men goes woefully undiagnosed, and because of this, men are 3.57 times more likely to die from suicide than women are.

So, yes, it is hard to silently battle and win. Chances are actually pretty good that if you battle silently, you will end up losing.

People need support. People need to know that they aren’t alone, and people need that validation that what they feel is accepted. That who they are, depression and all, can be loved. And not only that, but people need the other opinions that other people can offer. Sometimes, the greatest gift that a depressed person can receive is a loved one’s assurance that they’re going to be okay, even if they don’t currently feel the same way.

And, personally, I am one of those people why apply to the first part of Post Malone’s tweet, but not the second part. I have made it out of dark places and hard times, but I didn’t always do it alone.

I fought small battles alone. I hid panic attacks in the bathroom, and then wiped away my tears, picked myself back up, and forced myself out the door. But when it came to the much larger war that is fighting depression, I couldn’t do that alone. And that isn’t to say I didn’t try. For quite nearly a whole year, I did my best to hide my depression, not wanting to make people worry about me. And then, when I couldn’t hide it anymore, I just… spoke.

And then I couldn’t stop speaking.

I kept talking, and I kept reaching out, and eventually, my depression just wasn’t anything shameful anymore. It was just a part of me. And that made it easier to fight, because I wasn’t fighting alone.

And, not only that, but speaking out and hearing my own depressive thoughts voiced was actually really helpful in recognizing just how wrong they were. It’s surprisingly easy to think, “if this person doesn’t say that thing, then they obviously hate me”. It’s much more difficult to take such a sentiment seriously when you’re saying it aloud.

When you’re depressed, depressive thoughts are simply the norm. They crowd your brain, and they convince your mind that they’re facts, and there’s just so many of them that it’s hard to fight back. When you speak these thoughts, or write them down, or do whatever you need to to simply get them out of your head, then they become less overwhelming. You begin to see them for what they are. And maybe that doesn’t get rid of the fear or the sadness that these thought create, but at least recognizing them as false is one step forward. And it’s a step forward that’s difficult to take alone.

And yet, despite all of this, we live in a society that loves to romanticize that idea of making it through hard times alone. I think it goes back to that idea of how men are raised – this idea that there is strength in being solitary and not burdening other people with your thoughts and your emotions. And this is what I see in Post Malone’s tweet. He starts out by giving a “shout out” to everyone who has suffered hard times, but he goes on to create a sort of hierarchy. If you have suffered alone, then you are especially deserving of a shout out, and the rest of his tweet focuses on that particular form of suffering. We see people who have suffered alone as being more deserving of praise then people who reached out to others and asked for help.

And when we do that, when we create this hierarchy, what we are actually doing is encouraging people away from seeking help. We make people think that there is something wrong with getting help – that, if they were truly strong, then they would do this alone. And often times, that just isn’t the case. You can (and probably will have to) fight battles alone, but it’s really, really difficult to win the war that way. To win the war, we need a solid army of love and support – whether that army take the form of family, friends, pets, a diary, people that you met on the internet, suicide crisis lines, or therapists.

There is no shame in reaching out. There is no shame in talking about your emotions, or crying, or having a difficult time managing what life has given you. All of this is just a natural part of being human, and we shouldn’t be so afraid of it – when it presents itself in ourselves, or in our loved ones. Instead of encouraging people to suffer in silence, we should be willing to lend an ear to anyone who needs it.

And let’s give a shout out to everyone who asked for help in getting out of a dark place or a hard time, whether they have gotten out of it yet or not. It can be really, really hard talking about your emotions in a society that consistently tries to silence them, but you are doing the right thing. You are doing the best thing that you can for yourself and your mental health, and that is extremely important. May you have all the best going forward, and may you know that you are loved and you are valid and you are strong.

What It Takes To Be A Great Artist

An artist is an interesting breed of person.

An artist needs to be confident. As in, it’s a requirement for the job.

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be convinced that you have something important to add to the world. Whether that be some sort of message, some sort of insight, some sort of style. Maybe it’s something that existed before, but the world hasn’t seen it done by you yet. You need to be convinced that that matters. That somewhere out there, someone is going to be affected by what you do.

And you need to be convinced of this, because how can you be an artist if you aren’t? How can you stand by your work and assert that it needs to be seen if you don’t think anyone needs to see it?

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be so confident that you can withstand being told that you’re awful. You need to accept that you will be publicly ripped to pieces, that anyone, at any moment, can look at the thing that means the most to you in the entire world, and they might say that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. You’re going to have to accept that you’re going to receive criticism, and so much criticism that it almost sounds like they’re telling you to stop doing what you’re doing, even if the words never legitimately leave their lips. And you need to be prepared to hear all of this, and still keep doing what you’re doing. You need to hear all of this, and you need to remain firm in your belief that you still have something important to say, that this is still something that you need to do.

And I mean it when I say that: need to do. Not want. Want isn’t strong enough, if you’re going to be an artist. Nobody endures this for a simple want.

Because, if you’re going to be an artist, then you can’t just be confident. You need to be humble as well.

Because you can withstand all the criticism that you need. You can laugh it off, let it roll off your back like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. But that won’t help you improve. And you can only go so far without improving.

The greatest artists listen to the criticism that they receive, and they think about it. They accept that there might be some truth in it. Because the greatest artists accept that, while they have something important to say, they are not perfect. And they never will be perfect. The greatest artists are human, and they know that they will always have room to grow and improve and create.

And maybe they don’t take every criticism to heart. They just think about it. Consider it. Decide if they agree with it, and if they do, then they apply it to their work. And this, ideally, will make their work better.

An artist’s growth comes from their ability to apply criticism. An artist’s longevity comes from their ability to insist on their importance. And, overall, an artist’s very existence is dependant on a balance between these two.

But the problem with being dependant on these two opposing forces is that they will battle one another, and sometimes in the most inconvenient ways.

Sometimes, your confidence might overpower, and you will refuse to listen to anyone’s advice. Anyone who tries to tell you what to do will immediately be dismissed as stupid, or wrong. And that’s okay – just as long as you remember, at the end of the day, that other people might have valid points as well.

Sometimes, your humbleness might overpower to the point that it becomes self-consciousness, and you internalize all of the criticisms that you have heard. You find yourself thinking them as your own thoughts – you wonder if you actually do have anything worthwhile to say. You wonder if there’s any point to trying. You wonder if you should stop.

Trust me, this has happened to me many, many times over. And when it does, I always return to that idea of need. This is what I need to do, I can’t give up. If I did, who would I be?

This is the thought that keeps pushing me through the moments of self-consciousness, just long enough for me to become convinced again that I have something important to say.

These things come in waves, you see? Sometimes one thought. Sometimes the other. Sometimes, perfect balance. And different artists will experience these thoughts in different ways, in different amounts. And that’s okay. So long as you insist on maintaining both. Because it’s in that place of balance that a great artist can be borne.

Why We Make Mistakes

Let me ask you something that you might not particularly like: have you ever made a mistake?

It could be a small mistake that’s easily fixed, like not saying something that you probably should have, or stepping on your cat’s tail without noticing. It could be a huge mistake that affects your entire life, like not going for that particular job, or keeping someone harmful in your life way past the due point. Or maybe it’s none of these: maybe it’s a mistake all your own, something that I can’t even think of off the top of my head, and yet it came to your mind immediately when I asked the question.

Because, chances are, when I asked the question, you answered yes.

Because, end of day, we all make mistakes. We make mistakes so often that we have written multiple cliches about it – “you’re only human”, “to err is human”, so on and so forth.

So, okay. You’ve made mistakes. What are you going to do about them?

Apologize? There’s a thought. We tend to turn toward apologies whenever we do something wrong, but what happens when our mistakes are too large for a simple “I’m sorry”? What do we do when we’ve hurt someone so bad that we can’t be forgiven? What do we do when we haven’t hurt anyone, except for ourselves? What do we do when apologies don’t fix anything, because what’s been lost is time or trust or mental health, something that can never be fully returned?

Well, when that happens, we tend to have two options: 1) we can wallow. We can remain in the knowledge that we fucked up and there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s all just irredeemable, so why bother to make it better? We can continue making the same mistakes. We can continue hurting the people around us. We can continue hurting ourselves. We can become lost, stagnant, without growth, and we can do all this without even fully realizing that that’s what we’re doing. We can avoid confronting what happened, because what happened was uncomfortable and awful and we don’t want to go back to that again.

I understand wanting to do that. It is a very human thing to do. But, as the cliche goes, to err is human, and this is, most certainly, one of those errs.

Because then there’s our second option: 2) we can confront it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we can make it better. We can’t fix something that is already broken, but we can try to build something new from the pieces that are left.

We can try to learn about what we did wrong. We can look back on it from a better, more mature vantage point. We can discuss our mistake with people, listen to what they have to say about it, try to expand our mind and accept that we are not going to be correct 100% of the time. We can learn, and by learning, we can grow. We can become better for our mistakes.

Maybe you had to keep that toxic person in your life for as long as you did so that you could set up boundaries, and discover how you want to be treated in future relationships.

Maybe you didn’t go after that job because there was something that you needed to learn elsewhere before you could pursue it – even if it was something as simple as the significance that that job has. Maybe you needed to know what an awful, soul-sucking job was like so that you could fully appreciate a different job.

Maybe you stepped on your cat’s tail so that you can learn to watch where you’re going next time, I don’t know.

Things are going to go wrong. We have made many mistakes in the past, and we will make many mistakes in the future. But, hopefully, the mistakes that we make in the future will be different mistakes from the ones we have already made.

Because each mistake gives us our chance to learn something new, and it is up to us whether or not we want to utilize that opportunity. We don’t have to. We can allow ourselves to become beaten down by the knowledge that we aren’t perfect. We can become depressed because of it, we can delude ourselves with stories of our own grandeur. But if we do that, then we don’t grow. We don’t become better; we stay the same. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with who we are, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also become better.

And, end of day, so long as we are still alive, we still have time to make things better. We still have time to change. Because our lives are not over yet. We have opportunities, even if we do not see them yet. Who we are today does not have to be who we are tomorrow; we are ever-changing creatures. If you want to get that job, then go get that job – I don’t care if you’re twenty years old, or fifty. There’s still time. And even if the only thing that you accomplish with it is that it makes you happier, then do it, for god’s sake, because that’s more than enough!

Even if your mistake is that you’ve spent too much time wallowing in your own mistakes, there is still time to change. All you need to do is confront who you are and what you have done, open your mind to other perspectives, and try to be patient, understanding, and humble when you talk to people about it. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you: it will be worthwhile.

And, please, don’t be afraid to seek out help if you need it – whether that be professional help, like a therapist or a support group – or more personal help, like a friend or a loved one. Sometimes, other people will give us a better perspective on where we are than we have, because they come without our biases.

We all make mistakes. We all screw up from time to time. There’s nothing wrong or shameful in that. But that doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility to learn from them and grow as human beings because of them.

Live and Let Live

Do you enjoy taking selfies?

I mean, it’s a common enough pastime now. You might take multiple selfies every day and post them all over social media, focusing on your face or your outfit or your cute butt. You might take a selfie every once in a while, just when you’re feeling particularly cute that day. Or maybe taking selfies just isn’t your cup of tea. Maybe the thought never occurs to you, or you have just never felt the need.

And yet, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of selfie-takers, I’m sure we’ve all heard extensive debates about what the taking of selfies means about people. Is it a sign of the end of the world? A pastime enjoyed only by narcissists and monsters? Is the duckface the universal sign of a stupid, vapid person?

We as a culture have been absolutely baffled by the existence of selfies, and confused about what it means. We’ve written articles about it, we’ve put money into researching it, and chances are, regardless of what you think about selfies, you can probably find a study that backs up your opinion. Because we are so obsessed with finding out what this means about us, about people, about society.

But let’s change our focus, just for a little bit. Let’s talk about music. Do you like music? I like music. In particular, I like a lot of retro music – 70’s and 80’s rock or pop has always been my thing. I’m into Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, a little bit of Guns & Roses – it depends on my mood, really. And pretty much all my life, I’ve hung out with people who also enjoyed retro music. People who will waste hours complimenting Queen as though they were made of solid gold (okay, they kind of were), but in the same breath, they would dismiss the latest chart-topper as talentless and vapid and unnecessary. They would refer to us as the group that had taste, the ones who knew real music, while all those who listened to the most recent popular music were stupid sheep who just enjoyed what they were told to enjoy.

Do you enjoy movies? Superhero movies are popular lately, aren’t they? But have you ever actually picked up a real comic book? Can you name off every character who ever served as Batman? Or Robin? Because if you can’t, then there are some who would argue that you aren’t a “real” fan of superheroes. You’re just a lame poser, with no respect for the history of these characters.

We could even move away from media for a little bit, couldn’t we? Let’s talk about fashion, because the way that we enjoy dressing might communicate a lot about who we are as well. If you’re a woman who keeps herself covered from head to toe, then you’re assumed to be a prude, or you’re stuck-up, or you’re enslaved by the patriarchy. If you’re a woman who shows her cleavage, then you’re assumed to be a stupid slut with no self-respect and deserving of no respect from others. If you’re a man dressed in a feminine manner, then you’re assumed to be frivolous or weird or confused. If you’re an older person dressed in an alternative fashion, then people will tell you that you are too old for that, and you should start acting your age. If you’re a lesbian wearing a dress, then you aren’t “gay enough”, or you “don’t look gay”.

Heck, we could even talk about simple lifestyle, because even the choices that we make are full of assumptions. The people we date, the jobs we pursue, the places we live, the friends that we make – all of these are full of stereotypes and insults that try to tell us what the ‘proper way’ to be is.

These messages are everywhere, and, quite frankly, they’re confusing. They bounce you around from one place to another, telling you how you should act, what you should pursue, whether or not you’re allowed to enjoy this thing, who you’re better than. And, trust me: a lot of these judgements hinge on a hierarchy. They are based on the idea that one person (usually the once making the judgement) is automatically better than another person, based solely on the fact that they do or don’t do something.

And do you want to know who you’re better than? Nobody. Nobody at all.

You are not more emotionally stable than someone else just because you don’t take selfies.

You do not have better taste than someone else just because you listen to different music.

You are not more deserving of respect than someone just because you dress a certain way.

All of these, everything that I have been discussing, is just the difference between people. Some people like taking selfies. Some don’t. Some people like comic books, or superhero movies, or wearing jeans, or walking around naked, or sushi, or steak and potatoes, or rats or dogs or cats. Some don’t. And whether or not you like superficial things like these has nothing to do with your character, and more to do with how you enjoy filling your time.

And, really, you should feel free to fill your time with whatever makes you happy.

So long as what you enjoy doing doesn’t hurt anyone, there’s nothing wrong with it. And yet, we’re constantly trying to find new ways to shame people for enjoying things, whether it be scoffing at a girl drinking a pumpkin spice latte and calling her a “basic bitch”, or shaking our heads at a girl casually playing video games and labelling her a “fake gamer girl”.

And why do we do this? Why aren’t people allowed to enjoy things? Why must we make people feel ashamed for who they are, or what they enjoy?

And, more importantly: why do we feel the need to imply in this way that we are better than someone else?

Because it won’t make us any better people. It won’t make us smarter to call someone else stupid. It won’t make us more deserving of respect if we disrespect another. It won’t accomplish anything – nothing good, at least. The things that we say reflect nothing about them, and everything about us, and the way that we judge and belittle others. The things that we say are nothing more than reflections of our desire to prove that we are different and, therefore, better than them. The things that we say are evidence of our insecurities, not their failings.

And trust me when I say: it is more constructive to look at yourself. To truly and deeply try to figure out who we are as people, what makes us happy, and then strive to become comfortable with that, by reminding ourselves that there is nothing wrong with who we are, that we are valid and good and strong. At least, doing that is much more constructive than constantly looking down on other people.

So the next time that you see someone enjoying something that you don’t, let them. They aren’t wrong; they’re just different. And different is okay. Difference is what makes us the whole world, and we should be allowed to explore and enjoy our difference. We should be allowed to be ourselves, and enjoy who we are as people, while simultaneously allowing others the same right.

As the old idiom goes, “live and let live”.