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 Being The Real You Can Be Frightening

There are a few details about me that I am, for the most part, very out and proud about, that some might consider controversial.

For example, probably the lesser of all these details, is that I have short hair, shaved into a pink mohawk. I don’t exactly live up to the stereotyped image of the punk-rock party girl; I’m rebellious in your typical let’s-smash-the-patriarchy sort of way, not so much in a let’s-do-hard-drugs-all-night sort of way, but I like my mohawk. It’s cute. It’s stylish. And it’s surprisingly easy to maintain, despite the constant questions of “oh my god, how do you manage to keep it up all the time?”

And, yes, I’m aware of the assumptions that might arise about me because I have a mohawk; that I’m trying too hard to be cool, that I’m not pretty or ‘feminine’ enough, yadda yadda yadda. I’m aware of these assumptions, but I always try to remind myself that these assumptions are wrong. I am totally feminine enough, and I’m damn beautiful, thank you very much.

Like I said, I always try to remind myself of this.

On another note, I have proudly and openly identified as a feminist ever since I was about twenty years old. That isn’t to say that I didn’t believe in women’s rights before then (heck, I’ve sort of been wrapped up in the whole ‘girl power’ thing ever since my days of watching Sailor Moon in kindergarten). But before my twentieth year, when I was taking a women’s studies course at my university, I was always a little bit too aware of the assumptions that followed women who identified directly with the word ‘feminist’.

The assumption that all feminists were essentially black holes that sucked all the fun out of the room. The assumption that all feminists were man-haters, or stuck-up, or generally more hateful than they were loving. The assumption that all feminists were overly-aggressive bitches, fighting battles that had already been won because they wanted so desperately to stay relevant. I didn’t agree with any of these assumptions, but I was aware of them, and being aware of them was enough to make me distance myself from the label.

And then, when I was twenty, I took a women’s studies course at my university, and I learned all about how important and relevant feminism still is. And I decided that all of these assumptions were wrong, just an attempt to undermine a movement with a powerful message. I decided that I really needed to identify as a feminist if I was going to help make the world a better, more equal place for everyone.

Once again, I try to ignore the assumptions that follow me around.

On a third note, I’ve been bisexual pretty much from the moment I started to exist as a person. I first realized that I was when I was about ten years old. I first came out of the closet when I was sixteen. I first retreated back into the closet when I was eighteen. I came out of the closet for the second time when I was nineteen. Basically, what I’m getting at here is that, coming to terms with my own sexual orientation has been a long and difficult road for me, and a big part of the reason for that is… well, the assumptions that I knew followed bisexual people around.

I knew that there was this assumption that bisexual people didn’t exist – they were just confused heterosexual or homosexual people. Or, bisexual people were greedy, or dirty, or “special snowflakes”. I knew that 47 percent of people won’t date a bisexual person because of these assumptions, and that bisexual people experience alienation and exclusion within the LGBT community because of them. As a living specimen of bisexuality, I had a hard time buying into these assumptions, but at the same time, the knowledge that these assumptions would follow me around kept me in the closet.

And then, when I was nineteen years old, I basically just came to conclusion of “fuck it” and forced myself out of the closet, for better or worse. I knew who I was. I knew that these assumptions were false. I knew that the best way to prove that they were false was by going out there and being the best damn bisexual person I could be.

So, again, I tried.

I hope you’ve noticed this key word that comes up over and over again: tried.

Because, here’s the thing: I’m proud of everything that I just told you about. I don’t waver in my conviction when it comes to any of it. If I’m only ever known as that bisexual feminist with the bright pink mohawk, well then, there are worse things to be known as, aren’t there? I’m cool with it. I’m happy.

Except, every single time that I meet with someone new, I find myself doing the exact same fucking thing: I shy away. I dread adding them on my social media accounts before they can get to know me, because I know that, sooner rather than later, they’re going to notice that I talk an awful lot about feminism and the importance of combating biphobia, and they’re going to make assumptions about me based on that.

And I know, logically, that it’s stupid of me to fear that. I know the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote: “Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in” (this quote also works for friends and biphobic female-dating-potentials). And yet, just the same, the part of my brain that still wants to please everyone won’t turn itself the hell off sometimes.

This is a character flaw in me; I shouldn’t go out of my way to please people who would be so quick to dismiss me. I am aware of it. I am working on it. But I thought that it might be constructive to work on it, you know, publicly, just so that everyone can see me admit, right here and now, that being yourself despite all public assumption is difficult. It’s something that you need to work on.

Being yourself is not a light switch: you don’t just come from off to on, just like that, even if, on the outside, it may appear that you have. Being yourself takes a fuck-ton of time and self-confidence and training yourself to not be afraid of what others might think, and it takes more of all that than I currently have. But that doesn’t mean that being yourself isn’t worthwhile.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m ashamed of who I am; I’m not. I love who I am, and the moments when I am most free, most me, have been some of the most fulfilling moments in my life. I wouldn’t give up any of it for the world.

And I sincerely hope that everybody can know that level of freedom and fulfilment. I hope that you, dear reader, can read this and think about the thing that you’ve been hiding from people for years because you were afraid of the assumptions that they might make. I hope that you can take that thing, and you can start talking about it. You can open up, re-introduce yourself to people who have yet to meet the real you. And, most importantly, when you find yourself faced with the assumptions that will, inevitably, come (or, hell, even just your own fear of these assumptions), then you can find it within yourself to decide that this still matters. This is still who you are, and who you are is valid, and important, and deserves to be recognized for more than just the stereotype that others have created around them.

Just because someone assumes something about you, that doesn’t mean it’s true. It might sting, and it might be unfair, but end of day, it has nothing to do with you, and more to do with their limited view of the world. So introduce them to a better world. Expand their mind, force them to see what more can exist, by being your true self. It won’t be easy, no, but it will be amazing.

And, besides, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently pointed out: isn’t being true to yourself more important than pleasing some close-minded person who doesn’t even see you as an equal?

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.