5.20.2013

A Practice in Self Confidence

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by Rachel A.

Rachel A. with no hair

In October 2005, I embarked on a crazy social experiment that changed my perspective—or at least gave me some unique insight—on how appearance affects both the way you're perceived, as well as how it can make you feel about yourself ...  if you let it.

At the time, I was working as a graphic artist in a marketing department of a large company,  surrounded by really creative people with crazy ideas and discussions flowing through our group almost daily.

One Friday morning, my boss arrived at work with a list of 30, or so, arguably outrageous things a person might do (go skydiving, get a tattoo, shave your head, take an illegal drug, etc). He asked us to each look at the list and tell him, not which ones, but how many of these activities we would do for $100 each.

One by one, we each reviewed that list and subsequently revealed our number. Some people were quite conservative, identifying only 4 or 5 of the activities, while others numbers were well over 20. I don't remember what number I had, but it seems like it was somewhere on the upper end of average.

After a few hours of hearing our colleague's numbers, my boss wondered aloud how our numbers would change if the question was not just a hypothetical, and $100 was actually offered. Boldly, I declared that I was pretty sure my number would stay the same. Almost immediately, he responded, "you would really shave your head for $100?!" (Shaving my head happened to be one of the activities I had listed.) With only slightly wavering convictions, I again agreed that I would.

scissorsBefore I knew it, five 20 dollar bills and a pair of scissors were on my desk.

What had I done?

I put on the brakes slightly, saying that I needed to make sure my husband wouldn't be upset. (Anyone that knows my husband knows that he would never be upset about something like this, in fact, he had been trying to get me to shave my head for a few years.) I also wanted to donate the hair, so at our lunch break, I went home to talk with my husband and wash and prepare the hair for donation.

When I returned, the $100 was gone, and my boss had taken off for an early start to the weekend. Without the money in hand, I decided there was no way I would go through with it. So, I spent the next few days going back and forth about whether or not to go through with this bet. I had many fears, but most of all, I was worried about what I would look like with no hair. Images of the Coneheads were not far from my imagination.

On Sunday night, as I was preparing to go back to work, my husband suggested I look at the challenge in a different way: instead of fearing what I might look like without hair, I should "view it as a practice in self confidence" and learn to find more confidence within myself, and not the way I appeared to others.

I should note: I don't mean to suggest I was lacking confidence at the time, or that I was all consumed by my appearance. However, a bad hair cut or hair day would easily derail my mood. Having had bad experiences with hair dressers in the past, I was always really nervous when approaching a new hair cut.

The "fuzz" stage: 2 months later
The "fuzz" stage: 2 months later
To make a long story short, on Monday, near the end of the work day, my coworkers crowded into a conference room and watched one of our colleagues shave my head. Watching their faces as I lost my hair was priceless. The photo above was taken immediately after the haircut—I hadn't even seen myself yet. And the money? I don't remember what I did with it ... we probably used it to buy some Christmas gifts that year.

While the most immediate difference I noticed was temperature (I don't suggest doing this on the cusp of winter), it was fascinating to see the difference in how people reacted to me.  An elderly (also bald) man in the grocery store got a huge grin when he saw me, rubbed his head while looking at me and declared, "Isn't it GREAT?!" Conversely, in the same grocery trip I got some pretty judgmental and ugly looks from several middle-aged women. The kids who hung out by their cars in parking lots, wearing non-conservative clothes, sporting various tattoos and piercings, who you always assume aren't looking at you simply because they have other things going on, suddenly acknowledged me. They would nod at me, as if I was now one of them, or that they approved of my new style. Finally, many, many people thought that my missing hair indicated that I was sick. For that one, I felt horrible. Even more horrible when I would get sympathetic smiles from those actually sick.

One of many experimental stages of regrowth
One of many experimental stages of regrowth

Looking in the mirror was a bit of a shock for the first several days, and I learned that, more than anything, hair covers up a lot of skin. Suddenly I felt like I had lots and lots of exposed skin, and it was hard not to feel like I had gained 15 pounds overnight. Friends were not shy about telling me how odd it was to see a girl with no hair, and for a while it took a lot of effort not to feel down about the way I looked. After a short time, and with a lot of encouragement from my husband, I stopped focusing on how I looked like a teenage boy, or how no skin flaw could be covered up by a sweeping bang, and instead focused on finding beauty within myself. I may not have looked like a traditionally attractive person, but I had much more to offer than looks.

As I now struggle with losing post-baby weight and the [very] early signs of aging ("No," I just told my husband, "not dementia"), this is a lesson I'm happy I've learned. I am certainly not suggesting everyone go out and shave your head, or that you shouldn't take pride in your appearance and try to look your best, but I think it's worth everyone's time to introspect on where you derive your self-confidence and self-worth, and (as cheesy as it may sound) try to find "beauty" within yourself.

How have you overcome times of limited confidence? How do you try to find beauty within others? I'd love to hear your experiences!
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15 comments:

  1. Holy cow... I love you. This is such a great post. I'm all about fake it til you make it.

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  2. 1. THIS is one of the many reasons I love you.
    2. I love that Shiloh WANTED you to shave your head.
    3. All I see with your shaved head is your amazing eyebrows.
    4. I'd never the guts to do it...maybe for $1000, or at least enough to buy a fabulous wig.
    5. I'm also the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of gal (though my lovely trait of blushing and giggling might give me away... :-))

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    1. HA! You're the best. This story also highlights how desperate for spending cash I was :-/

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  3. I totally noticed your awesome eyebrows too!! I love this story, and I love your bravery and your audacity. I don't think I could ever do that willingly, even for $100. But I LOVE what you walked away with because of it. Definitely things I never would have thought of, and a good reminder not to judge others at all. Shiloh knows how to bring out your audacity pretty well, doesn't he!?

    Photography has actually helped me find the beauty in others, because I'm trying to focus in on all of their awesomeness, pull their personalities out of hiding, and bring an otherwise life-less photo to life, which has really allowed me to see individual features that are beautiful in people, and internal beauty in every client (which has now led to me looking at others that way too, looking PAST the first impression and letting go of my first reaction, and looking deeper to find who they are and what makes them beautiful). I'm not perfect at it and I've still got a long way to go, but it's become such a fun thing for me to make the every day an art, especially when it makes someone else feel beautiful in return.

    Awesome post Rach. This was spot on. And so you. :)

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    1. Thanks Melissa! As you know, I love your photos, and I think it is because you are able to capture the really beautiful moments in life, and in your clients. What a great bonus to your art!

      You're the best.

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  4. True Bravery right there... and a good read. Thank you!

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  5. thanks rach,,,, what a great persepective.....thanks for the change of view

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    1. Thanks for commenting Lindy! Miss you guys!

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  6. Great post! What a lesson on learning to love what is inside! Very gutsy of you to go through with it. I bet you surprised a LOT of people : )

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  7. I completely adore you! You are amazing!

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  8. It helps when you look like Angelina Jolie;) Love you and this post! I chopped off most of my hair back when I was a freshman in college and had my fair of those dirty looks. Especially when i paired it with a giant pair of skater pants. It was quite a look!

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    1. I would have loved to see it! Miss you

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  9. I would shave my head if I were on the Amazing Race, or to save someone's life. :)

    I really appreciated the last part where you talked about losing your baby weight. I just had a baby 3 months ago and can't run because of back problems. It's actually been really hard on me, and I'm stressed about my weight because I'll be seeing family soon for a visit and I want to look great. Anyway, it's so much easier to remind myself to be positive when I just want to change into sweat pants out of my form fitting clothes! Anyway, this was a bright spot for me to read that most women have to work a little to lose baby weight (except for the annoying 1% that look amazing the whole pregnancy and postpartum.)

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Libby! Sadly, I had my baby almost ELEVEN months ago, and am still struggling to lose the last couple pants sizes. Life always seems to throw crazy obstacles in the way (SO sorry to hear about your back!), your family will totally understand if you aren't back to normal when you see them! A good friend used to remind me: it takes nine months to gain all that weight, give yourself at least 9 to lose it. I also try to remind myself what my body just went through... it just produced another person!! And I try to give myself a break. :)
      Have a great time with your family, they will be thrilled to see you and your newest family member! (Congratulations, by the way!)

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