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.
Before 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|
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|
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!