Hairy Days Are(n’t) Here Again

1 week in

In January of this year, I decided to grow my hair. This might seem like a minor decision if you don’t know me personally, but I’ve been bald, or near bald, for 15 years.

During that time, I’ve been mostly happy with having no hair. However, last fall, I started feeling the weight of expectations of others about how I “should look” at my age, and in my position, and for my sex. So, with that as my underlying motivation, I decided to see about growing my hair.

The decision was rather fraught. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to start what I knew would be a period of funky looking hair. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let go of my trademark bald head. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give in to what I felt like I should do, after so long of not doing it. I wasn’t sure if all of that was wrapped up with a useless clinging and refusal to change (abhinivesha), or fear, or vanity. I felt guilty for the amount of time I was spending considering my self in this way (a little asmita, anyone?). I ended up deciding that I would just take it 1 week at a time, record my process with pictures, and see how it went.

5 weeks

After a few weeks, my hair was longer and I was getting less happy about it all. I couldn’t tell if my unhappiness was just because of the awkward stage the hair was in, how slow it seemed to be growing, or that I felt less like me. But, I wasn’t digging it.

An interesting social phenomenon was happening by that time, however. People who had never said a peep about my bald head suddenly had all sorts of questions – and I don’t mean from family and friends that I was deliberately engaging about the process, but people I wasn’t saying a thing to regarding what I was doing – about why I was bald before, what was making me grow my hair, and which option they thought looked better. Some I told about my reasons for baldness and for growing my hair. Some I didn’t. But, by about 10 weeks in, I really really was not interested in discussing my hair with people I don’t know that well on a personal basis. I had had it with explaining myself and was tired of feeling like both my justification for being bald and for growing my hair sounded silly in my own ears. And (AND), I just didn’t understand why everyone cared so much about the whole situation.

Just after week 13 hit, I was trimming the sides to keep them from looking funky when I got too close in one area and created an awkward set of bald patches. I was quite annoyed by this (very very) and complained about it for the whole evening to Mr. VeganAsana and a couple of my friends. The next day, I was even more annoyed, and by noon, I had decided that I was just done.

At the end of that day, I came home and pulled out my trusty clippers. I set them on the lowest setting and started cutting. The very first swipe made me smile. By the time I had my head half done, I was feeling so relieved and much more comfortable in my own skin.

So, now I’m back to being the bald me. Who knows if I’ll ever try again, but it almost certainly won’t be soon. I am comfortable with my bald self. I know that some other people would prefer that I cut it out (see what I did there?) but it’s not my job to make everyone else happy all the time. It is my job to feel ok with who I am. And, right now, who I am doesn’t have hair.

What Will You Let Go Of?

LettingGo by Mr Littlehand

Many parts of life are a process of letting go (or, at least they are to get through them in a healthy way). Having children means letting go of the self you were before children, and letting go of your privacy and “me time.” Raising children means gradually letting go of what you expected/planned they would be like so that you can see and enjoy who they are. Looking for a new job means letting go of the understanding of self as being part of the company you are leaving, and the idea that they can’t function without you. And there are so many more examples.

Sometimes, this process of letting go, or aparigraha, involves things that you expect to let go of. For example, all parents understand that they need to let go of their children some when the children start school. But, sometimes, it turns out that what you thought was not about letting go really is, or the letting go is really about something different.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing two “letting gos” that I didn’t realize were happening until they were (there are actually four, but I am going to only discuss two here).

After an odd conversation with a medical practitioner who didn’t really know me, I decided to grow my hair. This is a big deal because I’ve been bald for 15 years. I don’t really know if my hair will grow (due to autoimmune disease, which is why I shaved it in the first place), but I’m giving it a try. I went into this not realizing how much letting go it would require. The understanding of myself as a bald woman has apparently become very deeply ingrained over the last decade and a half. It’s a big part of my identity and has come to symbolize, for me, things beyond hairstyle: buddhism, rejection of gender standards, individuality, etc. As I watch my hair grow (very very slowly), I’m struggling with how to let go of this part of who I have been for a long time. It’s interesting to me, because I expected it when I cut my hair, but didn’t realize it would happen when I started growing it.

In a second experience of unexpected letting go, I’ve had an ongoing increase in body struggles over the last year. This has resulted in a range of things including, but not limited to, decreased strength and range of motion, reduction of fresh fruits/veg in my diet, and increased fatigue and tremors. The combination has had an interesting impact (and I probably mean awful) on my understandings of self as yogi. A few years ago, when I completed yoga teacher training, I felt so strong. I had a 5-6 day a week practice and it was kickin’. Headstands, handstands, arm balances, I was developing new abilities all the time. My diet was very sound, with about 80% raw food. I was meditating regularly. There have been a lot of changes in all of that. I’m finding it challenging to adjust my understanding of self as a yoga practitioner with a very different practice – very challenging. I didn’t expect this to happen, yet is has.

Despite the struggles that I’m having right now on my physical yoga practice, I know that yoga is a good way to practice letting go, and finding out what you need to let go of. The act of taking a pose and scanning the body and mind to see where the resistance is to moving into the pose is helpful and instructive, and good practice for the letting go we have to do in so many other arenas.

So, I keep practicing, because that’s what it is, right?

Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.
~ Ray Bradbury, Farewell Summer

No Cult, No Anorexia, No Cancer – Just A Bald Vegan

I explain myself a lot.  It’s my own fault, I realize.  I’m sort of thin.  I’m bald(ish).  I have tattoos.  And (AND), I eat a vegan diet.  It’s quite a combo.

Some of the explaining is just due to my appearance.  I get a lot of people assuming that I’m significantly ill (usually the assumption is cancer).  I get a lot assuming that I’m very anorectic (yes, I would say that I have an ED, but it’s relatively under control – I’m just this size).  I get a few (Grandma, you were such a cutie) assuming that I’m in a cult.  And I get some assuming I’m either a Buddhist or Jainist nun.  There is also something going on where, apparently, in some culture(s) this hairstyle means you are, uh, available for sale.  So, I get some odd looks/offers.

Once people notice the diet, on top of the appearance, I get quite a bit of questions about what I eat (Do you eat fish?  No, I’m a vegan.  How about clams?  No.  Scallops? Sigh.) and why I eat it (Is it because you are sick?  Did your doctor tell you to do this?).  And, I get knowing looks of people who see my shape and my plate and assume that it’s all some sort of weird obsessive eating disordered behavior.  Because, after all, why would anyone voluntarily choose that diet?

So, clearly, some of this is rather particular to me.  I’m guessing that the number of 45 year old female, bald, tattooed, vegan professors in the U.S. is small.  But, some of it is about how much assuming we do about people based on things like how they look and what they eat.   We are all guilty of it.  And why do we do this?  One reason is cognitive. The world is full of infinite stimuli.  We encounter so many different “things” in each moment of each day that we can only make sense of the world by categorizing.  We start with broad categories like “people,”  “dog,”  “boy.”  Then, in order to respond to units in those categories that we have little direct experience with, we create subcategories based on what we believe are connected traits.  That’s where it starts to get tricky, because the more we do that, the more likely we are to go wrong.

When you meet a person, you know you can say “Hi, I’m ____.  It’s nice to meet you.”  You know you can comment on the weather or on an event that is happening in the area where you both are.  So far, so good.  Maybe you find out another thing about someone, for example that he is a college student.  So, on the assumption that most college students have a major, you feel pretty safe saying, “What are you studying?”  When it goes wrong is when we create more complex connections.  Bald + thin = cancer.  Tattooed + young + punk band t-shirt = angry dirty mean dangerous punk.  Big family + female = conservative and religious.  Bald + thin + vegan = religious belief X.     When we head down that road, we not only make assumptions about people that are not true (possibly offending them greatly), we also prevent ourselves from really getting to know the individual, because we stop attending to the other characteristics and behaviors and only focus on those that confirm our belief.

Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. ~ Lemony Snicket

I’ve talked to people who assert that all vegans are jackasses about their dietary choice, are rude to omnivores, and are fundamentally unhealthy.  That’s a lot of assumption to push past to have a real conversation.   Sure, some vegans are all of those things.  Some are none.  Just like with any individual characteristic, those who possess it are as different from each other as they are from others who do not have that characteristic.

Working on not making such assumptions is tough, because our mind wants to do it.  But, if we can go beyond it, we open up the opportunity to better communication with those around us, a deeper understanding of the diversity of experience, and an easier time achieving peaceful community (of all scales) relationships.  And, what is wrong with that?  So, the next time you see a bald, sort of thin, tattooed vegan, or a young, conservatively dressed, mom of 5, set aside your assumptions and get to know her.  You might be surprised.