Appreciating All Versions of Myself
Posted on February 02 2018
Our self-image is often sculpted by social feedback, with the degree differing from person to person. Sometimes one may identify so much with this image that it can cause tremendous suffering when, out of one's control, it changes. This could be the result of an accident, a medical difficulty, a personal loss, trauma, birth defects (like me), hair loss (also like me), or the experience we all go through: aging.
My name is Jessie Sawyers and I am the founder of Getting Unlocked. This is my first blog post, and I am so happy to be here with you in this way. I was inspired to start this company (and this blog) through the gifts I have received in learning to accept my physical deformities and in practicing vulnerability as a source of both personal power and honest connection. And, I just have so many LIFE questions I want to explore with you!
The first thing I want to share with you today is a practice I have learned in taking the things I’ve never really liked about myself and normalizing them in my own brain to the point where they are no longer the shame-based discomforts they once were. They become parts of me I can actually embrace.
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT:
Something is Happening.
Your hair is falling out.
You’re 11 years old.
In a silent, subtle way,
It becomes stifled.
Hair loss, at any age and along the entire gender spectrum, is something none of us would choose to experience. Trust me when I say that I would prefer not to have had this come into my life. And still it did.
It’s been 20 years now. I spent the first 13 of those trying to find solutions and conceal my growing bald spot, and then the last 7 years wearing a wig. Transitioning to a wig was its own step toward accepting my situation. It’s fascinating when I think about it, though, because depending on perspective, a wig is still its own type of concealment for baldness. And yet, something in that shift for me wasn’t about hiding it from others - it was about freeing my own mind from attention to it. It was largely motivated by my internal desire to stop giving time and energy to styling my own thinning hair. It was exhausting. And uncomfortable. I could never “let my hair down,” quite literally speaking. Wigs ultimately brought relief to my mind. I could finally forget about hair and feel fully at home in my body. I could soften.
Now I’m ready for one final step.
Wigs have been great in practicing acceptance, appreciation, and in helping me own my differences. They’ve helped me strip away so many layers of self-protection that no longer serve me, to the point that I’m actually ready to shave my head fully for the first time.
Why do I want this?
As I’ve moved through two decades of living with hair loss, I’ve felt more at ease every time I address a discomfort that comes into my awareness. The moment I started wearing wigs, I immediately felt comfortable sharing my story and my reality with friends, family, or even strangers when they’d exclaim, “Oh, I love your hair cut! Who's your stylist?” Prior to that point, I never talked about my hair loss.
That said, in the past few years, I have noticed one final concealment arise: I don’t currently feel comfortable without a wig or a hat in front of other people - even family or loved ones. Perhaps this is natural, but I truly want to this to be liberating in every way. The visible remnants of my own hair and very large bald spot feel unclean and unkempt. I’ve kept it as such for so long because I’ve been able to attach my wigs to it with bobby pins. Basically, until now it’s been useful. But this external usefulness is no longer useful for my inner expansion. Hair or not, I am whole. I want to experience and even learn to enjoy the full reality of my situation.
It matters to me to take good care of my body and present it with love in the presence of others. I’ve always thought that when we meet each other from the lens of putting our best foot forward - meaning good hygiene, well dressed, etc - we offer an unspoken respect to one another. Kind of like when we attend the theatre or a formal event. Maybe we actually create a more meaningful experience with one another when we do this?
And let me digress to say that 'best foot forward' is unique to each and every one of us. Not a social best. But an individual best. I am excited and slightly anxious to soon be rocking moments of my “best” with a head wrap, or a shiny bald head. ;)
I’m ready… I think.
I know it will take the mind some adjusting once the shaving has happened. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m ready, but I don’t expect the transition to be easy or even comfortable. Why? Because I’ve never actually seen myself with no hair before. This will be a version of myself I’ve never met!
So this is where my practice of normalization comes in. Let’s call it “Self-Image Expansion.”
Here’s the realization:
While I can’t change the quirks of my body, I can change how my mind perceives them. This means exposing myself to the very situations which make me feel uncomfortable - and doing so on a consistent basis until my brain learns to normalize them as new ways of being.
(but will soon be)
In preparation for my head shaving, I’ve spent much more time at home sans wig (and often in front of a mirror), so that now, in my own eyes, me without hair is starting to look just as normal and wonderful as me with hair.
It’s a soft and slow practice.
And the more I simply witness myself in this way without a wig, the more accepting my own mind becomes to the image it sees. I want wearing a wig to be a conscious desire to play with hair as an adornment to my body, and not a need to feel whole or even desirable. This is the work I address internally by simply putting myself in the position I soon aim to feel comfortable in. Perhaps this is its own kind of, “fake it ‘til you make it” training for the the brain.
The more I witness without attachment, the more I can embrace ALL VERSIONS of me.
I’ve used this expansion technique before with my feet, which have deformities in my toes (my toes are webbed). I always concealed them as a kid, but in the last four years, started using the practice of yoga - or as it was for me, “being barefoot in a room full of people” - to normalize my perception of my feet around others. The result? I don’t hide them anymore. I still think they’re weird. But weird is pretty great.
There’s a TED Talk from Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert I would recommend you watch, in which he reminds us,
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you've ever been.”
So, what’s Next?
I’ll keep you posted on when I get my head shaved. I plan to do it soon and will share the intimate experience with you on video. I anticipate going through another phase of self-image expansion once my head is actually bald, and I’m ready for this work.
If I can leave you with a final offering here, I will write something I recently shared with my yoga community:
“Have the courage to show up and explore your inner world so you may find out what’s on the other side of discomfort, fear, and the unknown.”
I found my growth to be amplified in the presence of a supportive community through yoga, and I wholeheartedly want this blog and Getting Unlocked’s social media to become their own kind of community hubs where those of you reading this can stay in touch and stay inspired to keep expanding in your own way - there are lots of us out here doing the work and it feels so great to learn from each other and grow together!
Onward in appreciation,
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What changes do you aim to make in either your perspective or any outward shifts for yourself/life? Share in the comments below.