Like many people, I love my hair. A source of pride and hope, hair can have special significance to each of us.
The special significance when I was a teen was that growing my hair long was a way I could get away with expressing my femininity. I was transgender. But I couldn’t explain this to anyone, or find acceptance. Having long locks let me secretly feel more like who I wanted to be.
And after my mom died of cancer, I dreamt that she had her hair again. It was as beautiful as ever, shining in the sun and waving in the wind as she set sail into an afterlife.
During turbulent times, my hair felt like a precious piece of power.
My attachment to hair has had a negative side, however. I compared myself to girls at school, and to women in movies and in music videos—wishing my hair were a different shade or styled like theirs.
It’s hard to remember exactly how I got so obsessed with nitpicking the color of my hair, but it’s been worse than it probably sounds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared too long in the mirror, feeling restless, convinced that my hair was too dark, too pale, too streaky, or otherwise never enough.
Losing hair, I was forced to face my beauty comparison issues
Before I reached age 20, I realized my hairline was showing the first signs of alopecia. Now I had something new to freak out about: hair loss.
Ten years later, it has gotten worse. At this point, it’s up in the air whether I am to remain legally blonde, or become legally bald.
But no matter what happens, I hope to have a more positive, trusting relationship—not only with my own hair and looks, but with others’ looks. Losing hair has made me determined to see beauty equally, in everyone.
I may wish I never lost any hair, but if the loss can launch me into a new level of inner beauty, then it won’t matter as much! This is a positive meaning that I can assign to my grief.
Beauty comparison is different for everyone. Many become neurotic about their figure, fine lines, or even Eurocentric beauty standards that I never suffered from as a white person. I was touched recently by an article about what being Korean taught a woman about self-image. Communities across the world face epidemics of beauty obsession, each with different rules as to how we “should” ideally look.
I don’t want to be a part of a culture or mentality that makes people compare themselves and be anxious about their looks. No. I refuse. No more.
Here are the notes so far from my beauty-reclaiming journey.
To see beauty better, first I had to realize how much I had judged everyone
As much as I wish we equally worshipped all bodies, the truth is this: I’ve built up a lifetime of secret judgments. Indeed, one of the hardest parts about losing my hair has been the long, hard look it made me take at the ways I’ve judged not only myself, but others.
I’ve thought that a full head of hair is superior, and that a patchy head makes you a laughingstock.
I’ve thought gender ambiguity is ugly. That people should be “passable” as either feminine females or masculine males.
And I know I’m not immune to the tendency to rate people’s personality more positively or negatively based on their face structure and how attractive it is perceived to be.
I bet such subliminal judgments have shaped who I’ve chosen to watch on YouTube. Or even who I’ve ended up being friends with. I’m not saying I’m a jerk, but I am saying I’m human.
And now I’m the one who’s afraid I’ll get passed over, for having aged and gone bald. Such is the double-edged blade of beauty comparison.
Facing our beauty biases is uncomfortable, but I believe it is a starting point. From here, we can consciously work to reduce our amount of favoritism. We can stop just paying lip service to the idea of “everyone is beautiful,” and actually become warmer and more caring towards all.
Let’s slay our biases. Let’s love more diversely!
Once we’ve taken inventory of what our beauty biases are, it’s time to push back against the inequality.
I felt that I was guilty of secretly favoring the “conventionally hot” folks. I needed to do something to start re-training the way I react to different faces and bodies.
Here is an example of the sort of homework I am starting to give myself:
Follow cool people on Instagram who happen to be older or wrinkled. Dance to music videos with fat or full-figured singers. Watch a movie that stars a disabled actor, or a trans or androgynous actor.
If your favorite anchorperson looks like they could be in a shampoo commercial, why not give a baldheaded news anchor a chance?
And take stock of racial and cultural diversity in what you consume. Which types of people could you learn more about and spend more time appreciating?
I have no interest in tokenizing people based on their identity. Nor would I reverse-discriminate and suddenly ghost a friend whose eyebrows are just too on fleek, ha. It’s important not to go overboard.
However, given that I already have subconscious bias anyway, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with deliberately going in the opposite direction of what prejudice tends to tell us.
If we all did this, it could balance things out. It could equalize society. It could help us celebrate our diversity better, and actually internalize what we already know logically: that every being is beautiful. Regardless of their body type!
Be compassionate with your sexuality
While working through my bias is crucial, I’ve realized it’s important not to judge myself for having judgments. I can have compassion for all the forces that cause me to discriminate. And one such force—that is very powerful—is sexuality.
I never chose to be programmed this way. It’s not my fault my brain is constantly scanning the horizon for “hunks,” and hoping I look good enough to attract one.
Trying to annihilate my desires, or become equally sexually attracted to all adult humans, would be impossible. Yet, I can still nurture my sexuality in a kinder direction. I can become more accepting of flaws, less picky, and care more about who men are on the inside, instead of objectifying them.
It might sound eccentric, but for the month of March, my plan is to celebrate a different aspect of under-appreciated beauty every time I masturbate. Yes, masturbate, you heard me right!
Last night was Night 1, and the theme I chose was baldness. Since I have an active imagination, all I had to do was hop in bed, and imagine a future soulmate who looked like Ne-Yo.
I imagined how much I would love kissing his head, or massaging it. I loved how his baldness inspired him to wear a variety of hats, because they are very fashionable. I told him that I actually preferred that he was bald, because he could relate to something I myself have struggled so much with. It felt like we matched.
But soon, I stopped focusing on the baldness altogether. I moved my attention to what matters: The core values, passions, and mission in life that he and I would share. And how much we would enjoy one’s another’s words, listening… touch, smiles… and simple company for years on end.
If I could love a man based on his mind and character—and care less whether he has hair or a big belly—I think it would help me feel more accepting of my own traits, too.
If you, like me, have lost hair or felt ugly because of how you look, please know that you are in no way extraordinarily vain or selfish. You’re not!
You are a beautiful person. And you deserve to feel great about your physical appearance, as well as who you are internally.
We are going through this together. Our suffering is part of a much larger problem, which we can all play a part in making better.
Although I am taking basic measures to maximize my retention of hair, that would be a subject for another (and less important) article. Grooming is absolutely an act of self-love, but learning to look with more universally loving eyes is even more of a priority for me.
A simple practice I am doing is that whenever I catch myself idolizing OR criticizing how someone looks, I stop. I ask myself, “What is one thing that I find beautiful about their appearance?” Then I ask myself, “What is one positive thing or wish that I can say about their inner experience?”
Because I do this same silent check-in process with anyone I see—including myself in the mirror—it helps me feel more equally appreciative of all.
I hope something I have said here helps you find your own right balance with the way you regard yourself and others. If we can practice treating everyone as an infinitely beautiful being regardless of how much hair they have, then there is a lot less reason to fear our own balding process, aging process, and so on.
We can be free.
Also by Phoenix: I Did A 100-Day Courage Challenge & It Wasn’t At All What I Expected
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Photo: Almos Bechtold via Unsplash