I’m standing in a juice bar stocking up on fresh juice for my 3-day cleanse. Not only am I wearing my baggy house clothes, but I’m bald. And I’m a woman. And I look pretty bad.
There are three other people in the tiny shop, all waiting on their juice orders. I suddenly realize that they are in the position I’ve been in so many times before: The “Oh gosh, that poor person. Look at them. They must have cancer. Or some horrible disease. No wait, don’t stare.”
I grin at them. They look awkwardly away.
I’m surprised at myself. For one thing, I’ve realized for the first time in my life that not worrying about being pretty is awesomely liberating. I realize I don’t give a rat’s ass how I look.
It’s a funny feeling having no way to hide. I could wear a wig, but I just don’t care enough. It’s hot, I’m tired, and chemo is kicking my butt.
Everything is fully exposed: forehead wrinkles, saggy neck, heck even the shape of my skull.
Here I’ve spent 30 years with my long blonde flowing hair and pretty makeup, fully invested in how I show myself to the world. Now I look 10 years older, bald, pale, and parched.
My ability to control how I look to others has largely been taken away from me. I can’t shape how people see me to the degree I used to.
The next day, I get a text from my mom about some new bald photos of me that have made it onto Facebook. She assures me I don’t look that bad in person and that I must really be getting a big test having to do with stripping away all my ego.
I whimper in response, “So you think I really look that bad?”
I hesitate. I could untag myself in Facebook. Or I could suck it up and get over myself. And that’s exactly what I decide to do. I leave the awful photos up.
By the way, this email is not about vanity, or feeling good about yourself. It’s about control and identity: Who we are and what we expect life to give us as a result of how we control how others see us. Identity is our deeper layer. Think vanity on the outside, and identity on the inside.
Vanity is fueled by lack-thinking.
Self-worth is fueled by feeling good about yourself.
And identity is fueled by many things, including your comfort with yourself at the deepest level, your ability to shift and flow with your changing identity, and by letting go of your need to control others’ perceptions of you.
I discover that I’m tired of trying to control everyone’s perceptions of me and my identity. I don’t need to look any certain way to do my work, so why did I ever think I had to?