What I Learned from Shaving My Head

I finally stopped hiding, and started living.

« I’d love it if you would shave my head, » I announced to the young stylist in the LA hair salon. She laughed out loud. Then she realized I was serious and lost a shade of colour.

Smilingly I reassured her : « I promise you I’m of sound mind and I’m sure of my decision. » She did not look convinced.

I could hardly blame her. At that point, my hair was long to below my shoulders. I could see anxious thoughts flitting through her mind, as she imagined me wailing loudly, tear-stained and remorseful, my long locks strewn on the floor around her styling chair, and writing a terrible review on Yelp. She appeared to need some support, so I took her hand and chirped, « It’ll be fun »!

First she gave me a really cute boy cut, clearly hoping to sell me on moderation. I complemented her work, and then asked her to shave it off. She did a short lap around the room, returning to her station with the words, « I need a margarita for this! »

Meanwhile a bit of an audience had gathered for the ritual. My husband, my step-son, and a few curious onlookers in the salon. No pressure. With continual big, toothy grins, I cheered on my stylist until she grabbed the clippers.

« Okaaaay », she intoned, heavy with misgiving. And bzzzzzzz……

I made the radical choice of buzzing off all my hair after many years of covering my gray, which I had started doing in my mid-30s.

I never questioned it, I just did it, like most women did, at least women in show business, of which I was one, ’because you know how it is as a woman in show business, you have to look as young as you can for as long as you can‘, blah blah blah. That was my excuse, which I fully bought into without even a thought, for ages.

Over the years the need for colouring went from every 12 weeks, to 8, to every 4 weeks or so, as the gray invaders multiplied and replaced the dark brown I had always identified with; and not only was that costing me boatloads of cash, but the health consequences of repeated use of even the least toxic version of hair dye made me uneasy. I took matters into my own hands and switched to the finest dark henna I could find, purchased it online, stock-piled it in my bathroom cabinets, and ritualistically carved out 6-hour blocks once a month to stay on top of the advancing army. These epic evenings were spent with my head swaddled in plastic wrap for hours, slowly dripping goo as my body heat melted the gobs of henna saturating my mane (while being thoroughly mocked by my husband in the process). Then I would take a 20-minute shower to remove the encrusted mud, destroying all our towels and shower curtains and bath mats in the process. Though my hair emerged from the ritual a gleaming deep brown, I was very much aware of winning the battles but losing the war.

I became curious about the feeling of dread that would creep in as that white line would start to creep out from my part, and an even deeper, incomprehensible sense of shame and despair, as if I had somehow failed as a woman because I was getting older and it showed.

Sometimes I would say no to a social evening because it was my henna night, and I wouldn’t feel ‘right’ again until the white line was banished. Then I started worrying how I would manage my henna routine during longer stints away from home (believe me, it was a complex and messy operation). Most of all, I didn’t want anyone besides my closest friends to know that I dyed my hair, as if it were a shameful habit I had to hide, like drinking alone or bingeing on porn.

These psychological contortions continued through my time at the Kundalini Yoga ashram in French alps which became my second home during my first years of deep work.

I often gazed at one of my mentor-teachers there, a woman in her 50s with long salt and pepper hair, wondering if she had ever been through such inner machinations. One day, a conversation with her somehow veered in that direction and I found out that until a few years before, she had coloured her hair, just like me. When she decided to grow out her gray, her kids were like, « Ew, Mom, NO »! But she showed them the hand and did it anyway, sailing through the awkward growing-out stage with serenity. I must’ve been gazing at her admiringly again, because she pounced, mischievously suggesting I might consider doing the same. I blabbed some condition-based excuse about being an actress and how naturally, that made me an exception, which she saw right through, then I changed the subject. But she didn’t, and switched to English. « Claire, why you always want to hide? Why you cannot be yourself? »

When a spiritual teacher plants a seed in your psyche, it takes some time to grow. But in this case, it didn’t take very long.

In a few weeks, I went from politely nodding at her suggestion while inwardly thinking, « yeah right, when pigs fly », to realizing that colouring my hair actually symbolized a global and long-standing habit I had of hiding in EVERY area of my life. « Why I cannot be myself? Why I want to hide? » I began asking myself in French-accented English. I could literally feel the tide of my energy turning, and suddenly I knew that with one act, I could make a powerful declaration to myself and to the universe that I was done hiding. Or at least, that I was open to really loving myself, just as I was.

Rather than a gradual transition, I opted for the sword of Truth in the form of clippers. Shortly after finishing a theatre contract, and while preparing for a trip to Thailand of indeterminate length, we found ourselves in LA and I set the date for my transformation : December 28th, 2017. Once the deed was done, I felt liberated and magnificent.

Once the deed was done, I felt liberated and magnificent.

I could see my face unadorned, and my shorn head attracted spontaneous and warm-hearted compliments from strangers that truly touched me. It was as if they sensed I was allowing myself to be ‘seen’ for the first time, without any protection from my hair. The world felt loving, kind and encouraging, a reflection of the lovingkindness of the Me within me that was seeking to emerge. As my hair grew in a bit more, I could see the salt-and-pepper patterns swirling around my head and found them beautiful. I loved my ultra-simplified morning routine, which took no time at all, and the straightforwardness of my interface with the world. This new way of being communicated a deep acceptance to my then-fragmented psyche, like a soothing balm to the thousands of betrayals of my soul had endured through my ignorance of its constant Presence.

Shaving my head and starting over, showing my true colours, marked the beginning of radical self-acceptance : a willingness to be seen, naked, vulnerable and even broken, where I had once spent enormous energy upholding a false self. It was a symbolic act; it didn’t create a new self, any more than growing in my grays brought me wisdom. No external act can generate a transformation that isn’t already happening on the inside. However, it can attract the divine grace of your Being as you step into the heart of your own darkness, and discover that it is filled with Light. 

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