What Shaving My Head Taught Me About Acceptance & True Self-Love
I will never forget the way that I felt sitting in the chair at Ken Paves West Hollywood Salon as my dear friend and longtime hairstylist brought a buzzer to my scalp. "Ready?" he asked. There was a pit in my stomach, and my heart was racing, but my mind was clear and still.
"Let's do this," I replied.
Being bald was something I had feared, resisted, and done everything in my power to avoid for over 22 years. Yet, there I was becoming bald by choice. The buzzer met my scalp with a slight tickle, and I released an awkward giggle of relief as my hair began to fall to the floor.
When I was 8 years old, I began losing my hair.
It started with just one small patch, one little bald spot. My mom took me to the dermatologist, who diagnosed me with alopecia areata—a condition in which the immune system becomes triggered to attack the hair follicles as if they were foreign invaders. The hair falls out and, in many cases, will grow back, which is what happened to me.
In the following years, my hair would fall out in little patches around my head and eventually grow back. It was just enough to make me self-conscious but not so much that anyone else noticed. Sometimes there were several bald spots, and sometimes there was just one. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to my hair loss cycles. I went to numerous doctors, none of whom could solve my hair loss. One doctor offered me a smelly cream that just made my remaining hair look gross. Other doctors offered me steroid injections, which seemed to work. Every month for 18 years, I would go to the doctor and get between 50 and 100 injections of corticosteroids directly into my scalp. These injections made my hair grow back, but before I knew it, another bald spot would crop up.
As a young woman, hair was a crucial part of my identity. I felt that my bright blond hair introduced me wherever I went; it defined me. Externally, I did everything I could to hide my hair loss. I parted my hair in different ways, plastered it in place with hair spray, went through periods when I would only wear a ponytail, and I ultimately began wearing a wig. Hiding my hair loss became an obsession. I looked into every mirror I passed by to see if a bald spot was visible, I was terrified when the wind blew, and I didn't want to go swimming for fear that my bald spots would show. My alopecia was my biggest secret, and I became a prisoner of my condition.
As my hair loss became worse over the years, I stopped wondering who I would be if I didn't have perfect hair and started wondering who would I be if I didn't have any hair at all. Would I be beautiful? Would people recognize me?
Would I still be me?
Finding gratitude in rock bottom.
My self-loathing was deep and all-consuming. In my early teens, I began to turn to alcohol to help me cope with the pain. Drinking offered me an escape from the constant self-criticism that filled my mind and allowed me to feel more comfortable in social settings. After college, as my hair loss continued, I turned to prescription drugs to help me cope with my anxiety and suffering. Depending on substances to ease the stress turned out to be a dark path. My hair began falling out in bigger and bigger patches, and because of all of the steroid injections, drugs, and alcohol, my physical health began to decline.
At age 26, I hit rock bottom. After a fateful night during which I almost took my own life, I woke up with the profound realization that I could not live this way any longer. I made the decision then and there to fully surrender, and I took steps toward sobriety. In doing so, I began to have a spiritual awakening.
For the first time, I began to see that the only way out of my pain was by going in.
I started to view life through a new lens, and I saw that injecting steroids into my body every month was merely putting a Band-Aid on the situation. If I actually wanted to heal, I would need to do some deeper work. For the first time, I began to see that the only way out of my pain was by going in.
The healing that I had been seeking for so many years could only come through self-love and self-acceptance. I began a daily gratitude practice, which helped me start to see my hair loss from a new perspective. Rather than wanting to resist it, battle it, or hide it, I could see that alopecia was given to me as a gift. Later, I became a certified yoga instructor and started sharing healing tools professionally, traveling around the world, leading sound baths and moon ceremonies as my life gained a new sense of purpose. Through sharing the tools that helped me reconnect with self-love, my life transformed in ways that I never dreamed were possible.
Fast-forward to June of 2019: sitting at the salon, my heart racing.
In that moment, I knew that I was ready to let go and experience a new level of self-love. I decided to shave my head in an act of surrender, acceptance, and rebirth. It was powerful, emotional, and extremely vulnerable. Even six months later, as I type these words, I am once again filled with emotion as I remember the sense of rebirth I felt when I finally let go of struggle and took a deep dive into new depths of self-love. The day I shaved my head was one of the most uncomfortable, and liberating, days of my life.
I continue to shave my head almost every day and have no idea whether or not I have bald spots due to alopecia anymore. To be honest, it doesn't matter. I can now see that there is nothing wrong with me and there never has been. Alopecia has been my greatest struggle and my greatest teacher. Through this journey, I have learned that I get to choose how I experience my life, and today I choose a life free from struggle and self-judgment. Today I choose a life of love.
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What this experience has taught me about self-love.
No matter what you are going through in your own life, it is all an invitation to choose love. I believe that self-love and self-acceptance are the keys that open the door to a happy, radiant, empowered life. If you would like to cultivate more self-love in your life, you can start by incorporating daily practices to help you shift your mindset.
- Make a daily gratitude list: My journey into self-love began with a daily gratitude practice. I still write at least five things that I am grateful for every day and share the list with a few close friends.
- Use positive affirmations: I usually list at least three positive affirmations about myself every night before I go to sleep. A few of my favorites are "I am whole," "I am lovable," "I am beautiful," and "I am enough."
- Write yourself love notes: I leave little love notes for myself around my house on mirrors and places where I will see them every day. One of my favorite notes is a reminder that says, "Please, be kind to yourself."
- Meditate: Meditation has been one of my most important tools. It has allowed me to see that, although I will always have thoughts, some of which may be negative or judgmental, I can choose which thoughts I give energy to. When negative thoughts arise, I can allow them to pass without judgment rather than believing or clinging to them.
- Practice self-care: Eating well, staying hydrated, practicing yoga and meditation, and getting enough sleep are all acts of self-love that lay a solid foundation for a happy, healthy, and whole life.
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Susy Schieffelin is a Certified Yoga Instructor (RYT 550 / IKYTA), reiki master, and sound healer based in Los Angeles. She received her BA in Religious Studies and East Asian Studies from the University of Virginia and has a diploma in Classic Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She considers it her mission is to help illuminate the path to self-love and help people remember how powerful they truly are.