December 19, 2013

Fighting the Urge to Shave My Head. ~ Nicole Carlin

Warning: Naughty Language Ahead

”Who am I to teach? Who am I to write? Who am I to share this knowledge?”

Last weekend I came home and announced to my lover that I was going to shave my head. I said this casually, but with a palpable trace of teenage rebellion. I was calm, but poised; ready, waiting to defend my position.

A pause for context, clarity. I don’t have just some hair, but feet of hair. Down to my waist hair that is deeply entrenched in the persona that I cultivated throughout my 20’s. A persona that I’m crushing under the weight of now.

He took a breath and looked me over; appraised me in the gentle, observing way he has.

“I’m just not sure it’ll look right if you shave your head.”

I knew he could feel my hot blood pumping under my skin from the way his body stiffened next to mine in the too small, too hot bathroom of our studio apartment.

“I never asked your opinion.” 

I feel 16 and riotous again. The vestiges of the good Catholic girl, stripping off her uniform and sticking her middle finger up. I felt a cog shift in place, signifying that it was impossible for me to not shave my head now. It was decided. 

Looking at the reflection of our faces in the bathroom mirror; him standing slightly behind me and to the left, his face reflecting off the center mirror. I close my eyes and he puts his arms around me from behind and softly kisses my neck.

Uncharacteristically, he probes deeper, eager to get to the root of why I want to shave my head.

I tell him it’s something I think about every single day. The urge to be reborn by razing through the vestiges of who I have been. Flipping through the pages of my life, I can see all the large times where I decided to raze everything to the ground and start over. I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of smaller decisions of death and rebirth.

I’m talking to him in the bathroom mirror.  “I can’t answer this question while I’m looking at myself, I need to go in the other room.” I sit on the bed and start to cry; big, fat, hot tears. It’s been awhile since I’ve cried and I’m amazed at how it feels…

…unnatural and strange.

I have a moment of panic where I feel like the tidal wave is about to crash over me. I take a deep breath and it brings me back to myself again.

Brings me back to my center.

“I think I want to shave my head because I’m not sure that I embody the floaty, hippy, fairy girl that people think I am. This works when I’m running around on the fucking beach in Costa Rica or Greece, but not here in Philly in the middle of the city. Not here, where men look at me like I’m a fucking Barbie doll, a commodity that makes them feel like it’s their right to stare at me from the moment I leave our apartment, on my subway ride, all the way to the doorstep of my work.”

He reminds me that I’m judging this against some of the worst specimen of men and it’s not like this everywhere. I know this is true. I remember when we lived in England. How strange it was to walk down the street and not hear wolf whistles, beeping horns or worse. I also remember the night in Bristol when a car full of boys threw something at me from the car window and screamed, “Slag!”

How I cried because it felt so out of place and un-English.

We’re walking to the car now and I’ve stopped crying, but I feel a heaviness in my heart. He’s still asking questions because we both realize that this is more symbolic than just getting a haircut.

“I just feel like I’m crushing under the weight of this persona. Like I’m the yoga teacher and health guru and the projection is that I’m so balanced and together and perfect. The more that people see me as that the more fucked up I feel.

I’m crushing under the weight of my feelings of hypocrisy and imposterism. I just feel like my hair has become this heavy weight on my shoulders reminding me that I’m not perfect and at some point everyone else is going to find out so it’s better to just shave it off and expose myself.”

He’s silent for a moment and then agrees softly. When we first met his hair was long, down past his shoulders; the hippy boy with whom I fell in love. A few years ago he cut off all of his hair for a similar reason, so he says he understands.

“I was tired of people expecting that I was a hippy and that I’d act or think a certain way. I guess in a way I wanted to be more anonymous… to have the opportunity to write my own story, instead of getting typecast one way.”

Is this something with which other yoga teachers struggle? The unreal expectations to be perfect, the model of perfect yogic grace and charm?

In my heart I think so.

When the people around me assume that inside I’m all light and rainbows and that it all comes easily for me, this doesn’t resonate with me at all. I struggle with the same fear, inadequacy, pain and sadness that everyone else around me does. I get knocked out of my center by sharp emotions like anger and jealousy.

I question my path. And for a long time I secretly thought that this made me unworthy.

I can’t do a handstand or big, fancy poses. I worry and obsess about things. I worry that if I’m not perfect everyone will become so disappointed in me that they’ll stop loving me and I’ll disappear with agony.

However, I know that underneath the self-doubt is a herculean core of strength that comes from my spiritual and physical practice. This for me in the simplest lesson that I have to teach.

The sheer importance of practice.

My whole life is an experiment of practice, of practicing how to love more, to practice radical self-acceptance, to share my authentic self, to write truly, to create, to reveal, to let go of fear, to learn how to trust deeply, to pray, to dance, to move my body, to meditate, to fuck, to kiss, to write poems, to fuck up and make mistakes, to laugh, to wake up every morning and say thank you because I’m alive even though the resistance is sharp in my mind.

I’m dedicated to the practice of life and as a teacher, that is what I’m committed to sharing.

I have the power to share my story and inspire others to live life courageously through my actions and move from my center with integrity as often as I can.

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Assistant Editor: Alicia Wozniak/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Matt Erasmus/Flickr

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Nicole Carlin