This year I committed myself to making calculated strides towards my interpretations of freedom.
It started with quitting my stable, permanent job in the Midwest and leaving my comfortable, reliable apartment to pursue a life built on seasonal ecological fieldwork, travel, and continuing education. It persists by working on my ability to be present, be kind to others, constantly learn, putting my values to action, and peering through a magnifying glass over my relationship with myself.
In lifestyle choices, from financial to nutritional to recreational, I have found that what is good for the environment is good for me. And what’s good for me is good for the environment.
That has been my guidance for most of my beauty regime since I was a teenager. It began by switching to beauty and cleaning products that were cruelty-free, or in other words, don’t test on animals or use animal products. These are typically indicated by a cartoon rabbit on the back label. It then developed into organic and low-phosphate products to help keep the runoff water cleaner. Naturally, it turned into making some of my own products, with the quintessential DIY artillery; baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil. Using healthier products has advanced into using no products, i.e. organic shampoo to barely ever shampoo and homemade deodorant to no deodorant.
In another major, albeit costly, attempt to achieve a new level of physical freedom, I had Lasik eye surgery. Working outside with a semi-nomadic lifestyle made the freedom to sleep wherever, and whenever I want to and wake up and get the day started without plucking contacts into my eyes a priority. And of course, in a survival situation, who can afford to drop their contact on the ground or tear a cornea sleeping in them?
Low maintenance hygiene, Lasik, and near-constant camping and dirtbagging (as we in the business call it) has led me to enjoy and seek out even more ways to free myself from cosmetics and the like, while still maintaining a socially acceptable level of cleanliness. It has allowed me more time, mental freedom, and self confidence to put more energy towards the things I’d rather be doing.
Shaving my head is something I’ve always wanted to do and is another form of freedom that I wanted to experience.
It started as jokes here and there when I was frustrated with my long mop of hair. It would become suppressed when I’d cut 10+ inches off every few years to donate when I felt sick of having long hair. I didn’t like the new, short, mushroom poof on my head and would anxiously grow my hair back out for the next 3 years. This assured me that cutting it any shorter could only be disastrous.
But this summer, I talked myself into donating it again. I was trying to enjoy myself in the lake, but had to keep pulling my seaweed-like hair from wrapping around my body while swimming. Swimming in natural bodies of water is one of my favorite things about summer, but before entering a river, stream, hot spring, ocean, or alpine lake, I always had to weigh the fun of swimming against the hours it would take my hair to dry afterwards.
I had 15 inches lopped off for the Wigs for Kids Foundation and instead of my usual feeling of instant regret, this time, it wasn’t short enough. It was still crowding around my head. I was still worrying about how it looked or how it would dry. This time, I knew I was ready to shave my head.
As an already extremely lazy person with poor fashion sense who rarely wears makeup, I worried that I was not trendy enough to pull off the “look”. Almost all of the pictures I see of bald women are models of the action movie variety that would come through a fiery cat-blimp crash still looking like Lara Croft, so hairstyle is negligible anyway.
My inner voice always had a narrative of excuses to fire against myself.
What if I hate it and have to sit through 5 agonizing years to fully grow it out again?
Will I still have friends?
Is my face ugly and my long hair is working to hide that?
Will guys still find me attractive?
Will I be made fun of?
The more time I have spent this year on introspection, reflection, being honest about what I really want, and working towards my goals, the more prepared I have become to finally do this thing that I’ve fantasized about for years. The more that I feel good about what I’m doing, the better I feel about myself. And the less my physical appearance determines how I feel.
Over time and actively working to improve my lifestyle and self-esteem, these worries were naturally replaced with different questions.
Wait, what if I fucking love it and don’t want to grow it out again anyway?
What if nice strangers pet my head and strike up the craziest conversation?
What if I sit around all day running my hands over my super soft head?
Besides, there will always be days where people aren’t happy with how they look, regardless of the haircut.
As with any dramatic life change, it can come from a place of security or insecurity, and is most likely a mixture of both. There’s a reason that changing your environment, such as your physical appearance which is the closest environment around “you”, can make you feel better. Despite the catalyst for the change, whether it’s from a place of desperation or joy, an exhilarating lifestyle change will often have a positive reverberating effect. For me, it often facilitates the next venture by fanning my confidence flames.
Having the strength to make changes to your situation is empowering and liberating. And it’s okay that sometimes it takes spontaneity to give you the adrenaline boost to see something through if it’s what you’ve felt in your gut but has always been set on the backburner. It also helps to have friends cheering you on and I was lucky enough to have my friend and fellow dirtbagger, Anika, hopping around and shouting encouraging words through this.
People in their 20’s are told to start investing now for the long-term in higher risk stocks with a lower percentage of bonds because we are young enough to recover from market fluctuations. Ideally we have time, decades, to ride out the waxing and waning tides of investments, resulting in a slow, but ultimate accumulation of wealth for retirement. Closer to retirement, we are advised to switch to more conservative investments and move away from volatile stocks to reduce the risk of abrupt losses. This same concept applies to other major aspects of life. What high-risk moves are you making to invest in yourself NOW? You have experienced enough in life to know what you like and do not like, what is healthy for you and what is self-destructive, and have “I wish…” statements about the person you would like to be. What targeted, daunting, self-determined steps can you be taking to reach that aspiration that’s been dancing in the background of your head? If you try something and fail, you have time to recover and reroute. Investing in yourself now means that you stand to gain even more from it in the long run.
How does your freedom abound and what steps will you take to achieve it?