I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and a vaguely familiar face peers quizzically back at me. I suddenly look more serious, less feminine, and older. And yes, the stereotypes creep in as I think to myself who is that tough looking chick anyway?
I shaved my hair off you see. Not because I had to nor for a dare but because I’d simply always wanted to, at least once in my lifetime. My relationship to my hair is complex; I’ll save that for another piece when I’m feeling braver. But in short, I wanted a fresh start.
And now I get the privilege of learning about myself and experiencing first-hand how the way that we look forms such a strong part of our identity. So much so, that even I am shocked when all at once I remember that I am hairless yet the exact same on the inside. As if, all would somehow be different now. Well maybe, I am a little more daring for taking the plunge, but essentially the same.
Admittedly, it’s not as bold a move for me as for someone who does not cover their hair day in and out. For the most part nobody I pass on the street can tell. And so really it’s more of a statement and experiment for me, which I am now sharing with you.
And I’m reminded by what I know. That it’s important how we look, yes of course. But that where the beauty lies is on the inside. A space that we have – for a limited time only – the opportunity to refine and polish and mould and make truly magnificent for eternity. But admittedly that’s just so hard and so we rely on our hair and our looks and even our brains and our charm and our humor and clothes and our possessions and every possibly externality to feel good about ourselves, and sell ourselves to the world. And that’s natural.
But we’re so much more, and all we take with us when we die is who we are, the mark we leave on the world and the good things we do. I was reminded of this when I visited the cemetery in Johannesburg a few months ago, in order to bid farewell to my late uncle. And the writing on the many stones there testified to the most important character traits in life that our egos downplay: humility, patience, kindness, tenacity.
My one daughter is all into pink and dresses and nail polish and “never wants to cut her hair short like her mom”, but my hope and prayer is that although she may enjoy all that, she will know strongly what’s most important. And that she will be real and brave and kind and amazing and strong and will make the world better. That both my girls will. And that I can strive to be the role model I would wish for them.
Dedicated to the memory of my late uncle: Yitzhak ben Asna Chaya