July 21, 2014. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first time I looked in the mirror and truly saw myself. While I can't tell you what I ate for breakfast, or what the weather was doing outside, I can tell you how I felt: alive. And because I wanted to be completely transparent in my newfound discovery of self-love, I booked an appointment with a local barber to shed what so many women hold dear.
It was quick and easy. Words can't describe how freeing it felt to rid myself of society's definition of beauty, because: duh. Long hair! I promise I'd be a billionaire by now for every single time I'd heard that generalization. I waltzed out of that barbershop feeling like I could redefine standards of beauty.
Almost four years later, here are the lessons I've learned.
1. Authenticity Is Where It's At
I think Auntie Oprah said it best: "The highest honor on earth that you will ever have, is the honor to be yourself." But what she didn't say is that it would be easy.
When I was a preteen in the early '90s, I always felt extreme pressure to mold myself into someone who I wasn't. That same pressure lingered for many, many years — and only heightened when I started competing in beauty pageants. And to this day, for the life of me, I still can't believe I let my coach talk me into darkening my hair to the depths of ash. And for what? How could the judges see me when I couldn't even see myself? I didn't win the crown, but competing on that stage taught me that there is nothing more valuable than being exactly who I am: blond, bold, and fabulous.
2. Real Beauty Truly Comes From Within
I know, I know. The saying "beauty comes from within" is arguably one of the most cliché beauty quotes of all time. I'm not even talking about the toxins we put into our bodies on the regular, rather, I'm talking about the ability to truly love ourselves from within. I've been working on this project for half of my life, and I can attest that it has absolutely nothing to do with a hairstyle. The conversations we have with ourselves matter. Our thoughts matter. The way we treat other women matters. The way we feed our minds matter. The way we celebrate others matters. Being at peace with who you are and what you have to offer matters. This is real beauty.
3. My Hair Does Not Define My Femininity
Gone are the days when rocking a buzz cut was once deemed as taboo. But yet, in 2018, I still find myself constantly defending my femininity. Even when icons like Grace Jones set grand stages for bold, unconventional beauty back in the '70s, all the way to present-day A-listers such as Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Adwoa Aboah, still, I find myself warding off strangers who mournfully say to me, "I hope they find a cure to cancer soon." And it's not just strangers who lack discernment.
When I first got the big chop, my mama told me that my 'do would "hold me back" — and often suggested that I wear bigger earrings. But honestly, I'm the most comfortable that I've ever been in my own skin, and I credit that to the ability to take risks and live fearlessly. This buzz cut gives me a strong sense of confidence, because I've worked so hard to become this woman. And if you want me to get really real, I'll tell you that even more doors, opportunities are present in my life, because I am unapologetically me.
4. It's OK to Be Unique
If I could travel back in time and give my younger self a single ounce of advice, I'd tell myself that I'm not ugly. Lord knows, I certainly thought so growing up. And it wasn't because folks in my family didn't tell me that I was pretty. It was because I didn't look like anybody else. Being young and very impressionable, I thought unique simply meant ugly. It wasn't until I started to develop and hear my own voice that I realized that what makes a person unique makes them special. Ugly is a state of mind. And, sure. There are things about myself that I'd like to change, but then I remind myself that those "things" are God-given — and make me who I am.
5. I Have the God-Given Right to Define My Own Standard of Beauty
Listen. Beauty is subjective. Period. I don't care if I decided to rock a Mohawk, blue eye shadow, or tattooed lipstick; I have the power to fearlessly define my own standard of beauty, and so do you. One of the best attributes of working in the beauty biz is that I've been blessed with an exceptional opportunity to encourage people to habitually practice self-love.
Beauty isn't about keeping up with the Joneses, or toting the most expensive skincare or makeup products. And it certainly has nothing to do with hair. One of the greatest and most powerful lessons I learned in that barbershop was to never let anyone define me, or my perception of what it means to be beautiful. It's one of the greatest gifts I've ever given myself, and for that, I'm proud of my decision.