What I Learned From Shaving My Head

Repost from 2017

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.
Jane Austen

In March of this year, I shaved my head to support the St. Baldricks Foundation.  If you are not familiar with this organization, it funds research for childhood cancer.  To raise money, you commit to shaving off your hair (Rock the Bald!!) and collecting donations from people to support you.

Besides supporting a great cause, I signed up as a challenge to myself.  I knew shaving my hair would be a hit to my vanity.  For over two decades, I have poured money and time into my hair.  I didn’t even know my natural hair color, and I was tired of the time and effort that was going into my hair every day.  This seemed like a perfect time to break free of my hair habit.

To give you a perspective on the degree of change for me, here is a headshot from before my head was shaved.


Here is a picture of me and my son at the shaving event.


Finally, here is what I look like now, after several months of my hair growing back.


Yes, I have learned that growing out your hair is much slower and, um, entertaining than not having any.  There are two other things that I have learned.

First, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  I found my adjustment to not having hair and the awkward grow-out stage has been relatively minor.  I don’t think about my hair much during the day so, except for my head feeling cold, the novelty and any related discomfort of having a shaved head faded quickly.

The second thing was much more unexpected.  That was how much having my head shaved and my current ultra-short look impacted both first impressions of me or, more significantly, my perception of first impressions.  In this case, it wasn’t worrying about how attractive I looked.  I have upped my make-up game and feel good about how I look, even with my awkward hair.  Using Jane Austen’s definitions, I’m still proud of my appearance.

No, the concern was that I was meeting new people and they were forming first impressions based on a hairstyle that “wasn’t me”.  That concern has led me to reflect on how we are sized up during first impressions and how I size people up in the same way.

Neuroscience has produced some good information on how and why we do this.  I’ve included a couple of links for further reading below, but you can Google the topic and find everyone from scientists to leadership gurus talking about how people form an opinion based on first impressions, how to make sure you make a good one and ways to correct a poor first impression.

For me, it was distinctly uncomfortable the first few times that I met someone new after having my head shaved.  I went to great pains to engage them after we met to make sure they saw the “real” me and hadn’t formed a wrong impression based on my hair.  I find that I am still doing that, four months later.

What I have learned through this is, if my shaved head “isn’t me”, then neither was the hairstyle that I had before I shaved it.  In fact, very little of my outward appearance is really “me”.  Yes, I dress to suit my tastes and in ways that are appropriate to the setting (office, semi-formal, etc.) but I don’t fundamentally change based on whether I’m wearing my ripped jeans or my formal little black dress.  The fact that my neck tattoo is now visible has not suddenly transformed my morality, competency or likeability.

This realization has been remarkably freeing.  It doesn’t change the fact that people are making assumptions based on my appearance and, based on the research, that first impression is very important.  As such, I still think about my appearance when meeting new people; however, realizing how little my appearance correlates with me as a person has led me to focus more on the interaction part of the first impression.  For instance, how I shake hands, make eye contact, being authentic in my first greeting not repeating a polite trope.  I’ve discovered being more “real” in that first interaction is a lot more important than looking the part, even if both aspects play a big part in first impressions.

It has also made it easier for me to check my own assumptions and biases when I first meet people.  We all know that we are not supposed to “judge a book by its cover”.  However, thinking about the potential inaccuracy of the assumptions that people may have been making about me has made me very sensitive to the judgments that I’m making about others.   I seem to have a very judgemental brain and, according to the research, we all do.  It’s how human beings are wired.

Going through this experience has made me more aware of my judgments and allowed me to cultivate a much more compassionate view of people whether we are meeting during a business function or passing each other on the street.  It was not the lesson I expected from shaving my head, but it has been a very valuable one.

Now, if anyone knows any tricks to grow hair faster, please send them my way.  I may have learned a lot about first impressions but I still haven’t figured out how to get the hair at the back of my head to stop sticking up.

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