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The switch flips on with the unmistakable sound of electricity moving through the body of the electric shaver. With a level-2 attachment in place, a wrist begins carving the guarded blades across a bed of hair and the micro-sawing din results in piles of hair wafting to the ground like autumn leaves.

Dramatic Barber Shop Photo
Barber Shop

The face looks into the mirror and replies out loud, “This is my true, authentic self.”

In my sixth week from leaving Social Media, the concept of authenticity has become a present and pressing topic.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are always—ALWAYS—our true selves. When we attempt to conceptualize who that true, authentic self is, we don’t always acknowledge all of us, which can be problematic. Consider the following scenarios:

Samantha Scenario:

Samantha has watched a social media trend grow in popularity on social media: Women shaving their heads. Samantha feels invigorated by the idea and decides to document the experience on social media and writes the caption, “Choosing to be brave! #trueauthenticself” under the video. She checks how many people have liked her video just as often as she runs her hands through her now much shorter hair.

Ron Scenario:

Ron is experiencing male-pattern baldness and has hid is receding hairline under a hat for years. He feels he’s less attractive and also feels like he can’t really control his situation or look the way he wants. He’s considered hair plugs, wigs, and other ideas. Ultimately he decides to shave his head. For the first time in years, he goes to the grocery store without hiding his head under a cap.

Veronica Scenario:

Veronica has just undergone her fourth round of chemotherapy. Her doctor has warned her of the trauma of watching her hair fall out. She’s already felt some of the pains. Clogged drains, hair strewn about her pillow. If cancer made her feel powerless, losing her hair has been a slap in the face. So she takes a razor to her head and tries to embrace the inevitable.

What does authenticity look like in each of these situations? Which one feels the most authentic? Perhaps ask yourself which one feels the most honorable and/or noble? Even consider which one resonates with you the most, and which one you find yourself judging the most.

Authenticity is like a Diamond

A diamond is all it's parts, the strength, the angles, and the inclusions.
Purple Diamond

Diamonds can be mimicked, grown in a lab, and appear naturally within the earth. Cubic Zirconias look like diamonds on the surface, but lack those essential qualities and components that make a diamond genuine. Scientists have also found ways to manufacture diamonds in a lab. For all intents and purposes, these have the same “genetic makeup” and components of a diamond, yet they are far less valuable. Two benefits these manufactured diamonds offer are their relative inexpensiveness means that industries can use these diamonds for all tasks where a diamond’s hardness is ideal, like in saws, for example. Secondly, these diamonds don’t involve the explotation of humans in the diamond mining industry. Why are these manufactured diamonds less valuable, though? One of the key components of value is something has to be highly desirable, but also rare. The process of diamond formation takes time, and ironically, there is a component of naturally occurring diamonds that speaks volumes to their authenticity and genuine nature: Inclusions.

Inclusions are crystals, clouds, and feathers and other "imperfections" within the diamond structure. These inclusions are like fingerprints for a diamond that don’t just help each diamond’s ability to be distinguished, but also speak to the authenticity of a diamond’s natural occurrence. In other words: a diamonds imperfections add to its value and help create its unique identity.

A human’s identify is similar. While human beings can try to manufacture their identify through social media and on the street, a manufactured identify doesn’t ring true. It’s easy to unconsciously gravitate toward a manufactured identify, and yet it doesn’t hold up over time. This is because there’s always force. Mark Twain famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” and “The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance.” One of my favorite lines comes from an Avett Brothers’ lyric: "The weight of lies will bring you down and follow you to every town.” The cost of authenticity is facing one’s fear and choosing honesty as the guiding principle. Radical honesty is being fully honest with one’s self, flaws, baldness, envy, ego, and all. The alternative is a version of ourselves masked in temporary contentment, and long road of internal integral disagreement. The former is temporarily uncomfortable. The later reeks a slow unraveling of who we think we are.

If our inclusions, our humanness, is what makes us authentic, consider the scenarios again in all their authentic, flawed, glory.

Veronica Revisited

Sisters support each other during a difficult moment of cancer.
Supporting a sister who has cancer.

Veronica just received her fourth round of chemotherapy as a treatment for breast cancer. Her doctor warns her that her hair is bound to fall out. Not just on top of her head, but her eye brows, her eye lashes, among other places. The idea is that if their head is trending toward being bald, she might as well embrace the inevitable. It would save the shower drain, her bed, and would be an example of exercising control over a situation, rather than the situation controlling them. Most importantly, she's been warned that the experience of her hair falling out in stages can be more traumatizing than cutting the hair before long strands begin falling out. With tears streaming down her face, she puts razor to her head. In a stroke of love, her sister also shaves her head in solidarity, and the scenario becomes a beautiful bonding moment, as well as a moment of empowerment that Veronica will never forget. Cancer is a scary motherfucker. There's fear on all sides. She realizes that her biggest fear is having to do this alone. To feel out of control, to feel the temporality of life so close to her. It feels nice to be able to take some control. It feels nice to have a sister take a brave stand with her. It also helps that it’s become socially normal and the badge of honor it represents feels like medicine for the soul in a situation she has felt some powerlessness otherwise, and it also feels weird to admit so many vulnerable things to her self.

Ron Revisited

A man considers shaving his head to feel more attractive.
Who do we see in the mirror?

Ron is experiencing male-pattern baldness. His options feel limited. Growing it out is unattractive in his eyes, leaving him looking old and undesirable. He also wonders why he cares. Isn't his wife the only one that really needs to like his appearance, he says to himself in an attempt at reassurance. He’s tried to accept his hairless for years and tells himself he doesn’t really care what others think about him. He’s considering shaving his head. His wife assures him he looks good either way, yet he decides that shaving his head is the best alternative to keep them feeling as good about his outwardly appearance as possible. His appearance leaves him feeling less than himself and he feels like shaving his head will help, but he also doesn’t want to appear desperate or “one of those guys.” He feels that his true, authentic self has a full head of hair, but at best, he’s accepted this bald version of himself as an OK alternative and is willing to accept that there’s not much else he can do. Shaving his head represents a surrender to what life is offering. After shaving his head, he receives several complements, which reinforces his decision and brings him an extra sense of satisfaction. He can’t help wish that he had a full head of hair and looked like one of those attractive movie stars, but he laughs when he remembers The Rock, Jason Statham, and even Bruce Willis are pretty good looking without hair. In fact, it’s not that they don’t have hair which makes them attractive. There’s a certain sense of owning who they are that’s most attractive, and he commits to himself that if shaving his head helps him own it, then he’s made a great choice for himself.

Samantha Revisited

A woman shaves her head to feel empowered after leaving a marriage.
How are we showing up socially?

She is responding to a social media trend and feels invigorated by the idea of cutting away all her hair. She has put a lot of thought into losing her lovely locks and thinks the act will demonstrate her desire to be free of social norms and construct. She also believes hair holds energy, and she’s ready to move on from past personal events, including a failed marriage and a falling out with her religious beliefs. The choice to shave her head is driven by bravery in overcoming a fear and a propensity to live life according to someone else’s rules. After watching several other women shave their head, she decides to jump on the trend. She wants to add her voice to other women who have bravely gone before her. Samantha feels imposter syndrome when she thinks of posting her video on social media. “This is trendy” she thinks. She is torn. She wants social media to be a representation and a slide show of her life, but she’s not sure how to do things without appearing pretentious or a “follower.” Samantha decides to document the experience on social media and writes the caption, “Choosing to be brave! #trueauthenticself” under the video. She checks her likes as often as she runs her hand through her hair. She’s aware of how much she’s wanting external validation, and yet when she looks in the mirror, she feels pride well up. She has compassion for her parts that seek attention, and she feels proud for her ability to do brave things.

Those "flaws," the vulnerabilities, don't invite judgement in the name of authenticity. They invite compassion. Embracing those flaws takes more courage than shaving one's head and showing up on social media ever will.

The Result of Authenticity

Have you ever witnessed someone acting in true, authentic self? Is this so much something you witness, or something that you feel? Humans have a funny way of behaving when the us we are presenting isn’t our authentic self. Our smile isn’t genuine, our laugh isn’t either. The way we walk, talk, and act feels, well, off. It’s almost as if our genuine self has the ability to spot others in their authentic self, and just as easily when people not behaving within that genuine self. This perceiving doesn’t necessarily land in the perceiver’s head either. This observation seems to come more from the heart in the form of resonance, which can be described as the feeling of harmony. In other words, when the outside projection matches the inner value system. Here’s the rub: When we are acting in our integral self, it won’t matter who else witnesses it. It’s already important to the most important person in the equation: Ourself. You won’t feel a closing off to the people who don’t agree, and you won’t be governed or depending on the validation of others. This is true self-empowerment, the cost of overcoming fear with honesty, and the result of authenticity.

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