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Why shaving my head was the (surprising) secret to finding true confidence


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Photo: Xanthe Elbrick
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This spring, I was cast as a cancer patient in a commercial for a medical center, and shaving my head was part of the deal—I was to show up on set bald so my character looked like a woman who had just completed chemotherapy. I knew about the rather large ask going in to the audition, but it barely fazed me.

I figured, why not? It was nearly summer, the best possible season if you’re going to go hairless, and my ‘do was pretty short, anyway. A quick YouTube search reassured me that it would take only a couple of months to grow back to something in the vicinity of a short crop. That would fly by, I thought.

I had a million things on my mind at that time, and to be honest, the implications of baldness weren’t high on the list.

I had a million things on my mind at that time, and to be honest, the implications of baldness weren’t high on the list. I was trying Whole30 for the first time, for starters, so I was busy spiralizing every vegetable known to man and finding inventive substitutes for the cream in my coffee. As I anticipated my trip to the salon (or barber…where do you go to get your head shaved? I didn’t know), though, my carefree attitude faltered.

A rather insistent, self-doubting inner voice began to speak up: “You haven’t earned the right to do the bald thing, hon. You’re not badass enough. You’re no Adwoah Aboah or Ruth Bell.” The stylist mirrored my last-minute misgivings, asking again and again: “How short?” with an expression of incredulousness. So I kept having to say, “Bald. Off. Totally off. Like, bald.” It felt like I was asking her to cut off a piece of my cheek.

Photo: Noelle Lake

As my hair came off, my scalp felt tingly and tight, two or three sizes too small for my skull. I had never seen my whole head before; it was perfectly round. I looked young, like a combination rebel teenager and peach fuzz-headed newborn. Who is this person, I thought? We took photographs and sent them to the production team and my agent, and everyone approved, even raved. My agent said I was brave, that I looked like a rock star. I felt even better than a rock star. I felt free.

My agent said I was brave, that I looked like a rock star. I felt even better than a rock star. I felt free.

As I walked around my Brooklyn neighborhood, I felt delighted, proud, even chic—and, somehow, more like myself than I’ve ever felt. I welcomed the occasional curious glances that came my way, got a lot of compliments from strangers who dug the look, and even a few inexplicable high-fives. At a party, I flirted and chatted with an adorable man for like 30 minutes before I even realized that I was doing so sans hair. That juicy, old-fashioned, I-have-a-little-crush feeling is not hair-dependent, I realized.

Photo: Noelle Lake

But other times, people looked at me with expressions of concern. I could guess what they were thinking and sometimes would volunteer that I didn’t have cancer, that I was an actress. Relief would wash over their faces. Not everyone, though, was big-hearted in my presence. Once on a subway ride, a woman suddenly, loudly demanded: “Hey! Are you a boy or a girl? What are you?” Standing out from the crowd has its perils.

But the reaction I got on the street turned out to be NBD compared to the other utterly unexpected (sometimes delightful) things I Iearned from life without hair.

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Photo: Noelle Lake

1. There’s something amazing about getting closer to machine-level efficiency, even if it’s just a feeling

Baldness makes you feel streamlined, powerful, resourceful, capable of great things. (Try to imagine ultimate badass Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max with beautiful flowing locks. Not the same.) Even if you’re the type of unfussy person who isn’t very concerned about appearance or hair (like I was and am), it has a way of stealing focus.

Being bald, I experienced not just my head and neck, but my whole body differently.

We don’t think about it (like a fish doesn’t think about water), but hair is constantly shifting around on our head. You notice this when it’s gone. Being bald, I experienced not just my head and neck, but my whole body differently. I felt solid, like a bullet—nothing extraneous swooshing around, more integrated as a body, every cell vital and purposeful.

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Photo: Instagram/@noellelake

2. At some point, my inner critic went mute

On about day 21 of Whole30 (so, a couple of weeks into this whole bald thing), I got really clear-headed. Like guru-clear. I wanted to live a simpler life. Which just involves letting go. And I thought, if I can let go of every morsel of sugar, grain, dairy, soy, preservative, and alcohol in my diet—and let go of every last hair on my head—then I can let go of that stupid old broken record in my brain that gets all squirmy when I’m too bold, too joyful, or too pleased with myself. I’ve played small and humble long enough. And just like that, my rad bald head and I banished my inner pleaser. For good (mostly).

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Photo: Instagram/@noellelake

3. Making one daring decision gives you courage to make others

Suffice it to say that being bald exposes you in a way that feels vulnerable and honest—and it makes you want to uproot all the false things in your life. I’m not apologizing for any of my choices anymore including my hair, which I plan to keep really short because it makes me feel feminine and pretty—even though, hey, it’s an unconventional choice for an actor.

And as I go from totally bare to watching new growth come in for the first time in my life, the idea of starting over seems completely natural. I’ve dusted off a seven-year-old business idea that has been lurking in the background of my mind, taunting me. I feel newly like I have the ability to take it on. I’m reading and researching and studying, all to help me launch this baby by 2018, maybe sooner. It’s like whatever resistance I had to the idea fell away with my hair and all those foods I cut out.

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Photo: Noelle Lake

4. Simplicity is magnificent

How I love jumping in and out of the shower and being ready to go in no time. In the past weeks, I’ve been actively paring down everything I can think of—getting rid of stuff I don’t need and clothes I don’t wear, swearing off heels and pencil skirts entirely.

And I’m whipping my finances into shape. Undone projects, I’m either doing them or letting them go. I’m taking things off of my calendar unless I’m over the moon about them being on there. All of a sudden, I’m seriously Marie Kondo-ing all the areas of my life. I guess decluttering anything—including the top of your head and your plate—opens up a sense of clarity and possibility, and that feels really good.

Noelle Lake is an actor, model, writer, and holistic color and design consultant in New York City.