A few weeks ago, I found myself on vacation feeling everything but relief, which is ironic considering travel and vacation are supposed to be immediate stress relievers. In fact, for most folks, from the moment of arrival at the beach you’re almost hypnotized into a state of sheer relief. Thank God for vacation we tell ourselves. But it turns out, my body insecurities were what were coming in the way of me enjoying myself.
On my recent August vacation, I found myself in the purgatory of both worlds: unable to shake the hustle and bustle enough to settle into the vacation state I had been praying for, yet desperately trying. When I finally landed on the tropical island I often long to visit, all I could think about were the things I had not made time to do: work out enough to confidently wear my bikini, properly get my hair done in my usual curly Afro weave (this time, I had my friend haphazardly install faux dreadlocks after having just cut my hair into a pixie), and shop for cute and fun vacation essentials. Instead, I arrived as if I had just been spit out of the mouth of a dragon — sweaty, disheveled, and feeling a little like death. I’d let my busy, jam-packed world torch me and chew me up.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’d spent months focusing on self-care, but somehow I had not yet managed to scrub the busyness disease from my life. So, when I arrived on vacation I was still reeling from the effects of being too busy all the time. Exhausted and unsettled, the harder I fought to reach a zen state as the days of my vacation began rolling out, the less inclined I was to relax. In fact, I fell deep into my “triggered state” and all of my ugliest emotions started to come up over the course of the week.
I like to think of the “triggered state” as the mode humans go into when we’re feeling stressed-out, overwhelmed, and as though we’re not enough. We operate from a mindset of fear and begin to rest on whatever limiting stories we’ve always told ourselves. For example, my triggered state — when I’m emotionally pushed to my limit by stress — involves total self-rejection of my body and a desire to hide. And that’s exactly what I did.
While my friends spent most of the vacation enjoying themselves, I secretly harbored bubbling anxiety about being out and about every day in the “sun and fun” vibes. All I could think about was how unruly my hair looked and overweight the rest of me felt. So, when I returned home, I was shook. How did I let ten whole days go by and without being present for any of it? I had allowed my old thoughts and beliefs about my physical body to practically destroy my ability to have fun.
It was as though I was tethered to a pole flapping and flailing to get freedom from body insecurities that once anchored me into the belief that if I didn’t look good, then my experience could not be good.
After a particularly refreshing therapy session, it became clear: while my “inner work” was certainly a work in progress and I was coming to truly enjoy and celebrate who I am, I still have steps to take in truly dissociating my self-worth from my appearance. And I believe many women struggle with this as well.
Too often we believe that we are not worthy of love, peace, fun, affection, or a relaxing vacation if we don’t “look good”
It’s why we spend hours preparing for vacations to begin with (shopping, primping, and prepping). But my experience taught me that pathology only makes it more difficult to truly vacate our day-to-day lives and relax.
So, as I always do when I’m ready to leap deeper into self-exploration, I immediately made an appointment with my stylist to shave my head—yes, shave my head. I was eager to detach myself further from the physical thing that often ruled my belief about whether or not I was deserving. But more importantly, I knew that changing my appearance to look the way that I’d always feared looking — different, naked, vulnerable — would set me off on the next leg of my self-care, self-love journey. I would be forced to untie myself from the rooted belief that looking a certain way is the primary pretense of having a certain life.
Beautiful lives are not exclusively available for beautiful people. So, as I looked at my shaved head in the mirror, despite my initial fears about all the moments where I would inevitably look funny, I knew that I deserved a beautiful life free from whatever that mirror had to say.
While not everyone has to take bold and dramatic steps like I tend to do, there is continued healing in stepping out and acknowledging that no matter how your body changes it is not ever going to be a reflection of you. And for that reason, it certainly should never interrupt your ability to enjoy the precious moments of peace that life occasionally sends our way.