Introducing EveryBody, a series by Yahoo Canada highlighting the people and organizations working to end weight stigma, promote size inclusivity and prove that everybody and every body has value.
Editor’s Note: Shelly Proebstel is an early childhood educator and body positive blogger from New Zealand. In 2018, Proebstel decided to hold an event and shave her head to help raise money for Every Body is a Treasure a charity that helps foster self-esteem and confidence in women and young girls, and challenge her own ideas of femininity and beauty. The emotional process inspired Proebstel to share her journey towards self-acceptance and empowerment with thousands of followers on her blog, “Bald and Beautiful.”
Words by Shelly Proebstel
My idea of beauty before shaving my head was something that had been evolving throughout many different chapters of my life.
Growing up, my idea of “beauty” was absolutely based on looks — and I was a chubby girl, covered in zits, with weird cowlicks and way taller than all of my friends. My family constantly reminded me that I was beautiful and that being a good person was more important than looks but unfortunately, bullies and cliques didn’t care about that.
To say I had low self-esteem would be an understatement. During my teenage years, I was close to being hospitalized because I couldn’t eat and anything I did eat came straight back up. I wasn’t avoiding food or vomiting because of weight issues, but because my self-esteem was so low, my anxiety so bad that I simply couldn’t eat. Just thinking about eating made me sick. I was never a confident person, but I had learned how to put on a confident face and to hide the inner struggle so that I wouldn’t be judged or teased even more for it.
In 7th grade, I joined drama. I made a few close friends and for the first time in years, I felt like maybe life didn’t need to be so difficult. I found the smallest amount of strength and confidence to make it through each day, to keep going, to not give up.
Things started to change when I began studying Early Childhood Education (ECE). Everything I was learning about myself, life, the world and other people challenged me to look at the value in myself. This experience grew my self-esteem and my self-confidence and I became my own person, however I was still fragile, and every day was still a battle.
I had wanted to shave my head for a while but I didn’t want it to be something I did out of rebellion or haste. I wanted to do it for a good and meaningful reason. It had to be something that had a deeper meaning for me.
As I have journeyed through adulthood, I’ve realized just how much society and the media was responsible for not only my, but millions of other women’s lack of self-esteem and inaccurate idea of beauty. It had become blindingly obvious to me that it portrayed one, and only one kind of beautiful.
I’ve worked hard to change my own misconception, to go against that expectation to discover what is means to be my own beautiful. It's not easy, that’s for damn certain! It’s an everyday choice that I consciously make to see myself as good enough, as worthy enough and as beautiful from the inside out. Changing that mindset gets easier with practice, but there are also days when it’s really hard.
That’s where the idea to shave my hair came from: I needed to do something drastic to show that beauty is not in our looks. My hair was always a comfort for me; my security blanket. It was long, curly, luscious, thick and beautiful. I loved my hair so much and I could always count on it to make me feel beautiful, but I knew it had to go. This was going to be the most meaningful way that I could prove not only to the world, but to myself, that my beauty comes from within me, just as yours comes from within you. It was time to stop hiding behind my hair and let my inner-self shine through in all its beauty and challenge that misconception.
The weekend before I shaved my head, my anxiety was through the roof. I didn’t want to do it anymore, I didn’t know if I could. However backing out was not an option. I knew I wasn’t willing to let everyone else down and I certainly wasn’t going to let myself down.
When the day finally arrived, everything was going well until my sister began shaving with the clippers. When I heard the clippers, I burst into tears. I immediately felt regret and heartbreak. I felt naked, exposed, unsafe, terrified and sick. People were watching and I had in my head this idea of what I was supposed to feel. It took me a few hours before I could touch my scalp and look at it properly. As soon as I did, I began to cry.
Later on when I was with family and friends I realized that everyone was treating me exactly the same. I definitely felt like I wanted to cover it up. I wasn’t ready for it. It was a million times harder than I could have ever imagined and I was in no way prepared for the reality of having no hair!
The next day I went to the market with friends and I wore a wide-brimmed sun hat because I didn’t want my poor bald head to get burnt, even though it was overcast. I remember walking around the market with my hat on feeling so uncomfortable and out of place. I took off my hat and began to feel more comfortable bald. I had expected everyone to look at me differently. I worried people would no longer look me in the eye, but just look at my head. I worried people wouldn’t take me seriously without hair, but that’s not what happened at all. It was if they didn’t even see it! People looked in my eyes, they talked to ME! Some commented that they didn’t even notice I didn’t have hair, it was like normal straight away and like I had always been bald!
I work in early childhood still and the children love to touch it and feel it! One of the little girls said to me “Shelly your hair is all gone!” I said, “Yes it is!”
She put her bottom lip out and said, “But you’re not beautiful anymore”. I was shocked to say the least.
“Why not?” I asked her. “Of course I am beautiful! Beautiful is in my heart not in my hair!” I knew in that moment, I had done the right thing. This three-year-old was growing up in a world where she had already learned that a person could only be “beautiful” if they looked a certain way, and that was unacceptable and it has to change!
Each day since shaving my head became easier, and within a week I felt quite comfortable. In fact, I had to shave my head again so that I could take photos! I never took any the first time because I couldn’t do it, it was too much and I wasn’t ready for it. The feelings of pride, empowerment, strength courage, all of those things, came within the next few days after shaving, and have only become stronger every day since.
Bald is Beautiful
Throughout this process, I have learned so many things: That I’m strong, that I’m worthy and that I have an inner confidence, inner warrior and inner hero that I didn’t know was there.
I’ve learned that I have a right to love myself completely and that I was hiding behind my hair. Now I am free to be wholly and unapologetically the person I was born to be. I can be whoever I want to be and look however I want to look without fear of what others think. I’ve learned to look at myself in the mirror and love what I see, because I can see beyond that reflection to what’s in my heart, what’s behind my eyes, what’s in my soul. That’s an empowering feeling.
I’ve learned to stop and rethink and look deeper before I judge others- and then to not judge them. I am learning to be more open minded, accepting and understanding of people and their journey, knowing that the journey that is where their beauty lies. I am learning to truly value the essence of a person, and to look deeper for this in them. I know now that beauty is defined by all of the wonderful, individual, unique qualities of a person and I am starting to not only see those in others but also in myself.
This process has changed my whole outlook on life. It has taught me to act with kindness and to see the beauty within everyone, from the babies I teach, to the adults I mentor, to my family and friends, to the strangers I pass in the street. I am learning to value the uniqueness of each individual I meet and to ensure that they know that this is what makes them beautiful.