Sometimes stereotypes need to be broken. And sometimes stereotypes need to be embraced.

In sixth grade, I became acutely aware of how much I looked like a butch lesbian – and how that was a bad thing.

I was fat, and I shopped in the boy’s section because that’s all that would fit around my waste. I could have shopped in the old lady’s section, but a part of me actually liked being masculine and the freedom it gave me to hang out with the guys while the other girls giggled at them from across the room.

Yet, still, I didn’t want to be called a dyke because I’d been told that was bad, so I took steps to try to look a bit more feminine. I wore lipstick that was always half-off. My nails were painted, then chipped away in class while I was bored. I pulled my hair back into a haphazard twist.

Despite my best efforts, I was constantly reminded how much I did not fit in as a girl.

When everyone around me started shaving parts of their head – a fad that is currently back in style – I desperately wanted to do the same. I wanted the undercut that all the boys had, not because I wanted to be a boy, but because I wanted to try everything the boys were trying (most especially kissing girls).

I remember somebody telling me that women with shaved heads were all dykes. I don’t remember who, or even if they said it outright or if I just learned this fact from osmosis and coffee house rock, but I knew I didn’t want to look like a dyke.

So I didn’t shave my head.

By the time college rolled around, I cared less about being seen as a dyke and started embracing the categorization. Still, I didn’t want to look like one of those lesbians, you know, the radical feminist ones I’d been warned about while I was growing up, the ones that sat around in coffee shops listening to Ani DiFranco and hating on men.

Being called a feminist was just as bad as being called a dyke, because they both pointed out how unattractive I was to men. And at this point in my life, the validation of men – most especially my father – still really mattered to me.

So I didn’t shave my head.

When I started working at a lesbian magazine – despite my dad’s warnings of it pigeon-holing me for the rest of my life as a “career lesbian”, ruining my chances at other jobs – I cut my hair super short, but I never shaved it.

Every time I survived a major life upheaval, I went to the salon for the “cathartic chop” and yearned to just take a razor to it and buzz it all off. But I never wanted to be that feminist dyke stereotype with a shaved head, so I skirted around it, sometimes shaving the sides, sometimes cutting it so short it may as well have been shaved, but always keeping something feminine to it.

When I finally embraced being that kind of feminist dyke, I still worried about being a fat girl with a shaved head. Will it make me look fatter? I wondered. Can someone my size pull it off? Being a fat, feminist dyke with a shaved head just felt too cliché, maybe even too risqué.

So I didn’t shave my head.

Then my younger brother died of cancer and I didn’t give a shit about being too anything anymore, acutely aware of how short our lives are. I came into myself and embraced the stereotypes that defined me. I drove a Subaru, I wore flannel, I could shave my head if I damn well wanted. Except I was in a relationship with someone who had a shaved head, and she reminded me that we couldn’t be that lesbian couple that looked alike.

So I didn’t shave my head.

Then the second anniversary of my brother’s death came and all of a sudden nothing mattered, including being alive. The permanence of his death became real, and for the first time I understood that nothing I did would replace that hole in my life. I became so miserable, downtrodden, and depressed that my partner left me and my friends worried for my life.

For the first time since watching my brother die, I let myself fall apart. I hit rock bottom. I swam in the depths. I didn’t worry about being a cliché lesbian, I could give a rat’s ass about fitting in as a girl. You’d think this would be the time I’d shave my head, but no, in the midst of all of this I still worried what others would think. I still didn’t want to be that suicidal crazy girl who shaves her head in a fit of insanity.

So I didn’t shave my head.

Through tiny, baby steps, I reclaimed my life, moved back to Oregon where I am happiest, and surrounded myself with loving, accepting, nurturing friends. My hair was unruly, left for months to grow out in its own haphazard way, and it was time for a cut. All I wanted to do was shave my head, releasing the negative energy that came with that hair, embracing a life where I don’t worry about beauty norms and instead focus on thriving.

So I shaved my head.

Lauren with head shaved wearing flannel, smiling big in a backyard

I love it, like I always knew I would. And I rock it, like I always knew I would. What I didn’t know is how amazing it would feel, not just the emotional freedom of having no hair to deal with, but the sensation of hands rubbing my head is like no other I’ve ever felt. I can’t stop touching myself!

My buddies Ben and Joey helped me do it, and held a space for the sacredness of it all. I kept a lock of it to put on my inspiration alter, and that night we all ate an amazing meal, drank wine, and danced in celebration – all the while rubbing my head and smiling.

Sometimes stereotypes need to be broken. And sometimes stereotypes need to be embraced. The more I stop caring about fitting in as a girl, the more I embrace the sacred feminine within me. And the more I live life as a stereotypical radical feminist lesbian living in Oregon, the more I feel at home in myself.

What stereotypes do you need to embrace in your life?

Try this:

  • Write down a list of all the clichés, stereotypes, labels, and categories you’ve been afraid to have put on you by others. 
  • Next to each, write what negative connotations you associate with those clichés, stereotypes, labels, and categories. For example, if you wrote “fat” as a label you’re concerned with being put on you, you may want to write “unattractive” next to it.
  • Notice any patterns? For example, if you wrote “unattractive” next to a few of your items, it can help you notice how much attraction plays a role in your self-worth.Which ones do you still want to avoid? Looking at them objectively, are there labels you still think you need to stay away from owning? For example, if you wrote “bitch” down and then “mean, hurtful, abrasive, unhappy” next to it, you may want to do what you can to avoid those actions.
  • Cross off the actions you want to avoid. This action of crossing out helps you mentally focus on avoiding them in your life.
  • Which ones do you want to embrace? If next to “bitch” you also wrote, “uppity, speaks her mind, feminist, rocking the boat” you may want to embrace these actions, even if you’re not comfortable with the label they give you.
  • Circle the actions you want to embrace.

Now, instead of trying to avoid labels, stereotypes, clichés, and categories others put you in (“bitch”), you can instead focus on embracing the actions you want to do in life (“speak your mind”), and avoid the actions you don’t (“being hurtful”).

By doing this, you are able to label yourself, a very powerful step in the path to radical self-love.

What does your list look like? Share it in the comments below or on social media and tag me @laurenmariefleming.

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