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The Beauty of Baldness

By Kathyrn Lynard

The first time God spoke to me—I mean literally, with words—was through the mouth of a police sergeant. I don’t remember his name, but he changed my life. I was seventeen, miserable, and in a whole mess of trouble. And while I know you’re just DYING to hear all of the sordid details, I’ll just have to let your vivid little imaginations take care of that. Suffice it to say that I was a really stupid sheep who had followed some really stupid other sheep in to a really, really sheepishly stupid situation. The sergeant was arresting me.

He was darn nice about it. In fact, he is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. He knew that I had just been humbled to the dust, and that I was in prime position to be taught. So instead of telling me what a loser I was, he did just the opposite. Or, I should say, God did.

“You don’t belong here,” he said. “You are better than this.”

And I believed him.

Five years later I attended a meeting of the newly-reorganized Young Women presidency in our ward. I was the new Laurel advisor. The eight of us had moved our metallic folding chairs into a loose semi-circle for the occasion. At one point the discussion turned to the importance of nurturing each young woman’s individual worth. I felt inspired to share my police-station experience as an example of how an adult in tune with the spirit can change young lives. The spirit filled the room as I spoke, warming each of us as we sat in the cramped, dimly lit room that Sunday evening. 

Sharing the story was easy to do. Back in those days, I often referred to my checkered past to illustrate gospel principles. I rarely volunteered any truly gory details, but I wasn’t afraid for people to know where I had come from. After all, I was living proof of the truth of the gospel and the redeeming power of the Lord.

But in the years that followed, my comfort level in sharing such experiences took a nose dive, and I became an expert at wearing “the church face.” I trust I don’t need to explain what I mean by church face. I imagine I’m not the only one who prefers to broadcast the signal that I’m in control, that I have my life together, that I’m faithfully performing in all the ways I’m expected to. And always have.  

It’s understandable, of course, this urge to convince our social group that we’re hot stuff. As if public opinion determined reality. But my compulsion to act the part really took its toll. At one point, I peevishly explained to a friend of mine that I did not want to burden my church community with the skeletons in my closet. And I cited my police-sergeant story as an example of what NOT to share.

“That’s too bad,” she said. “Hearing that story makes me love and respect you all the more.”

Over time, this friend, Angie, tried to help me understand the value of being open about our selves, our lives. It took her considerable time and effort, but through her mentoring I began to remember the beautiful things that have happened in my life thanks to openness—my own, and that of others. I was so grateful for the teaching that I browbeat Angie into writing on this subject for Segullah’s debut issue. The resulting essay, “On Being Bald,” is a poignant look at the value of remaining vulnerable, of taking risks, of being truthful about ourselves as we interact as sisters in the Church.

She reminds us that while there are risks—big ones—in being open with each other, there are greater risks that come with wearing our church face. Even at church. Especially at church. When we insist on being fake-happy, fake-confident, fake-righteous, we create and maintaining distance between ourselves and others, distance that prevents us from truly knowing and loving each other.

That doesn’t mean that we should engage in an emotional free-for-all during every church gathering, or that we should constantly spill our guts on our Visiting Teachers’ laps. The extent of our openness should be gauged according to the situation, and especially according to the inspiration that we feel, or don’t feel. Furthermore, there are times when we’re not feeling strong enough to be candid with people we’re not already close to. Disclosure can be exhausting. We shouldn’t feel obligated to hold our pain up for everyone to see, if we feel fragile. The timing needs to be right.

But I think that most of the time, we are capable of being more real with each other than we usually are. And typically, we err by sharing too little, not too much. I am convinced that, for the most part, incredible things happen when we’re willing to be open about our ourselves: our dreams and fears, our successes and failures, our questions and our faith, our struggles and our joys. I believe that inviting a sister into our inner sphere is one of the greatest gifts we can give another.  

Today in Relief Society, Sister H. was teaching. She’s one of the few elderly women in the ward, a paragon of righteousness and obedience. You don’t mess with this woman. She toes the line, and reminds all of us that we’d better darn well do the same. But she’s also incredibly humble.

The lesson was on Pres. Monson’s conference talk, “True to the Faith.” (The one that had the octopus-lure story. You know, the maka-fete. Say that ten times fast.) One of his points was about the terrible struggle of those who are ensnared by drugs and alcohol. After leading a discussion for a few minutes, Sister H. told us about her daughter’s war with heroin.

“You have no idea,” she said, voice trembling, “of the agony I’ve felt as I’ve held her, and felt her cry and shake, as she’s come down off that drug.” As she spoke, the spirit of truth filled the room. She grew luminous, transparent, as she wept for her daughter and for herself. 

We all cried too, grateful for the gift, awestruck by the beauty of baldness.

If you haven’t read Angie’s essay, do it now. And tell me:

What inspires you to be open with your church sisters?

What compels you to stay closed?

What benefits have you experienced from openness?

How can we help each other feel safe enough to be real?

About Kathyrn Lynard

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

17 thoughts on “The Beauty of Baldness”

  1. Trust is a big issue. Without trust, my mouth shuts up tight and the big ole' church face flashes its toothy smile.

    But being open and honest is sooo cathartic for me. I have only rarely been hurt by sharing, but those few instances have certainly guarded me against future pain.

    Don't know how to get over it. Tough shell sometimes, and tough goes both ways. It doesn't allow people in, and it doesn't let me out.

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  2. I don't think I'm inspired, I'm just not very good at pretending.

    Although, I'm afraid of being judged and rejected. But what happens in cases where I might be, ie, unsafe people, is that I get angry and belligerent and more than whatever I'm feeling.

    The benefits I experience are that others share with me their inner feelings and I have a lot of friends.

    I think we just have to be real ourselves and then others will feel more safe with us. Life is hard and scary.

    Angie, I loved this essay. Everybody has that tender part inside, don't they?

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  3. Angie–How did I miss this essay? I just absolutely love it and this is why. I have tried for a long time to diagnose the "problem" that is my sometimes uncomfortability around those sisters who I feel inferior to. My solutions have ranged from blaming them to blaming myself to blaming God. And you know what? I really don't think the fault lies singularly in any of those parties. I truly am more comfortable when I am "myself" no matter who my companions are and what their belief-system is. It's just unfortunate that I feel that I need to make myself something else in order to fit it. I have realized through reading this essay and many other life experiences, that uniqueness is a treasured, god-given, and valuable gift. I have said it before, but it seems to me that a greater tragedy is one where everyone was the same.

    My "church face" still hangs in my closet waiting for me to put it on. But, I hope I never do…

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  4. When I'm not real, it's usually because I am feeling tired or preoccupied, and it is easier to go on "auto pilot." I'm trying not to do that. I think it's so sad to not tune into the amazing people around me.

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  5. We recently moved from a small town in Ohio to an even smaller one in Idaho. Although I love the Idaho town, as it's the one I grew up in, I find myself really missing the culture of our little branch in Ohio as opposed to the homogeneity (sp?) of our huge Idaho ward. Although I know that my Idaho sisters are all wonderful people, I simply don't find the ward as open, as caring, or as understanding as my previous branch. Reading this essay helped me come to terms with that. I think that the striving to be a "molly mormon"-for lack of a better term-which permeates the RS culture in Utah and Idaho small towns prohibits women from growing in the gospel as they might. Sometime it takes someone like Angie, someone who is not afraid or ashamed to share their stories, to help those around them open up.

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  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. You've helped me strengthen my belief that we can make a difference for others just by being ourselves.

    As a full-blown weirdo, I'm starting to see that I have a lot of good work to do just by being Kathy. How free others may feel about themselves if they see me happily being myself!

    It's an incredible relief when someone I admire shows me that the glory of her life is not her own strength or competence, it's the workings of the Lord within her. But nobody can know about that dynamic if they don't see the weakness as well as the strength. Isn't that the most comforting truth of all–that although we are far from "finished products," the Lord is with us? And isn't that the whole point of having a Savior to begin with?

    I know, I've heard it a million times–but how many of us believe that it's okay to need the Savior? We can give each other that permission by admitting our own need, and we can give each other hope by showing what he's doing for us, even in our weakness.

    annegb is a great example of this.

    Heidi, maybe you can shake things up in your new ward. 🙂

     

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  7. Good point. When I first left the LDS church, at age 13, it was because I got involved with some fundamentalist Christians who convinced me that Mormons weren't Christians. I didn't have much of a gospel foundation, as my parents were never active in the church, but the thing that made it easy for me to believe them was watching LDS culture. We tend to be very keyed in on proving ourselves (and yes, I think members in Utah and Idaho struggle the most in this regard). We don't talk enough about the miracles that God does in our lives. I think sometimes we aren't even fully aware of how accessible He is, how much He wants us to rely on Him. But the doctrine is there. I've recently been running a women's Book of Mormon study group looking at some of these themes. It makes my head spin to read verse after verse about how we are to glory in God and not in ourselves, about how He wants us to rely on Him, to turn to Him in our weaknesses. I find it wonderfully comforting to know that I DON'T have to pretend to be perfect, because He already is.

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  8. First if all, I went and read Angie's essay and really enjoyed it, (also started reading the rest of the earlier issues of Segullah. Wonderful!)

    I think I am open with my church sisters when I feel it is safe. Which is the problem isn't it? Because I don't think I feel safe often. My husband is employed by the church which gives people weird expectations about us. They think we are perfect because of his job. People assume things, like that we come from perfect LDS homes. When the reality is both of our parents are divorced (some more that once!) Our kids are expected to be perfect also.

    I am often compelled to stay closed because of these false expectations. It is like I have to prove I have challenges/problems like everyone else does. And who wants to go around waving their challenges/problems for all to see. I worry if I said what I'm really thinking sometimes sisters would be put off. A couple of weeks ago while she was setting up the room for Relief Society the Pres said something to me in a joking way that really bugged me, I was already having a hard day and it was the 'last straw' so I left the room. She was surprised that I left, thought I was joking. I told my husband later that she would have never said that to someone who was 'less active' but expected me to just laugh along. And maybe I should have, but I was having a hard day. But it hard to be real, everyone expects so much more.

    But, when I am open I think it allows others to be open also, and bonds can be created, friendships made.

    I think if I try to be more real myself, share my thoughts and struggles maybe others will feel safe enough to share also.

    Thanks for sharing this and giving me something else to think about (this is good, I like thinking!)

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  9. I think we are all "weird" in our own special way and ain't it great! What a truly boring world this would be if we were all the same. What would we learn from each other? It is embracing our weirdness or uniqueness that is so hard sometimes.

    I think I have shared this thought at Segullah before, but think it is worth sharing again. It was shared with me some years ago by a friend. When we compare ourselves to someone we consider to be less than us, we are being prideful. When we compare ourselves with someone we consider to be superior to ourselves, we are selling ourselves short. Either way we LOSE.

    It takes time to open ourselves up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, especially in situations where we don't know people as in a new ward or a newly organized ward. I love the way new converts are so open. I think that is why missionary work is so important to the church and particularly our wards because it keeps things "real". The more that people are open and real encourages more to do the same.

    When raising my children I openly shared my unwise choices as a young person with them as they were growing up, not pretending that I was something I wasn't. Kids see right through phony righteousness, and likewise I think our brothers and sisters in the gospel can see it as well. I believe our spirits are way more connected to each other than we realize and the church face perpetuates something that our spirits know is not real. The only way to be is genuine, the real thing and yes that makes us vulnerable, but with the Savior at our side it can take the sting out of this hard fact. I agree with many commenters that we can get so busy and tired and whatever that we lose that realness in our lives. I appreciate this thread of discussion and it is reminding and encourageing me to keep my life "real".

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  10. I just read Angie's essay and it is just beautiful and honest and real. What she said about Segullah is exactly what I have found the last few months since I have been visiting and feasting. Thank you to the contributors and to the commentors as it is worth every moment of time I spend here. I come away enlightened, moved, shaken and stirred and always uplifted.

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  11. Thanks, Tami. You made my day. It makes me happy that you enjoyed my essay, but I am even more pleased that two years later Segullah is fulfilling the vision that we had for it.

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  12. When we moved to another ward, after dealing with my parents inbred stake and then to an awful ward that totally ignored us, I was used to the church face. One of my first RS lessons the teacher got up for the Word of Wisdom and said she wasn't sure she was the right one to teach it because of all of the problems in her family and then she told us a few. I mentally gasped and sort of peeked around looking for women whipping out their cell phones to text someone else about this. When they didn't and even trotted out their own stories I couldn't believe it. What was this? People being honest in their trials. It was amazing, it was awesome and I was so grateful that everyone was encouraging and supportive. That's what church is supposed to be about. You should let it hang out if you have a problem and could use a sympathetic ear. That's what bearing one another's burdens entails.

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  13. Here's my take on this subject. What good does it do us to make "close" friends at church if we are only close to each other's facades? No one can nurture or be nurtured by a facade. No one can be known truly or seen clearly, and that spells loneliness no matter how many people surround us.

    Remember the Skin Horse's words about being real (from the "Velveteen Rabbit")?

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

    For me, having a friend means being understood, and being understood means risking that the truth about myself will be loved and accepted. This is not to say that I just throw my deepest thoughts and feelings out there to everyone. I choose friends I can trust and then…I trust them. With myself.

    By the way, I didn't used to do this. In fact, my "everything-is-just-fine-thanks" face was so convincing that even I believed it. Now that I've been around over half a century life has disabused me of that notion. (I'm not always a quick learner, lol.)

    Of course, it's easier to share yourself with others if you like yourself enough to think that they will, too. To those who are their own biggest critics, I'd like to say that it's never too late to make a new friend: YOU!

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  14. I'm an almost always baldy. It's difficult for me to wear hair, actually. I have learned how. It's often more like a wig I put on when I see or deal with certain people. The people around which I put on a wig are mean and unhappy. Perhaps, knowing this, I should be bald – it certainly takes more courage (even for me) in such a circumstance. But I have to feel enough courage to take the wig off around them.

    I think that the way I am helps other to be bald, too. So, I think that by BEING bald we encourage and enable others, too!

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