Last month, I took to the streets of NYC with a photographer in tow. It was time to have proper portraits of myself taken for my websites and other social media outlets. In this Google era (sorry Bing), potential clients and partners like to see who you are. I get it. I don’t hire anyone or take a meeting without doing a quick search on them. It felt silly that I hadn’t yet completed this professional rite of passage. When advising up-and-coming entrepreneurs, I tell them, “Get your art together. Pics, vids, etc. People want to see you on your website and other public places on the interweb.” And yet, I had not done it myself. It didn’t even dawn on me until the camera was in my face that this seemingly simple line item on my to-do list also represented something much greater, which is probably why I just skipped the step in its entirety when setting up shop. It represented the final shedding of my hair in both my public and private life.
Although not my intent, I chose the right photographer to facilitate this reconciliation. My initial reasons for asking the gifted and sassy Erin Sweeny to do this portrait session for me are obvious. Erin has all the fancy credentials, experience, and technical skill. And she has that innate sense to capture the legit stuff in a moment. She’s the real deal, always an astute witness, camera or not in her hand. We’ve also known each other for almost 20 years. Ever since the days of free mobile-to-mobile minutes, her voicemail has been my go-to place for confessionals about all the asinine things I do in my life. Even deeper, although very different women, we have walked the same unconventional line and have settled into our respective lives, somehow only modestly scathed and maybe even a little wiser. Skills? Love and respect her work? Love her? Check. Check. Check.
But when the day came, and Erin started testing the light and snapping pictures of me, the clicking sound of the camera ignited an internal meltdown. These pictures were being taken for public consumption and there would be no going back. My “bad haircut” was being memorialized only it wasn’t a bad haircut. It was me, in my truest form. I felt naked. I even mused out loud, “Should I be doing these with hair on?” A self-conscious, awkward wave of discomfort overwhelmed every cell in my body.
After more than ten years of being bald - hiding under faux hair more often than not in the last four years - I was finally choosing not to live a bifurcated life. I meticulously controlled how people caught a glimpse of my hairless head, locking down my Facebook pics and using photos of me with hair for sites where I was in mixed company or just not using one at all. For years, I had been subconsciously engineering it so that folks who see me bald for the first time, meet me in-person and not by a picture. I have relied on the element of surprise to give me an advantage. It is easier for me to diffuse awkwardness while people are a little disoriented. Releasing these pics into the wild would force me to surrender what little control I thought I had over what people thought of me.
My work - professionally and personally - is about natural efficiency and expediency. I talk all the time about the efficiency of the truth with friends and clients alike. The truth is…is that I am a bald woman living in a world where it is estimated women spend as much as $50,000 on hair care during a lifetime. Hair is a big fucking deal. It’s a person’s book cover. And I have no cover which can make it easy to dismiss me. While my heart would certainly be pricked if I found out that I was passed over for work because my shiny head conjured up something negative, it would perhaps also mean that I’m guaranteed to not work with the shallow-hearted or within an industry that can’t handle my truth. And that is efficiency gold.
When I was stuck in a perma-smile state because I didn’t know what else to do or when I forgot to breathe because I was busy having an epiphany, Erin’s go-to direction was, “At ease,” and I would exhale and relax my shoulders or close my eyes to gather myself. This simple command is fitting coming from her since she has been a part of this painful, joyful journey – from my long, luscious locks to the gradual loss of every strand of my hair. She knows how tired I am and how far I've come to ask her to do this. I’ve spent more than a decade thinking I needed to put friends, family, colleagues, and strangers "at ease" with my baldness. Obviously, the only person I ever needed to worry about being at ease was me. So now I turn inwards to discover my new found sliver of peace. My first steps in cultivating this calmness are the small, trivial acts of changing my Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics, so that if you Google “Lauren Lizardo,” you’ll find me in my most authentic state: a little shy, a little uncomfortable, and slyly challenging assumptions.
Below are final proofs co-mingled with outtakes to keep things real. Photos by Erin Sweeny Photography.
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