1: “I’m so proud of you!”
2: “You’ll still be beautiful.”
The first, of course is welcomed and appreciated. I’m proud of myself too!
The second, surprisingly, is not.
On a communal level, this journey was about the Sommer family and about Superman Sam and about saving other kids and other families from their fate. On a universal level it was about taking action – doing something – in a world where sometimes awful and tragic things happen and nothing can be done. On a personal level – for me – this journey was about being a good rabbi; a rabbi as moral exemplar, who does so by walking the walk; who doesn’t just say that saving lives is more important than looking beautiful, but who is willing to put her money (and yours, if you donated!) where her mouth is by shaving her head to prove it.
I am not doing this so that I could make a statement about bald being beautiful (although many – though not all – bald women are). I didn’t do it for reassurance that my inner-beauty will shine through with or without my hair. I did it to make a point: that how I look is less important that what I do.
But every time I hear “you’ll still look beautiful”, I can’t help feeling like the point is being overlooked, and I can’t help cringing – knowing that my male colleagues are likely not getting this same verbal pat on the (soon-to-be-bald) head.
It’s hard enough to be a woman rabbi on a daily basis; to balance not seeming materialistic with presenting myself in accordance with the societal norms that women have to (literally) buy-into in order to gain and maintain respect and authority. I’d love to be a rabbi who didn’t worry about shoes and pearls and shaved-legs and skirt-lengths and suit-jackets. I’d love to be counter-cultural and defy the societal standards for the sake of being a radical moral exemplar. I’d love to throw on a muumuu and some sandals (did I mention I hate wearing socks and binding footwear) and take to the streets like a crazy prophet. But that kind of idealism rarely gets positive attention and I suspect I’d (perhaps sadly) lose more respect (not to mention financial security) than I’d gain. We have to balance our priorities. If no one respects the prophet, the message is lost in the wind. Im ein kemach, ein Torah. Our worldly needs sometimes advance our spiritual ones. It’s just the way of the world.
But just because I’m not the kind of rabbis who’s willing or able to be so radical on a daily basis doesn’t mean that once – just this once – I can’t be a crazy Jeremiah and take to the streets with my bald head pronouncing for all to see that just because I do care about heels and pearls and shaved-legs and skirt-lengths and suit-jackets doesn’t mean I’m shallow; doesn’t mean Torah doesn’t come first.
Sometimes you need nice hair to get the message across and sometimes you need to be bald.
And yes, the thought of being bald is terrifying (for the record, I know some of my male colleagues aren’t too thrilled about it either). And yes, as the day of “the shave” gets closer and closer, I’m mourning my “shoulder-length chestnut tresses” more and more. I’m anxious and I can’t stand to leave my hair down this week or look at myself in the mirror, and I’m distracted thinking about it, because I may very well NOT look beautiful, BUT THAT’S OKAY! While the thought of being less physically attractive than before is certainly not something I look forward to, it’s besides the point.
The point is, I don’t care about how I look as much as I care about kids who are dying of cancer when a cure can be found. If I did, I wouldn’t be doing this. If I did, I wouldn’t be a very good rabbi. If I did, I wouldn’t be a very good Jew. If I did, I wouldn’t be a very good human being.
When you tell me “I’ll still look beautiful”, it feels like you’re telling me you think I’m the kind of person/Jew/rabbi who is about to feel worse about her hair-loss than about the cause that inspired it. I know it comes from a well-intended place. It’s often spoken by the people who love me most in the world. But it still feels like the reassurance devalues the impetus.
No matter how worried I am about how I’m going to look, I don’t for one second wish that I wasn’t doing this or that I hadn’t signed up for it. I’m so proud to be the rabbi that I am today. I’m so proud to be part of this amazing community of rabbis sharing this amazing message with the world.
So please, make a donation and tell me you’re proud of me, and leave it at that.
My bald-head and I will thank you.