I have a card on my mantle that an excellent friend of mine gave me. It contains this quote:

Dreams can change, if we all stuck with our first dreams there would be a lot of cowboys and princesses running around.

— Stephen Colbert

I was thinking back to who I wanted to be when I was young. I had a cowboy outfit, but I pretended that I was a horse a lot. I may have been a bit confused as to what states of being I would be able to achieve when I was a child. I’m sure my parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief that I didn’t actually pursue the dream of becoming a horse… I don’t think they would have been able to support that kind of alternate identity in their oldest daughter.

I haven’t always known who I wanted to be. There was a time when I knew what I did not want more clearly than I knew what I wanted. I have muddled forward in the in-between land, somewhere equidistant from the dreams of being a dolphin trainer, or a veterinarian, or a missionary and where I am now, a freelance editor who is publishing a novel this summer.

The vision I had of my future self has changed so many times over the years, sometimes as a choice made freely and gladly, and other times as a result of doors closing or more jarring and painful circumstances. Each time I lay down an old dream in search of a new one I suffer loss and the opportunities that I’m choosing to leave behind. But I also experience great joy at the possibilities that lay before me.

If you choose to let your dreams go, or if you have to for some reason or another, new dreams are a happy discovery. Because you can’t ever stop… dreaming that is. At your lowest point, or at your highest, there’s always some state of being that we long for. Whether it’s comfort and security or quiet solitude and an escape from pressure and expectation, we all want something, want to be something.

One important way that my vision of my future self has evolved… instead of thinking about who I will be “someday” I focus more on who I am now? My lovely therapist wrote a blog post in which she posed the weighty question, “Why not now?” If there is something I want to do, if there is someone I want to be, why not be that person now? Why do I need to wait for someone’s permission or for a specific amount of time to pass or…? What’s stopping me from being who I want to be right now?

Sometimes the thing stopping me is the identity/dream/goal I haven’t let go of yet. Sometimes, in order to achieve the thing you really want (or to discover what that is at all) you have to let go of what you never thought you’d ever lose.

I wanted to be a horse (be a horse, have a horse, same thing, right?) when I was a child. I’ve always loved horses… so when I found the opportunity to ride and a generous soul who was willing to let me work for time on horseback, I dove in with open arms to receive that manifestation of my dreams. For a while, riding horses consumed my life and I was ever so happy.

And then, gradually, I started to fall out of enchantment with horses. There were other things (like writing and my editing business) I wanted to spend my moments on, and continuing to prop up an old identity was starting to chafe. I realized that the dream wasn’t for me, but it was painfully difficult to let go of an identity that I’d cherished for so long, since I was a child. I had friends and daily rhythms tied up in the idea that I was a horse-person, and I hated to lose them.

When I finally let go of the old dream to make space for new ones, I didn’t lose my friends. I didn’t lose my sense of self, either. Instead, by pruning what wasn’t working for me anymore, I grew. But it was scary. And painful. And I had to say goodbye to part of me, and grieve the loss. Still, it was only through putting aside a dream that no longer fit anymore, that I had grown out of, that I was able to embrace something new and become more me than I had been before.

So what about you? Who do you want to be now? What about tomorrow? What about five years from now? Not sure? Let’s find out together!

There are so very many reasons why Amanda Palmer is my hero. The more I learn about her life philosophies and her journey to becoming the amazing woman and artist that she is, the more I wish I could have found her when I was a timid, broken teenager desperate for love and affirmation. Because though Amanda would probably admit that she was also desperate for love and affirmation as a teen, she was anything but timid. She was, and is, larger than life, taking up space in the world, making no apologies for who she is, going after life with every ounce of her energy and her fathomless heart.

If there’s one thing I want my teenage self to know, that Amanda Palmer reminds me of every time I hear her music or read her blog, it’s that it’s OK to take up space in the world, to make noise, to make a mess, and to be different. When I was growing up, the only thing I wanted more than to be accepted was to be noticed… by anyone. But I was so afraid of the negative sides to being noticed by the “wrong” people that I spent all my time being as small and undetectable as possible.

Amanda Palmer is the exact opposite of that, and I think that she always has been. I love her for the way that her music, her art, and her life philosophy encourages me to step out of my own comfort zone and to take up space that was meant for me. Everyone needs someone like that, a larger-than-life hero that inspires them to be brave. And the world could use more artists who make space for other artists, who lift others up as they reach for the stars themselves.

So when I realized that AFP herself had shared my blog post about not shaving, I want you to visualize exactly how that moment went down for me.

 If you haven't seen  Kristen Bell melt down  over the fact that a sloth was coming to her birthday party, I highly highly recommend it!!
If you haven’t seen Kristen Bell melt down over the fact that a sloth was coming to her birthday party, I highly highly recommend it!!

When your hero takes the time to not only read what you’ve written, but also to share it and her supportive comments with her entire network… that’s an emotional moment. I’m not even a little bit ashamed that I was so overcome with joy.

But I mean seriously, who could ask for a better hero than that?

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Spoiler Alert: The world didn’t end. And believe it or not, I actually felt better about myself.

If you know me at all, you probably know I’m a big fan of Amanda Palmer. That right there can be a pretty controversial statement. Most people either love AFP or they hate her. She takes a strong stance on art (and who can do it… she thinks anyone can), and her music is both revered and reviled, depending on, usually, what people think of her as a person. Me, I love her. We can argue all the details of what that means later. But for the sake of this post, what you should know that I admire about her most is that she lives wide open, that she is who she is with no apologies, and that in the process of being who she is and refusing to be pinned down by norms, standards, and expectations she changes what it means to be beautiful.

If you know me … at all … you probably also know I’m a feminist. I want to openly acknowledge here that I am not a perfect feminist (if that even exists). I often surprise myself when I recognize the filters of privilege and gender-normative behaviors that I make assumptions about in my every day life. If I’ve learned anything in the process of becoming a better feminist, it’s to question everything, especially if it’s put to me as something that always is, always was, or always should be. And I use that philosophy on myself… a LOT. My mental process upon discovering some of the basic expectations and assumptions I carry about myself and other women, even now, that are social construction and not laws of nature: How did those get there? and then, Oh, my gods, what was I thinking? 

It was only a matter of time before my love of AFP and my feminism created a perfect storm in the form of a crisis of character for me. How can I break free of even a little part of the mindsets and the social constructions that hold me into the mold of who I am expected to be and allow myself to be who I want to be, or even better, who I naturally am? My solution, and the first step I took: Stop shaving.

If you think about it–and the point of a social construction is that you absolutely not think about it–shaving is not something natural to humanity. Having hair is natural. Having hair in certain places (facial, pubic, armpit, leg) is a physical sign of maturity which used to be a sign of desirability. Though even this scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing proves how problematic body hair has been throughout the centuries (for the appropriate line, skip to 0:00:58).

But over time, our society has come to equate beauty and youth, and therefore beauty and hairlessness. It wasn’t that big a push for razor companies to start selling that idea, preying on the fears of women that they will be less desirable to their partners if they don’t remove the hair from “inappropriate” areas of their bodies.

I had a shaming experience because of hair on my legs when I was 12 years old. Yep. That’s how young I was, and how young the boy who shamed me was as well. If you think about it, he’s just as much a victim of the social construct as I am, brainwashed from that young to believe that hair on a woman’s legs is unnatural instead of natural, and that it makes her less desirable. So even though he made me cry that day and I’d like for 12-year-old me to beat him to a pulp for it, I feel pity for him.

From that very young age, I began to submit to the idea that hair on my body must be sculpted to fit an ideal that was upheld somewhere outside myself. I couldn’t know what was beautiful (or what was comfortable, or what was natural) without the help of society. Really, what I was doing in those early days, though, was trying to conform so that I could keep from being ridiculed. But over time, the purpose of conformity moved from avoiding ridicule to becoming desirable. The emotional triggers that my early experiences had created were easily transferred to my understanding of beauty, making the leap to equate hairlessness with beauty, beauty with desirability without even having to think about it. Hairiness in inappropriate areas meant rejection and pain.

Fast forward 25 years. I’ve been an Amanda Palmer fan since 2003, and she just does. not. care what people say she should do to conform. She has hairy armpits and hairy legs, and she is not ashamed to be naked on film, in front of a crowd, or in private with an intimate partner. And one day it just clicked for me. If I want to break free of the need to conform and to reclaim the beauty of my own body for myself, the first thing I could do was stop shaving.

Why had I been shaving all those long years? Because I was worried about what other people would think. I was worried that my body would be offensive to someone else, to someone who has no right to my body, and no authority over what I do with it (that includes everyone, all of you, sorry, except my partner… and even, largely, him… and by the way, he fully supports my decision). 

It took me six months to stop constantly wondering what other people thought when I wore shorts and my hairy legs showed, or wore a tank top in public and raised my arms. It’s been over a year, and I still wonder sometimes. But I’m moving past the hang-up of “I will be undesirable if I am not hairless.” I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin. And if I make someone else uncomfortable because I have body hair, I hope they’ll talk to me about it… because I’m happy to challenge their perceptions of beauty and what right it is they think they have over my choices about my body and how I present myself.

I shave occasionally now. But because I want to. Because I like how my skin feels when it’s smooth. And that’s the point of the exercise. I do what I want with my body because it’s right for me, not because someone else has picked an arbitrary ideal and forced me to uphold it. So DON’T SHAVE! if you want to. Or DO! It’s completely your choice, male or female. Having hair on your legs, face, pubic areas, under your arms, on top of your head… it doesn’t make you more or less desirable. If you do what you want, present yourself as you want because YOU want to, and not because of what someone else thinks or expects, it makes you MORE beautiful, in my opinion. It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We are a work in progress. And we are beautiful.