At 8pm on a Saturday the 13th of August Jae West from The Liberators International conducted a social experiment addressing the issue of beauty and self-acceptance in Times Square NYC. She placed a little stool in the middle of the square and sat down blindfolded. An electronic shaver in one hand a sharp pair of scissors in the other. A handwritten sign sat by her side with a handwritten message saying ‘Beauty isn’t dependent on our external appearance. Cut or shave off a piece of my hair to support this message’.
Why did you do what you did?
I had placed expectations on myself on how I wanted to be perceived by society, I realised that I had interwoven my sense of femininity and beauty with my long hair. I used to spend hours trying to perfect my ‘look’, governing my sense of happiness on whether I felt beautiful on the outside. This created extreme high’s where I felt invincible and poised but withdrawal into shame and a need to earn my worth when I felt ‘ugly’. This continual judgement of my external appearance was draining and lonely. It separated me from the one thing I wanted the most, to know that I wasn’t alone. Even though I was terrified of what I would look like without hair I also knew that every time I looked in the mirror I would see a courageous woman staring back at me, someone that I could be proud of.
How many people cut your hair?
I was blindfolded so I couldn’t tell you, I think my estimation wouldn’t even do it justice but I’m going to say over 100 people.
How long did it take?
Although my perception of time was altered drastically with some moments feeling like hours and other times feeling like minutes it was over 3 hours that I was sitting in Times Square.
“How did you feel before, during and after?”
I was petrified, even more so then previous social experiments that I’d done! Scared for a couple of reasons, firstly that I was about to shave off all my hair and didn’t know what I was going to look like so all my attachments to my appearance were arising and questioning if I’d still be loveable. The other fears were centered on the environment. As technically I was armed with scissors that could be used as a ‘weapon’ that added another layer of trust and vulnerability.
Considering the fear that I felt before the experiment there was a deep trust and sense of surrender as soon as the first cut. I knew that the outcome was out of my control at this point so all I could do was sit, wait and trust. Anytime that my mind got busy I brought myself back to the present moment by focusing on my breath, it helped tremendously!
I was on such a high. I could feel the wind blowing on my naked head, the feeling made me feel so alive. Even on the walk back to the train I was getting comments from strangers and smiles that reflected the happiness that I felt inside. I still had no idea what I looked like until an hour after the experiment was finished when we went out for a late dinner and I went to the bathroom, looking at my reflection in the mirror brought such joy and gratitude. I was so proud of myself and was in a state of celebration for my own beauty which had nothing to do with what I looked like, it was what I felt.
I’ve since had a heightened awareness of others reactions to me since that time. Sometimes I look like a monk and people automatically link my hair style to an obligation to spirituality. Others don’t know how to bring up the conversation of why I have no hair, they almost seem shy or hesitant like there’s something wrong until I explain the reason why. Others absolutely love it and think it’s a fashion statement in itself! For me it’s a reminder of my willingness to let go and acknowledge the impermanence of life and everything in it. It’s a stand for questioning the status quo, it’s a stand for making everyone feel appreciated exactly as they are and it’s a stand for myself to rewrite the old paradigm of lack and instead infuse a sense of abundance, gratitude and self-love.
“What surprised you during the experience?”
It surprised me that I didn’t even have time to think about what was happening before the scissors were taken out of my hand and the first piece of hair was cut from my head. When I was in Piccadilly Circus doing the first Self-Acceptance experiment it had taken quite a few minutes for someone to step forward and considering this experiment was quite provocative I was expecting it to take longer!
The last experiment went for 30 or 40 min this one went for over 3 hours so I wasn’t expecting that either!
Video from her last experiment which received over 44 million views world wide can be viewed here
“What touched your heart-during the experience?”
There were so many heart filled comments from both men and women. What really touched me was the willingness for men to step forward and encourage the message to be spread through their participation. Many of them would comment that I was beautiful and brave for what I was doing and that they deeply respected the work. It was a reminder for me that women can place such emphasis on their beauty when others, including the men in their life, just want them to be happy. It’s not about being perfect it’s about being human.
When I took my blindfold off there was also a crowd of people surrounding me clapping and smiling. While I was blindfolded I didn’t think people were stationary, it felt as though it was everything was in a flux of commotion and chaos. It was humbling that strangers had taken a moment to be still in a city of movement to gift their presence and participation to the message of self-love. It felt like collectively we were rewriting the story of what beauty was and rippling that conversation out into the world.
“Did anybody abuse your trust?”
At one point a member of the public ran away with the scissors as a rebellion against the message. However, I remained in full trust that they would be returned to me as I understood that I was there to be a catalyst and evoke a wide range of emotions. It’s interesting that the human experience is so varied and when we start addressing issues that evoke shame, such as body image, people will respond in funny and unexpected ways. It was a beautiful reminder that when someone sits in their vulnerability with a community around them that everyone will work together to ensure that person is uplifted and taken care of. Thankfully the scissors were returned to me through the help of my environment and its people.
“What’s a healthy view of beauty in your perspective?”
Talking from my own experience I believe our perception of ourselves and our beauty is always going to be changing and can be easily influenced by our mood and environment. At times we will be self-critical so that we can be inspired to come back to the truth that there is nothing wrong with us and there is nothing we need to fix. Beauty is when we embody self-love and compassion and accept ourselves exactly as we are, allowing our own uniqueness to shine through.
“What message would you like to send the world?”
You are a piece of a large and intricate jigsaw puzzle. There is nothing you need to do, be or achieve. Just be you with all of your heart, mind, body and soul and you will be the greatest expression of your true self. That is beauty.
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