Like She Owns the Place

by Cara Alwill Leyba

Clock Icon 10 minute read

Chapter One

Who Do You Think You Are?

It's a chilly spring afternoon and I'm sitting in the chair at my salon getting my roots done. "I think I want pink hair," I blurt out to my stylist, Tarin. It's taken me six months to say this out loud.

She half ignores me, brushing off my monumentally brave admission with a giggle. I've hinted at liking pink hair to her before but never made a declaration as direct as this. As she continues to apply bleach to my head, I explain that I'm serious. "No, really. I'm ready for it," I tell her, clutching my iPhone, which is filled to near capacity with photos of pink-haired strangers and quotes about confidence and living in your truth that I've been secretly collecting for months. My hands are sweating, causing the phone to slip from my fingers and fogging the screen.

I've wanted pink hair for as long as I can remember but was always too fearful to do it. I was terrified of what others would think. In high school in the 1990s, while kids dyed their hair funky colors, I barely found the nerve to use Sun In to give myself a blond streak. I've always felt connected to the "weird kids" or the outsiders-the ones who took chances and dared to live life on their own terms. The ones who risked mockery for the sake of their own self-expression. I admired their audacity, but I struggled with expressing that part of myself, at least from a physical standpoint. I was an insecure teen who struggled with her weight, so the idea of drawing more attention to myself with wild hair seemed completely out of the question. I hated being the chubby girl. And being the chubby girl with weird hair? I just couldn't handle it.

"Seriously? Wanna do it now?" Tarin asks, like a teenager who's just scored a jar of Manic Panic and can't wait to use me as her guinea pig in her parents' basement.

"Should we?"

"Pull up some pictures of what you want. I'll go mix some color and be right back."

The next thing I know, Tarin is rolling a cart toward me with a bowl of cotton-candy-pink dye and a paintbrush. I'm frantically loading my "pinkspiration" photo album on my phone to present to her. I'm excited and scared shitless.

A few gut-wrenching, wine-filled hours later, I emerge from the salon with a few baby pink "peekaboo" highlights toward the ends of my platinum blond hair (we decided to ease into things). I meet my cousin for brunch and feel a strange combination of pride and fear. I absolutely love my new hair and I am proud of myself for finally going for it. I am also convinced everyone in the restaurant is judging me.

All of the stories I've played in my mind for so long are now on a loop-You're thirty-five years old! What the hell are you doing with pink hair? You're too fat for this look, you can't pull this off! You look like a moron. As I eat my salad, I mentally punch each one of those thoughts out with new, affirming ones. You look awesome. You've got balls, girl! You finally did it! You are going to inspire someone! It's taken me a long time, but I've learned that one of the best things we can do when those shitty thoughts creep in is to replace them with ones that feel better. It's not rocket science, but it's definitely science. More on that later.

And honestly? Insecurity creeps in for all of us. Even women who seem like they own it. One of my biggest inspirations is Oprah. She is loved and praised by millions of women around the world. To many, she is the authority on self-help. Yet Oprah has battled her weight issues publicly for years. She has been open and honest about her struggles with the scale. In fact, in 2009, she appeared on the cover of her own magazine, next to a photo of herself forty pounds lighter with the headline ÒHow Did I Let This Happen Again?Ó In the article, Oprah admitted that four years prior, when she got down to a slim and trim 160 pounds, she thought she had her weight problems solved once and for all. But after dealing with a thyroid issue and hectic schedule, she hit the 200-pound mark again, and she knew she needed help-again.

The fact that Oprah openly admitted to this challenge and shared what she had been through made us love her even more. She wrote, "If you're a regular subscriber, you'll notice you've not seen a head-to-toe shot all year. Why? Because I didn't want to be seen." That kind of vulnerability is admirable. She wasn't perfect, and she wasn't pretending to be. She told her story in all its realness-something that takes a hell of a lot of confidence to do. She simply owned it. It's no coincidence her initials, plus her network, spell the word OWN!

Patience Is a Part of the Game

Oprah inspires me because she shows us that developing real, sustainable confidence takes time. When I think about my pink hair, for example, those few baby pink highlights that caused me so much anxiety (and excitement) were nothing compared to the bubble-gum-to-the-root bright pink hair I have at the time of writing this book. But in the moment it felt like a massive change. And it was. It was more than a dye job; it was an opportunity to tap into my truth and to explore a part of myself I had buried for so long. I describe that day as my "coming out party"-my new pink hair being my opportunity to practice authenticity on a daily basis and, in turn, develop a sense of confidence I didn't think was possible for me.

The process of leaning into your truth requires patience. It's not an overnight thing, and it shouldn't be. It took me years to arrive at the place where I could start transforming my life and ultimately build my self-worth. Whether it was dyeing my hair pink, leaving a failing relationship, or breaking free from a job that held me back from being my most creative and passionate self, all of those decisions took time. Give yourself the space to evolve, and don't put so much pressure on the timeline. It could take you a week, or a month, or years. And that's okay. As long as you're moving, you're on the right track.

And sometimes moving forward means moving backward, at least temporarily. About a year after I dyed my hair pink, I decided to rent a space in my neighborhood for my business. I had always dreamed of having my own headquarters: a space to write, dream, and host events for women. When the space I wanted finally became available, I made an appointment to meet with the real estate agent and put my name in contention. And I also made an appointment with Tarin. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that the agent wouldn't take me seriously if I had pink hair, so back to blond I went.

I remember walking into the salon and assuring Tarin, who was so sad that I was parting ways with my bold color, "I'll be pink again, don't worry, but right now I miss being a blonde." It was a flat-out lie. The truth was, I felt I had to fit inside a box-the one I had so desperately clawed my way out of-in order to get approved to rent that space. See how those limiting beliefs can creep back in at any time? I did get approved for the space, and in retrospect, my hair color had nothing to do with it. I got approved because I was successful, I had great credit, and I was the best candidate. But my initial thought process reminded me that confidence is a journey, littered with twists and turns and old voices that often get their hands on a mic-and sometimes, a bullhorn. I've learned that all we can do is recognize where we feel insecure, choose new thoughts that lift us up, and remind ourselves why we burned that box in the first place.

After getting the rental, I was at my local florist, which happens to also service the funeral home across the street. I buy myself a bouquet of flowers there most Fridays, and as I was picking out my weekly blooms, I overheard the manager taking an order. "I'm sorry for your loss. Who should the 'deepest sympathy' card be from?" I watched him take down the information robotically, then field another call. Emotionless. Dealing with death like it was an order of sesame chicken. Really, I couldn't blame him; it was his norm. It was in that moment that I realized we're all going to die. None of us knows when. None of us knows how. So why are we putting off living? Why are we saving things for tomorrow like it's promised? I caught my reflection in the flower refrigerator and saw my blond hair staring back at me. That's not me! I thought. Where is the pink-haired carefree girl who doesn't care what others think? Where is the girl who broke her own mold? I took my roses, went outside, and made a hair appointment. A couple of days later, I was back to my (new) roots, and I've never looked back.

Am I Authentic Yet?

It took me a while to grow into my authenticity, and that's okay.

Before we go on, I want to address the term authenticity for a moment, because I'm going to use it a lot throughout this book. But what does authenticity really mean? It's a word that gets thrown around often, so I want to clarify what it means and how it relates to confidence, specifically. A common definition of authenticity in psychology is the attempt to live one's life according to the needs of one's inner being, rather than the demands of society or one's early conditioning. In other words, being authentic means doing you, girlfriend.

Since that spring day when I began exploring my own authenticity, I've truly been in bloom. My hair has gotten pinker and pinker, and my life has improved as a direct result of that decision. It's been a chain reaction of living colorfully, and over time I have explored my authentic self more and more. Though I've had my minor setbacks, I've been able to be mindful enough to stay true to who I am. I've reignited my passion for creating art, I've taken risks in my business, I've been more vocal in asking for what I want, and I've learned to communicate better in my relationships. And I've dealt with the often-unsolicited opinions of others when it comes to my appearance, which has been a crash course in confidence if I've ever seen one!

And in turn, my self-esteem has soared. In fact, I've coined one of my favorite mantras through this process: Check your fucks at the door. Which ultimately means, do what you want and don't worry about what others have to say about it. Because they will always have something to say, and it's completely out of your control. Remember, one day, someone will be taking down an order for your funeral flowers. Sesame chicken death. So let's just do what we want now.

The experience of changing my hair color is an example of building my confidence in a way that felt real to me. It was an opportunity to listen to my gut and carve out my personal path. It wasn't an idea that I got from a magazine, or something listed as a bullet point from an article by an "expert" in the subject of confidence. In fact, I don't believe there are any experts in confidence, not even me. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this.

How do you know when it's working? The same way you'll know if your heater is working-you'll feel it. Confidence is an incredibly personal feeling, and not one that can be defined by a listicle or a series of steps directed by anyone else. You'll quickly notice that while this book is about confidence, I am never going to tell you what to do, or who to be. I'm just going to share my experiences, and the experiences of women I've personally observed, to help empower you to find your unique path. The only expert you should listen to? Your intuition.

How do you find your most authentic self?

Listen to your gut.

Aside from observing my own reaction to having pink hair and the way it's made me feel, I've become fascinated by the response from others, and how it's made them feel. Something interesting happens when you make a bold choice: You become a mirror for others, showing them what's possible-or impossible-for themselves in their own life, depending on their self-belief. Shortly after I went pink, I spent a long weekend in Chicago. I was stopped so many times by strangers, I actually began counting. I tallied up more than twenty-six people in just four days who all complimented me on my new candy-colored hair. And on the plane ride home, I got to thinking about the reason behind all the attention. I don't think every single one of those TSA agents, strangers on the street, hotel concierges, and restaurant staff necessarily loved my hair color or wanted it for themselves. I think they loved the fact that I had done something daring. I believe they respected my confidence-which had been a direct result of my choice to be authentic-and perhaps they saw it as inspiration to be daring themselves.

Of course, there have been adverse reactions as well. "It's only temporary, right?" was one of the first responses I got from someone who lives in my apartment building. "Cool Halloween hair!" was the compliment I received from a cashier at a local boutique. And my favorite, "Has she gone crazy?" was a comment that made its way back to me from someone who apparently felt triggered by my decision to think pink. On a recent trip to London, I observed people staring, whispering, and pointing at me. For all I know, they could have liked my hair, but it sure didn't seem like it. Cultural differences play a massive role in judgment and opinion. So if you're waiting to be yourself until every person on the planet praises you for being you, you'll be waiting forever.

Society, Limiting Beliefs, and Why

We Don't Need to "Think Like a Man"

These mixed reactions are to be expected. We are living in a society that makes it exceedingly difficult to just be ourselves-and to love being ourselves, especially as women. In fact, an eight-year study done by Wiebke Bleidorn, PhD, from the University of California and reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that across the board, no matter the culture or country, men had higher self-esteem than women.

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