This morning, I read a post on Clare Bowen’s Facebook page about why she cut her hair.
For those that don’t follow Bowen, she’s the actor who plays Scarlett O’Connor in the hit television series, Nashville. Besides having a face like an angel, one of Bowen’s most stand-out features was her astounding main of beautiful blonde hair.
A few days ago, Bowen posted a photo of herself with a pixie haircut on Facebook, emblazoned with the words, It’s just hair.
For most people, it’s not just hair. Hair like hers is a defining feature, one that people cling onto like a mantel—not just as a descriptor of themselves, but as themselves. Bowen, who suffered nephroblastoma as a child, lost all her hair due to chemotherapy and, almost, her life.
For her, it’s just hair.
We all have these elements of our appearance that we cling onto as descriptors of ourselves. For many of us, we are that very appearance. Having spent the majority of my adult life working with brands and advertising, I know that the most significant part of your personal brand is your appearance, and when you’re trying to be remembered, you stay on message and you stay on brand.
Even if we don’t know it, we all have a personal brand that we stick to fervently.
I know I have a very clear-cut brand, and I can define it. I’m blonde, irreverent, witty, a go-getter, but also casual and relaxed. Those are my unique selling points, or my points of difference. My writing and my work have a brand too; it’s creative and light at the same time.
My brand had become so clear over the years that when I wrote things that didn’t reflect that brand I used a pseudonym. If my writing was heavy or dark, I attributed it to Elijah Ashby or E. Ashby, a fictional alter ego and pseudo self.
Recently, though, I had an arcane moment: Brand equals ego.
Just like Bowen is not the length of her hair, I’m not really any of those brand elements. I’m not defined by my hair color, the tone of my laughter, the sound of my voice, the jeans I wear, the mala beads around my neck, the clever clicking sound my mac compact makes when I close it or the tone of the words I write.
I’m not my past, my experiences or even my thoughts. That’s all ego.
As I mentioned previously, good communication means staying on message, so I’ll repeat it one more time: Brand equals ego.
There’s a Tibetan mantra that goes, Om Mani Pedme Hung.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a mantra, it’s a series of words or sounds that have a psychological or spiritual power, used while meditating, during yoga practice or while on a pilgrimage. We utter our personal sacred series of words to connect with the purusha (the pure consciousness) within.
The word mantra is part of everyday parlance—but in an appropriated sense. We might say a particular advertising slogan is a mantra, or that going to the gym on a daily basis has become our mantra; we don’t use it in the sacred spiritual sense.
Om Mani Pedme Hung is a common Tibetan mantra, and often referred to as the six-syllable or Chenresig mantra (the great-hearted Buddha of unconditional love or compassion). It’s also the mantra of the current Dalai Lama, and can be loosely translated into, “The jewel is in the lotus.”
The lotus is a potent symbol within Buddhism and a representation of the self. The root of the lotus grows in the mud, the stem through the water, and the lotus petals blossom on the surface. Similarly, we exist in this world of pleasure and pain (the mud and water) but can be untouched by it. The six-syllable mantra further adds to this—the jewel is in the lotus.
Om Mani Pedme Hung is usually one of the first mantras learnt by westerners. I believe this is because it’s so relevant to our culture and way of life. We need to be gently reminded of the state of pure consciousness within, which exists without the colorful decorations we paste to the surface.
Often we pack on all these descriptors like armor. We believe we’re alone in this world, and defining ourselves gives us something to cling onto, a sense of permanence when everything around us is frightfully impermanent. In doing so, we become further entrenched in the mud as we create impermanent permanence.
As Bowen writes in her post:
“Look deeper than skin, hair, nails, and lips. You are who you are in your bones. That is where you have the potential to shine the brightest from. It is where your true beautiful self lives.”
My brand is a fabrication. All brands are fabrications. But they make people and things easier to understand for other people and things. It’s much easier to box someone away into a particular category than to admit that they’re constantly changing—that everything about them is ephemeral.
Conversely, there is something completely brilliant about being able to inspire people in ways they had never thought possible or to show them a depth that exists within you, which had previously gone unimagined.
Bowen goes on to write:
“I was really inspired when I heard a story about a little girl who said she couldn’t be a princess because she didn’t have long hair, and I wanted her, and others like her to know that’s not what makes a princess, or a warrior, or a superhero. It’s not what makes you beautiful either. It’s your insides that count… even if you happen to be missing half of them.”
So don’t let a poorly defined personal brand, slapped together clumsily over the years from labels you’ve put on yourself and others have applied to you liberally, stop you from doing something or being someone far greater. You are not your past, your weight, your hair, your clothes, the car you drive or the meal you consumed at lunch.
Om Mani Pedme Hung is my mantra, it reminds me that I’m not any of the labels or names people have given me in the past.
I’m neither Lisa, nor Elijah. I simply am.
Author: Lisa Portolan
Editor: Toby Israel