From the Catwalk to a Confidence Crisis: Finding My True Worth After Releasing a Fashionable Facade

This might be hard to believe given the depth of my current reflections but in my teens & early 20s I was super shallow. I didn't even want to associate with people deemed unattractive. I also wasn't shy at all about voicing my opinions on looks, often in a hurtful way.

From the Catwalk to a Confidence Crisis: Finding My True Worth After Releasing a Fashionable Facade
Look mama, I made it!

Model Behavior

My brief modeling 'career' started & ended during undergrad at the University of South Carolina. I arrived in my freshman year as someone who'd received decent amount of attention throughout grade school but the attention I received in college was on a completely different level. Soon after arriving, someone approached me about modeling in their org's annual fashion show. And though I didn't really show it at the time, I was secretly flattered that someone thought I looked good enough to model.

Shot from that first fashion show circa 2008

My mom used to keep this picture of Tyson Beckford in her nightstand & while adult me is a bit mortified at the realization of why she kept that picture in her nightstand, child me was amazed by the fact that someone could be so attractive, random ladies would want to keep photos of them. Since then, I'd always viewed modeling as a cool job but never thought that I could be one myself. In my family I got called ugly way more often than its opposite so, while having a few girls at school tell me they thought I was cute helped give me some sense of being attractive, I never thought I was attractive enough to model.

There are levels to this model thing lol

Given that history, you can probably imagine just how much being seen as model material inflated my ego. My ego started to build a pedestal for itself because of this new found attention & for most of college, I sat on that pedestal & looked down on others who I felt were beneath me.

Back then I often sized up other men who I thought might be competition for the women I wanted & let me tell you, I would have never given a bald man a 2nd thought as a potential competitor. Bald men were, at best, something I pitied & at worst a group of people that were totally irrelevant to me. Little did I know that only a few short years later, the Universe would send an earthquake into my life that would bring the pedestal that I'd built for myself crashing down. And underneath the rubble, I would find myself, & my bald-ass head, feeling as pitiful, ugly, unworthy, and irrelevant as I'd felt about others before.

Portfolio shoot circa 2011

I Would Rather Die

This might be hard to believe given the depth of my current reflections but in my teens & early 20s I was super shallow. I didn't even want to associate with people deemed unattractive. I also wasn't shy at all about voicing my opinions on looks, often in a hurtful way. Back then being attractive seemed like everything. You couldn't be a part of the 'cool' crowd & also be physically unattractive unless you were rich, had god-like athletic ability, or showed hints at being the second coming of Dave Chappelle with your humor. I definitely didn't come from money. I was a decent athlete but nothing special, & while I could be situationally funny, you'd never know it unless you were one of the handful of people I dare show my actual personality to.

Portfolio shoot circa 2011

Shortly after that first fashion show, other people started reaching out to me about wanting me to walk in their orgs fashion show (fashion shows were big in college for some reason 🤷🏽‍♂️) or do a photoshoot with them. This all peaked my junior year when the school magazine reached out to me & asked me to model for that issue's style spread. You gotta understand, USC is not a small school. I think at the time there were about 35,000 students so the fact that out of all those people they wanted me inflated my ego to astronomical levels. After that, you couldn't tell me that I wasn't one of the best looking men on campus & for the most part, that's how I was treated too. It gave me access to a social status that little Micheal never thought he'd reach, filling a void left by my humble upbringing & deep seated feelings of being unworthy.

Garnet & Black Style Shoot Summer 2011. Ironically, these fashion shoots rarely had me wearing clothes lol

So I did what any other insecure person would have done & I leaned into it. My looks pretty much became my entire personality & value proposition. And to be honest, it served me well. Or at least it served the version of me that valued lustful & shallow connections well. Women have always been a central focus in my life & the way that I looked meant that women were never something I had significant trouble attracting. So it shouldn't come as a surprise at all to hear that at 26 when I eventually overcame the denial that my hair was thinning rapidly, it not only destroyed my current world but also any hope I had for the future. I felt so unattractive - at times it really felt like I'd never be able to attract someone I wanted again. To make matters worse, my balding was happening at the exact same time that my mom entered the hardest phase of her battle with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. These two simultaneous attacks on my identity led to me rapidly losing the sense of who I was.

Garnet & Black Style Shoot Summer 2011

The idea of being a 'bald man' was as repulsive to me as the idea of being a 'cancer family'. Things like this wasn't supposed to happen to us, my ego told me. Though I'd seen cancer happen to so many families around me and though I'd seen baldness happen to so many men around me, my ego just could not accept that these things could be happening to me. Because my ego could not accept these two realities as facts it took the only other option it had available to it - it checked out. If you've ever experienced an ego death you know that at times during you literally feel like you're dying & I did feel like I was dying. I honestly wanted to die. Because a life without my mother & a life without my hair was not a life that I wanted to live.

You suffer. I suffer. Therefore we are friends." - Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

It would not at all be an exaggeration to say that I did die. The person I'd known myself to be up to that point could no longer exist. Which meant I had to start the painful process of rediscovering who I was. Since I felt like I could no longer lead with my looks, that forced me to go within to try and find other things that made me feel valuable. And during this search within, I found something, someone, who I'd abandoned many years ago for clout. I found a version of myself that, while may not have been seen as conventionally attractive by others, had a lot qualities, interests, & ideas that I genuinely enjoyed. I found a sensitive boy who truly did not enjoy hurting others at his core. Who, in fact, wanted nothing more than to love and to be loved. I found a beauty that was beyond appearances, a beauty that didn't come from my body but instead came from my soul. I became super interested in spirituality & it became very apparent that what actually matters in this life is not the way we look but the way we feel & the way we make others feel. As Jesus said, 'lay not your treasures where moth and dust doth corrupt' - in other words, don't place your value in things that will inevitably decay in time. Ironically, time claiming my hair & my perceived physical beauty brought me closer with the timeless Spirit within me which eventually led me to feeling more beautiful than I ever had before.

Garnet & Black Style Shoot Summer 2011

I can't accurately put into words the amount of pain that losing my mother & losing my hair caused me. But through losing these two things, I also lost something else - I lost fear. It's like since I'd already lost the two most important things in the world to me, losing anything else really seemed small in comparison. Suddenly, the idea of no longer being attractive wasn't as scary anymore. But the problem was, I still craved attention from women. This put me in a position I'd never been in before. I realized that this meant if I wanted any chance at attracting a quality mate, I'd have to develop my personality. I've always had a rich inner world but I had no idea how to express that inner world in a way I thought would be appealing. A part of the reason why I felt so blessed to be outwardly attractive is because inwardly I felt like a dweeb. But whether I was ready to or not, being bald meant that I was going to have to explore the more intangible parts of myself to find things worth sharing with others. And to my surprise, even though a lot of what I found did in fact confirm that I am dweeb, I also found that I kinda like that dweeb. I am a dweeb with good taste in people so if I liked who I discovered myself to be on the inside, that provided hope that someone else might be able to too.

Portfolio shoot circa 2011

A part of what I discovered on the inside was a compassion for others that I'd long repressed. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism from childhood - feeling unseen myself made it hard to see others. I remember around the same time this transformation was taking place, one of my taillights went out & it wasn't easy to fix because I had aftermarket lights. Money was tight at the time, so I left my car that way for a few months. During these months I began to notice something on the road that I'd never noticed before & that was that many cars around me had a taillight out too. It seemed that because I'd never experienced it myself, I had no reason to notice what others around me were going through. But since having to deal with the issue myself, it became super obvious to me just how many people were going through the same thing.

Portfolio shoot circa 2010

Going bald & losing my mother had a similar effect on me. I cannot overstate how irrelevant bald men were to me before I went bald. If your name wasn't Michael Jordan & you were bald, you pretty much didn't exist to me. But now that I was bald I began noticing bald men everywhere I went. And when I saw them, I wondered if going bald affected them to the same extent that it was affecting me. Suddenly, I started to care about the suffering of those around me. The suffering of those who I once ignored or thought myself to be better than. Suddenly bald people, sick people, poor people, overweight people, gay people, and all the other people who are often forced to the margins of society - who I once overlooked as irrelevant, became very relevant to me. Because the suffering that I'd been experiencing made it impossible for me to continue to ignore the suffering of others.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

About a year ago, a short stint in couples therapy revealed to me that I have an 'not-seen' wound stemming from childhood. This discovery made it obvious to me why I had become obsessed with the idea of being a model back in college. Because, though I wouldn't say that modeling made me feel loved, it definitely did make me feel desired. When love is inaccessible, we cling to whatever feels closest to it & for me there was no high greater than feeling wanted by many. But this desire was rooted in insecurity so ironically, even though I felt attractive on the outside, on the inside, I still felt unlovable.

Charlotte Fashion Week 2011

To the uninitiated, attention looks a lot like love. I've learned that the desire to be famous or rich is really just the desire to be seen or valued but because of how ignorant I was back then, I regularly avoided the real connection & intimacy that would have made me feel seen for lustful, surface level, & shallow interactions that boosted my ego. Time stealing away how I looked left me with a profound sense of loss, but also with an opportunity for rebirth. It forced me to confront the harsh reality that my self-esteem was skin-deep, tied too closely to my external appearance. And blessed me with the opportunity to learn to love myself beyond any fleeting circumstances and internalize that my worth was never based on anything that I could ever lose.

Charlotte Fashion Week 2011

I'm truly grateful for having had both the experience of being deemed attractive enough to be a model & also unattractive enough to be irrelevant. I'm grateful for the apparent tragedies that allowed me to get to know a beauty within myself and others that goes much deeper than the skin. I'm grateful for the revelation that the reason why I was once obsessed with becoming a model is really because deep down I was obsessed with being loved. And most of all I'm grateful that it triggered an obsession with me loving myself for the eternal Spirit I really am instead of for the body that is going to be reduced to ashes & dust in 50 years, if I'm lucky.

Portfolio shoot circa 2010

These days people often compliment me for being kind & though I smile and say 'thank you', it usually transports me back to a time when I wasn't so kind. Sharing these old pictures and talking about how I use to see the world is pretty uncomfortable for me because I'm still working on having compassion for that version of myself. Who I am today feels so out of alignment with the boy in these pictures. It's not that I no longer value my physical appearance at all but I can truly say that it's the least interesting thing about me. And while I still hope that my physical appearance will attract valuable people into my life, I know that what will make them want to stay in my life is who I am inside.

Growth Challenge

This week's growth challenge is fairly simple:

Text someone who you feel knows you fairly well and ask them what their favorite non-physical thing about you is.

Then, in your journal, reflect on whether what they said resonates with you. Note whether or not it's something you already value about yourself or if they've helped you discover something special about yourself that you'd never considered before.

Going Bald Made Me Beautiful

The content of this week's newsletter is very similar to a YouTube video I made a couple years ago about how going bald made me more beautiful as a person. If you want to check it out, the link is below.

Also, look forward to more video content at some point in the near future 😬

Building Community

Last week I completed the first round of Grow Community calls and it was such a pleasure to meet and talk to you all! Having a community of like hearted individuals has been a huge goal of mine for many years at this point so to see it coming into fruition made me really happy. If you're interested in having a brief call with me, the offer still stands, and you can book a time at the link below.

Today marks a major milestone for me as I've completed the first month of Grow with Micheal Sinclair newsletters. You probably wouldn't believe it but just a few months ago I wasn't sure if I would make it this far. And I definitely wouldn't have made it this far without you showing an interest in what I have to say so thank you so much for that. 4 down, 48 to go 🥴 lol

February is the month of love so I thought it would be appropriate to make next month's newsletters all about Self-Compassion. I hope this January was as transformative for you as it has been for me and I'm looking forward to seeing how we'll grow together next month. Talk to you later! 💜