When I was in 4th Grade, my mother was ashamed of me. I had gotten chubby and nothing in the girl’s section of the local department store fit me. The sales lady sniggered and insisted that the only clothes that could possibly fit me were in the “Chubby Department”. I was mortified. My face turned scarlet with shame and I left the store in tears. At least I had my crowning glory, my beautiful hair.
The very same year, my mother decided it was time to cut my long, golden braid. She was sick of “fixing it” for me in the mornings before we all rushed off to school. She had taken a position at a local elementary school and just didn’t have the time to deal with my hair preparations in the morning and I had never learned how to “do” it myself. I cried, pleaded, begged and bargained, all to no avail. She was not just cold-hearted, but downright mean sometimes. Off to her salon for what was called a “lamp cut”. Sitting under the heat lamp after a short cut was intended to enhance natural curl and was the latest thing for girls my age. Off went my braid in one cut. When I looked in the mirror again, I saw a chubby, crying girl in a wavy pixie. I hated it, I hated my mother and I didn’t want to go to school again, ever, all because of hair.
I swore that I would never let this happen again, let someone else determine the fate of my hair. I learned how to take care of it myself and it grew, and grew, and grew. From an early 1960s flip to blonde straight hair almost to my waist by high school, I was in control of the destiny of my hair. I went from long blond cheerleader hair to long blond hippie hair, the only difference being the part, which moved from the side to the middle. In the 70s, I cut it short again only to grow it long during the “back to nature” movement when I shunned suburban and city life for rural living. In the 1980s, when I left a conservative, suit-wearing position at a local hospital to go back to school, I sported a spiky punk cut with purple and pink ends. Then in the 1990s, I had a permed bob, only to return to long, shoulder length golden brown hair by the turn of the millennium. From platinum to natural, from subtle streaks to punky wild colors, from au naturel to covering emerging gray, I tried it all AND it was all my choice.
Hair was an essential part of the my baby boomer experience. My boyfriend and I went to the city to see HAIR, the musical, soon after its debut off Broadway. Boys may not have been able to control their draft lottery number, but they could rebel by protesting the war in Vietnam and wearing their hair long until induction. Many arguments occurred over dinner tables in my town as dads told their sons to “go get a haircut”!
Until a few months ago I had control over the appearance and length of my hair, given my particular genetics. Then my hair started falling out around Christmas, a side effect from weekly Interferon injections that began in August. I read that 40% of people receiving Interferon experience moderate to severe hair thinning, not breaking, but hair falling out at the roots. I didn’t expect this to happen to me. After all, I had proved that I was in control of my “hair” destiny. Though my hair had thinned naturally with age from a pony tail as fat as my wrist to something less robust, I was lucky to have lots of hair and I could play with it to my heart’s content. My hair expressed my rebellion, my politics, my independence, my personality and my mood. Dark, light, playful, spunky, sophisticated, messy, long, short, straight and curly, my hair always represented the “me” that I wished to show the world. I was not afraid of change as long as it was my choice.
It is now weeks after finishing Interferon injections and my hair is still falling out. I have a brutally nasty rash, sores and horrible flaking on my scalp. Three trips to the dermatologist, three different prescription topicals, and things are improving a bit, but not enough to hide with my now stringy, thin, nasty looking hair.
Each time I treated and washed my hair I dissolved in tears as more and more long strands fell out. I knew I needed to make a decision and “be with” this difficult, if temporary, condition. My dear friend and hairstylist has been coming to my house to trim my hair these last few months. I have been too embarrassed to go into a salon.
Last week I knew it was time for me to take courageous action and let go of the old me, even though I hadn’t consciously chosen this new me. Friday I bit the bullet. I walked in to the salon where my friend does her magic. She gave me a “modified” pixie. She styled my hair to cover the worst of my balding and sores. She noticed little baby hairs coming in, vigorous and healthy, even as my “old” hair continues to fall out. I now call Sharon “the hair whisperer”.
Today I am grateful that my mother chopped off my braid. I wish I could thank her and give her a hug. Losing my hair at 9-years-old prepared me for my courageous venture Friday that didn’t feel like a choice. Truly, it was a choice. I could have remained “Pitiful Pearl” in tears over my pathetic long strands or I could be “Perky Pixie”, bold and proud. My new cut truly is a reflection of who I am today. I survived a toxic drug treatment that few are strong enough to endure. I am thriving and growing stronger every day. I have gone from 8 months of being a couch potato to walking 3+ mile walks a day in only a few weeks. By May I’ll return to my favorite dance class and be hiking in the mountains again. I am a healthy, vital, strong woman and for now my badge of courage is my pixie. I’ll wear a hat to protect my tender scalp, but I will not hide.
I no longer wonder why men complain about balding, get hair plugs and toupees. I no longer pity those who lose their hair because of chemotherapy, alopecia, genetics or causes beyond their control. Instead I feel compassion. I know what it’s like to be in control of my “hair” destiny and to lose that control. I appreciate that even though we believe we are in control of the “look” we present to the world, there is a limit to that control. I am grateful that I have stepped in to my reality as it is in this moment. Accepting myself completely with or without my “look” du jour, has liberated my heart and soul. I am who I am. I am whole. I am strong. I am a perfect child of God. I don’t need expensive clothes, a pedicure, make-up, a face lift or “a look” unless I choose it. I might grow my hair again, keep it short, color it or not. I might even lose it again. It doesn’t matter. I love all of me, with or without all my parts, chubby, thin, fit or couch potato. When I am in this place of total acceptance, love and appreciation for the gift of my life and all of its perfect imperfection, my spirit soars!