The Emotional Complexity Of Hair
Losing my hair at 16 was not like you'd imagine. I didn’t lose chunks of it in the shower or find a nest of it on my pillow one morning. No, it was more of a gradual thing; a creeping from the part that began to choke each follicle slowly, shrinking them over the next ten years. This happened to be just slow enough to torture me every morning with hour-long gazes in the mirror, with teasing and spraying of thickening serums, with expensive offensive smelling potions holding the promise that my scalp would soon be hidden from view. A slow enough process to chip away at my self-image, surprising me at just how easy it was to brush away.
My doctor took my blood and tested it for lupus and various other auto-immune diseases. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with Androgenic Alopecia - the fancy term for female pattern hair loss. I was so embarrassed. This thing so commonly affecting men had somehow jumped sexes and rewarded me with the ability to grow hair everywhere else on my body except for the one place that matters. And the thing is, I already knew all I wanted to know about this condition. My mother has it too.
The thought of wigs as a solution was loathsome. The tacky way they admitted defeat to my hereditary inevitability. A female toupé? No way. I dyed my remaining hair blond to match the colour of bare scalp, and resolved that if things got really bad, I would rather Sinead O’Connor my way through life before I would ever buy a fake hair piece. Shortly after graduating college I was working as a graphic designer for a newspaper publishing company, and a middle-aged male coworker (full head of hair) balked at the thinness atop my head and couldn’t stop commenting on it. It struck me hard with a realization that a) that guy was total douche, and b) my coverup efforts were futile, and clearly not working.
Not quite confident to get the electric razor out just yet, I finally let my mom take me wig shopping after much persuasion. We went to a cute little boutique in Windsor, and although the rows upon rows of expressionless white manequin heads covered in every hair style imaginable creeped me out, I had a surprisingly great visit. The owner was kind and patient. Trying on different hair pieces was like putting on different personas with different stories, and trying to find one that matched my own was an interesting emotional exercise. In the end I chose a modest reddish brown bob with razored bangs. The relief that washed over me in the mornings to follow was intense. I was just so happy that my hair wasn’t a big deal anymore; it didn’t take up this massive emotional space in my brain like it did before. Or so I thought.
For a few years I still kept my natural hair underneath the wig. I thought maybe, just maybe, it would grow back fuller if I took enough vitamins or ate the right foods. But it kept on thinning, and getting uglier. On a day when the ugliness was feeling particularly heavy, after a shower I grabbed a pair of scissors and started cutting. Gentle at first, and then furious. My husband came home then, wide eyed with understanding when he saw me, and I asked him to help. With me in the bathtub hunched and crying, he finished the job with his electric beard trimmer. Tears ran at my own vulnerability, at the pure joy of letting go - letting go of the ugliness, the attachment, the self loathing, the co-dependency - I let it all go; the expectations, the self hate, the piece of me that cared about holding on to the broken piece of me, as the dead strands of DNA fell heavy with the weight of my emotions.
He took a step back, looked at me with wide eyes, and said “Woah".
“What - is it really that bad?" I asked anxiously.
“You look really badass - like Walter White about to cook up a batch of blue sky”.
Admittedly not the most romantic comment, but it made us both laugh. And that laughter and love replaced tears, and my bald head craved to be touched like a sensitive body part newly discovered.
I still feel odd about wigs. They’re fun to purchase and have become a necessity, but whenever a stranger compliments me on my hair, I’m always quick to tell them that it’s a wig. A young woman behind the Lush cosmetics counter couldn’t believe how shiny my hair was, and I told her “that’s because it’s synthetic”. I guess I just don’t want to feel like I’m lying to anyone.
All this is to say, losing my hair taught me the important lesson that appearance isn’t everything, and that my self-worth lies much deeper than my scalp. Hell, maybe one day when I’m older, and don’t care about societal expectations of beauty, I’ll have that confidence to walk out the door bald and live my best Sinead O’Connor life.