My hair was shoulder length when I shaved my head in January 2015. I watched in the mirror as the brown, curly ringlets fell on my lap and the floor. I didn’t cry until the hair dresser turned my chair and her colleague put her hand to her heart and said, “You look so beautiful!”
I started chemo the week before, and my oncologist told me that most women lose their hair on day 13 after their first treatment. This was day eight for me. I didn’t want to wait for my hair to fall out in chunks, so I proactively scheduled an appointment at a salon I’d never visited to have my head shaved. I didn’t want my regular stylist to be part of this moment. I didn’t want memories of losing my hair associated with the salon I visited monthly for the last three years.
Until then, I considered my hair to be a big part of my identity. I thought it defined me with its distinctive curls. I could (literally) hide behind it when I was uncomfortable. I would brush the ringlets behind my ears when I was being playful or straighten it when I was serious. I cried when I received bad hair cuts, and once I found a stylist I liked, I’d stay with her for years (even after moving away). Truly, one year at Summerfest, while waiting for the bus to take me back to the parking lot, a
really drunk stranger walked up to me and then called back to her boyfriend, “Yeah, this is our bus! I recognize this woman AND HER HAIR!”
I was born with a head full of hair, so no one had ever seen me without hair. And because I dyed my hair since my freshman year of college, I wasn’t even completely sure what the original color was anymore.
More than the breast cancer diagnosis, I feared losing my hair.
Chemo left me completely hairless for about seven months. (Not shaving my legs was AWESOME!) I bought two really expensive wigs (“cranial prosthesis,” in insurance terminology) and dozens of head scarves and hats. For most of my bald period, I wore head scarves in public. I didn’t want my bald head to distract while teaching or in the grocery store or picking up the kids at school. And, honestly, it was fun to accessorize with different scarves.
But at home, I was most comfortable “free balding” it.
At first, my bald head horrified. My son wouldn’t look at me for days. He was afraid his classmates would make fun of me because I didn’t have hair. Eventually, both kiddos came around, and my daughter loved to caress my baldness while she cuddled with me before bed.
Then it started to grow back, at first as little stubblies then a REALLY awkward buzzcut then tight curls. I received my first haircut in May when I took the kids and my mom to Disney World to celebrate being in complete remission (and to thank them all for their awesomeness for the past year).
In my time of baldness, I learned a few things about hair. As a woman, a mom, and a human being, I know I’m not the only one who identifies with her outward appearance (even though we like to think we’re not shallow, physical appearances matter), so I want to share three things I’m teaching my daughter about hair:
Hair is just hair.
It might be the first thing people notice. But it’s just stuff that grows out of your head. As a wise friend said, “Hair is just like a chia pet.” Know what’s great about letting go when it comes to your hair? Not being afraid of having it getting messed up in the wind. Saving time (and money) by not having a complicated post-shower hair routine. Focusing on other parts of you. (I played up my eyes and lips a lot more to offset the no-hair-thing.) Giving up having something to hide behind and face your fears head on. (Pun completely intended.)
Hair WILL grow back.
Trust me on this one: it comes back. Got a bad hair cut? Big deal! Hair color not what you expected? So what! The great thing about hair: it grows out. Sure it can take a while, but that just gives you time to play and experiment. I never considered cutting my hair super short, but I’ve gotten so many compliments in the last few months, that I’m thinking about not going back to my original shoulder length style. And now that I’m seeing my true hair color for the first time in 20+ years (how can it not be gray with all the craziness in my life?!), I’m going to forego the expensive dye jobs — for now.
You are so much more than your outward appearance.
Yes, people will notice your hair – or lack thereof, but they also notice who you are as a person. Hair doesn’t change if you’re nice or kind or helpful. Hair is just the wrapping on a present – it’s nice, but it doesn’t change what’s inside.
So, embrace your SELF, mama. You are beautiful.