This weekend I went to a baby shower with a very close friend of mine who I have known since I was very little. We have always been friends but we went to different high schools and colleges so we don't really share the same group of friends outside of each other. This is important because I found myself at a social gathering with a group of people who may or may not have known that underneath my adorable turban I was a molting, mostly bald, baby bird.
So there we were, having a really interesting conversation that flows into various topics the way really interesting conversations do, and somehow the topic of male baldness came up. And I sat and I listened while they discussed the various experiences they had with the men in their lives and their sensitivity about losing their hair. And then one of the girls said "Well, I think it's hard for us women to understand because we don't experience it."
Now, I had been sitting silently during this particular branch in the conversation because I could basically feel my balding head throbbing underneath the turban like a radioactive tube of titanium. Not because I was ashamed of my bald head, but because it made me think about it, and thinking about it makes it start itching and tingling all over again and it was getting a little hot under the turban. I was basically trying to follow the conversation while using all of my will power not to start itching. And then my friend (who has probably spent more time with my bald head than anyone. She literally spent a whole day bringing me ice packs for my poor, burning, itching scalp after my last chemo) turned and looked at me, and she said "Well, we have someone here who knows." And I thought yes, I do know, but I'm not sure until that moment, in that conversation, that I had thought about it.
So there I was, surrounded by a group of really cool girls, who wanted to know - what is it about hair loss? Even when people don't think it looks bad, or even, that it looks good?
Ok, here's the thing about hairloss, from someone who is experiencing it, vividly, in all of it's multi textured glory.
Hair is the FIRST thing people see when they see you. I used this (very local) example of walking down the street in the marina and seeing a girl and being like "Wow, she is gorgeous" and the man who is next to you is like "Nah, she's alright." and then you look closer and realize that you are seeing gorgeous, well done hair and a put-together outfit, on a reasonably fit body and a nice, symmetrical face but yeah, maybe she's not a supermodel. You were distracted by the hair.
If you really think about it, hair is the first thing you see when you see somebody. Try to describe somebody you just met, what's the first thing you will say? She has long, brown hair. He's blonde.
Hair just registers first.
So when you walk around in public without hair, you feel very vulnerable. The first thing people see is your FACE. Ladies, if you've ever scraped all of your hair back into a super tight ponytail you might get a small sense of what this feels like. People are looking at YOU. There is no hiding.
Add onto that the fact of being a bald WOMAN, and you get a lot of looks. And a lot of comments (all of them positive, but still, it's a LOT of attention) and so walking around in public becomes an exercise is being open to all of humanity. There is no anonymity, there is no blending into the background.
And this is the first layer. The second layer is more complicated.
Now, I think when it comes to men and hair loss, it becomes easier to understand that there's also a lack of control. They don't get to wear scarves or wigs either.
Control over your appearance is a profound thing to lose. Sure, they could just shave their heads. Great, they actually look adorable with that receding hairline or whatever. That's not the point. Hair is one of the few things a man can style/groom. They can't augment their faces with make-up, they don't have a wide variety of figure flattering clothes to choose from. They get what they are given without a lot of room to control the public facing front of how they present themselves to the world. Losing their hair is the ultimate way of losing control of their appearance.
Now, with my horrible scalp breakout, I also feel this profound lack of control over my appearance. Because wigs/scarves/hats are not allowed under my current treatment plan for this awful rash, it's just me and my molting scalp, all the time. I just have to be bald. I have no choices. No options. I have a beautiful, unbelievable, amazing super hero of a wig and stylish hats and piles of gorgeous scarves... and I can't do anything with any of them. I just have to present my face to the world.
|Oh hats. I miss you.|
It doesn't matter much that I don't look bad bald. Maybe even beautiful (thanks guys) At the end of the day it's not my choice. I am utterly powerless to do a single thing but present my bald head (and my whole face) to the whole freaking world.
So when I walk around with my bald head I feel both incredibly exposed and vulnerable, and also utterly powerless. It doesn't matter that I also look beautiful. It's exhausting.
I will totally admit. I look fine, maybe even (sans rash) great. But it's not my choice.
I have never seen my face so clearly before. And it's not a bad face. I have become profoundly grateful for my features in a way I have never been before. Big, dark eyes with thick lashes (which will hopefully survive my next round of treatments, everyone say a big prayer for my eyelashes because I'm not sure I can survive losing those too), straight nose, a big smile that has always gotten me compliments (I think because it's genuine - a really critical self-evaluation shows that my upper lip totally disappears when I smile, but oh well, now is not the time to be complaining.) Combine that with a good face shape and a good shaped skull and I really don't look bad bald. In fact, I think if my head wasn't covered in this awful rash I would probably, occasionally rock this look on purpose.
And I think it's the lack of choice to have this incredibly distinctive, exposing look that is what makes it so hard for me and for guys out there who are losing their hair.
Guys, you have my sympathy.
Because at the end of the day my hair will grow back or, hopefully sooner, my break out will clear up and I can start wearing my wig again. But for men losing their hair, you guys don't really have that option. So you seriously, genuinely have my sympathy. And, thanks to my