Shame. Embarrassment. Humiliation. Depression. All of these over a long period of time. My condition has gotten worse and I’m tired of trying to hide it, tired of all the time and energy wasted trying to hide my shame. So in an effort to declare myself free of this nuisance, I’m coming out.
Here’s my ugly secret: I’m losing my hair, so much that I can no longer conceal it. I have been to numerous doctors and had medical tests. I have tried everything the doctors have recommended with no success. There is a name for this condition—alopecia. (It is loosely related to psoriasis.) Some people get bald patches on their heads while some lose all the hair on their bodies, including eyebrows and eyelashes. At this point I have skimpy eyebrows and eyelashes but I have zero hair on my arms and legs. The hair on my head was always rather thin, but then I started losing patches on the crown of my head, then in the front, now big bare patches on the sides and the back of my head.
In my obsession I used to wash my hair in the bathtub, gather the hairs that fell out, and count them, trying to see if I could figure out on a real quantitative basis whether it was getting worse. There have been times when I thought the rate of loss had slowed, only to have it gain momentum again.
There is no cure for this condition and no likelihood of a cure on the horizon. Along with a vast array of snake-oil remedies, current useless treatments include lasers and prescriptions for hormones. Do I want to take hormones intended for men with side effects including breast enlargement, bleeding uterine lesions, and hair growth on random body parts? No. It’s not worth jeopardizing my general health for the sake of my hair. It’s just hair.
It’s just hair, I say. But I look at women with beautiful thick hair and that ugly wave of envy climbs into my gut, works its way to my throat, and starts seeping out of my eyes. Beautiful silky hair is the hallmark of femininity.
For weeks I think about femininity and what it really means. (No, I’m not giving you the Webster’s definition—it’s irrelevant—what is important is how I see it. End of sentence.) I’ve come to the conclusion that femininity is the light stuff, the marshmallow cream of womanhood. I just want to be the best woman I can be and hair does not make me a woman. It’s more important to feel strong, centered, proud. I can be that without hair.
I have an appointment with Annette, my hair stylist, early next week. It’s a regularly scheduled appointment, set up long ago. I’m going to tell Annette my thoughts, that maybe it’s time to give up the fight. Maybe a buzzcut? I love Annette—she’s edgy in her own individuality and one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know. She’ll tell me the truth. That’s why I love her.
It is just hair, but it’s my hair. But if maintaining a semblance of hair is keeping me living in a cage, then maybe I just don’t need it holding me back any longer.
I recently met a man who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. He is no less a man, no less a human being without legs. Maybe he's grown in stature, become more noble because he hasn't let the loss diminish him. I know people who are suffering from cancer now. Some are dying. I have seen people permanently, horribly scarred by fire. (I had a bad burn on my leg once and I still remember the pain. I can’t even imagine. . . ) Walking around with a bald head is nothing in comparison. Nothing.
For a long time I refused to pray about the hair situation. I felt it was trivial, that there were much more weighty topics to discuss with God. And just recently I decided that nothing is too trivial, that God is my creator, that He has a boundless love for me, and I could bring it to Him. So I asked Him what I should do. I didn’t expect a response right away, no voice of God saying, “Call 1-800-GET-HAIR for Dr. Giangelo’s Hair Restoration Clinic. Guaranteed results or your money back.” Nope, no voice of God, no phone number. But a couple of days later, I was sitting in silent meditation and—out of nowhere—the face of Pema Chödrön popped up in my head. She is an American Buddhist nun who has written some wonderful books. I have read a couple of her books, never met her in person, but remembered her photo from the book jackets. The image in my head was of her with her buzz-cut hair and her glowing smile.
“Lord,” I said, “where did that come from?” And I knew. It’s okay. It’s okay not to have hair. It’s okay to be a woman without the usual fluff expected to be considered feminine. I can just be me. Even without hair I know that I will be beautiful in His sight.