My hair and me
Recently I was moved by a blog my friend and colleague Emma wrote about her journey with hair loss or the balds as she calls it and it has caused me to reflect on my own relationship to the hair on my head!
Hair is such a personal thing! I was so fortunate as a young person to have a long mane of dark straight hair, however, it was always such a pain at school as I loved to swim and dive, but chlorine and hair are not a good match!
Although others often complimented me on my shiny locks, in reality, I couldn’t wait to cut or shave it off and felt a little uncomfortable with the stereotype image of a young woman with long hair and how men saw that, because I wanted them to appreciate me for my character rather than my hair and looks, so through my years at art school and beyond I had friends cut it rather randomly with the kitchen scissors much to my mum's initial disgust, and I liked the fact that it looked quirky and a bit different and reflected how I saw myself.
I kept it pretty short and spiky for many years, but in my late 20’s when I was carrying my first child I was encouraged by my hairdresser to grow it longer again, to fit in with the image he saw of me as a maternal figure and I went along with it, also fuelled by my then-husband who always preferred the conventional image of women with long lustrous hair. I found it rather annoying as it took time to look after and got in my face so in reality it was most often tied back or up.
From my early 30’s until 50 it went up and down depending on my moods, I still preferred it shorter and didn’t welcome comments from my husband about how if he had wanted to be married to a marine he’d have gone out and found one to marry! However, I had always dreamed of shaving it all off and often wondered if I had the kind of head that could take a total shave so that on my 50th birthday and on the pretext of raising money for the great Ormond street charity, it happened in front of all my close friends in the most wonderful outdoor setting and I loved it!
I was a little bewildered by the comments from those around me who bombarded me with questions and comments like “What if it grows back grey?” “What if it grows back curly?” “I’d feel so much less of a woman with a shaved head!” as none of these seemed relevant to my experience.
Then in Jan 2015 after a routine mammogram, I was told that I had breast cancer and after surgery and before I started chemo in that May my friends and I got together and they shaved it once again and I felt completely comfortable with that, same as I had earlier.
However at a friend’s home in France just a couple of weeks later as I stood in the shower I was surrounded by all the short black fuzz that had been my hair around my feet in the shower and I sobbed, deep soulful sobs, and was so grateful for my friend who held me and listened as I tried to make sense of how such a small physical difference could feel so mentally challenging as I looked at the shiny bald pate where my hair had been.
Slowly it grew back, a funny kind of fuzz a bit like baby hair at first and eventually really curly so that I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror, others were kind and said how it suited me, but it didn’t match who I felt I was internally and that set up a kind of dissonance that I never really adjusted too.
Thankfully over the last few years, it has become straight again with a little salt and pepper colouring and my wonderful daughter in law who is a barber, now shaves one side and lets the top grow over so that I feel I have the best of all worlds and it reflects who I am now, a nanna with a zest for life and curiosity about people and the world.
I wonder if this has set up a chain of thought in you just as Emma's story started in me? If so is it about your appearance too or some other aspect of yourself where the internal and external don’t really match or sit together well?
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