This is me. You’re probably confused. This is a sensitive topic, so let me explain.
I am not sick. I am just not comfortable looking at my hair any more. I never had a lot of hair; even as a child I bemoaned my thin, fine, sparse Eastern-European-texture hair, an unfortunate inheritance from my forebears on both sides of my family. As a kid and adolescent I just dealt with it. I also dealt with the terribly things many people growing up probably do: feeling (and being called) ugly, being mistaken for a boy when I cut my hair short in middle school, and being rejected by my peers, all while struggling to deal with a host of other more serious problems. My hair issues fell to the wayside, as I never really had the time or energy to grapple with them. After college, my first child, and the development of an autoimmune thyroid condition, to my horror, my sparse hair began thinning even more and my front hairline receding in what can only be described as a male-pattern-baldness formation. Have you ever met a woman with this condition? It’s seriously unfortunate, or fortunate, if you consider the un-likelyhood of winning this particular genetic lottery.
I haven’t been diagnosed by a dermatologist. My condition is not life-threatening so I am not spending money on a doctor that will diagnose me and tell me I can use Minoxidil for the rest of my life (no thank you, side effects) or just deal with balding as it comes. I know my hormones are normal, my thyroid condition is under control, my nutrient levels are healthy, and overall I feel very good. I’ve learned that any type of balding or hair loss can be called #alopecia, and if I had to guess, I have frontal fibrosing alopecia and telogen effluvium. Finding names for the thing that is happening to me takes some of its power away. I’ve not been stricken by some mysterious plague of ugliness or loss of femininity; rather, it’s a diagnosable condition I have no control over and for which there is no viable treatment.
So now what am I left with? My natural hair is not an option to me. Society tells me the most beautiful women have thick, long, silky, European-textured hair. Those women who are born with it are considered naturally more beautiful, and those who are not spend time, money, and emotional labor getting their hair to look the way society deems is most beautiful. I cannot even begin to understand the hair struggles African American women have dealt with for the last umpteenth decades, spending uncountable money and time to get their hair to match up with these unrealistic standards of beauty. Not being part of that community, I cannot give voice to their struggles, but now that I’m more aware of the power of hair, I can sympathize.
I know I might get some hate from this. I can hear the dissenting voices now, “Just get over it! There are much bigger problems in the world and people truly suffering.” But let me assure you, I am fully conscious on a daily basis of how incredibly LUCKY I am for everything I have in my life and everything I’ve been given. I know there are millions or maybe even billions of people in the world that would trade their life for mine. I am incredibly fortunate and the perspective of having this small issue allows me to see all the other parts of my life that I can celebrate, that much more clearly. I also know that it does no good to compare one person’s trauma to another’s. My feelings, my grief, my journey through hair loss are all valid.
Hair loss is embarrassing. My initial solution to masking my hair loss and being able to feel beautiful was wearing extra hair, in the form of extensions. As my loss progressed, I experimented wearing a half wig, where I could leave some of my natural hair out. I joined online support groups and met many other women going through the stages of grief with their own hair loss. As time went on I began experimenting with full wigs, which I’ve been wearing off and on for the last seven years. At first I wore them only at home, trying to warm up to the sight of myself in the mirror, donning thick, long, luscious hair for the first time in my life.
In public I jumped between hiding my hair under hats, bandanas, and cover-ups, keeping it pulled back tightly in a bun, and wearing my replacement hair when I was feeling particularly confident. I cut my hair shorter and shorter to try to disguise the loss, and since most of my hair wouldn’t grow past a certain length anyway. (I realized then why historically older caucasian women have shorter hair.) The Covid-19 pandemic allowed me quality time with my wigs, debuting them for Zoom meetings and experimenting to find the the best style, length, cap fit, and texture for the most natural look. Only my husband and children were witness to this transformation, all its ups and downs, and my rise in overall confidence. Confidence is like a positive feedback loop; the more you have, the better you feel, the more energetically you’ll interact with the outside world, which affects how others feel about you, which gives you more confidence.
I was able to rise high enough on my confidence feedback loop just this year to get to the point of shaving my head. When I rid myself of the cause of my trauma by physically removing my inadequate, limp, failing hair, I expected to feel sad. Instead I was overcome by a huge sense of relief over not having to look at it any more. My biggest concern really was feeling attractive to my spouse, and what his reaction to my bald head might be. In the most supportive, kindest terms, his initial reaction was a smile and “it suits you,” and it’s clear my newest hairstyle has not affected our chemistry.
I thought it suited me too, but not only that, with my hair removed, I saw my head as a newly blank palette that could be decorated. One thing I’ve known about myself practically from birth, is that I’m an artist. And with this new opportunity for expression, I quickly concluded that my scalp needed some ink.
Viewing Sammy Jean’s book of previous work at a local tattoo shop, I knew she was the woman for the job, with her incredibly clean lines, unique style, beautiful shading, and penchant for the type of black and gray artwork that I imagined for my bald head. Upon this initial trip to pick an artist, I got to meet Sammy and discuss my idea. She was incredibly open, warm and enthusiastic about it and we came up with a plan. On my first big day, Sammy presented me with a few mandala-style pieces of art she drew just for me and let me pick the one I liked best. Then Sammy got to work gently and meticulously installing my newest piece of skin art. My second big day went basically the same as the first, with the hustle and bustle of the tattoo shop going on around us and Sammy focusing with Jedi-like mindfulness on imbuing black ink into my scalp.
Now it’s all healed and I am so happy with my scalp tattoos. I feel confident going out in public now with my shaved head, because with the ink, I think my head is beautiful. When I look in the mirror, not only do I NOT see the source of so many years of sadness, inadequacy, and failed attempts at revitalizing my locks, I also see artwork. I also see my ability to withstand pain, I see my fierceness, I see my ability to take a shitty situation and make it something beautiful. I see that my actions, the way I treat the people around me, how I parent, what I give to others, and how I can help the world, are so much more important than the way I look.
But I’m not throwing out my wigs any time soon. I love the ability to change the way I look in minutes and to play around with different hair styles and colors. You will probably see me wearing hair at some point, and it might be different than the last time you saw me. I feel good wearing hair; it’s fun and at times makes me feel more beautiful. You might get to see me sometime in my full, bald glory which means I either don’t care what you think or I’m confident you accept me however I present myself. You might also see me wearing a hat or coverup. I still have days where I’m struggling to accept my hair loss, and embrace my solutions, but trust me, I’m working on it. After all I am still a work in progress.
Photography credit: Ashley Danielle Photography
Tattoo credit: Samantha Jean Farland @sammyjean_ink on Instagram