I went shopping for wigs last week. Here’s what happened:
After waiting for my date to show up for nearly an hour, I returned to my car to leave. I’d been stood up. I knew that it was a common occurrence, but it had never happened to me. It hurt more than I’d expected.
This guy seemed terrific, unlike most of the other men I’d texted on the dating apps. I wanted to impress him. To put my best foot forward, hard to do when I wasn’t feeling my best. I’d gained some extra weight since the start of the pandemic.
But it was more than the number on the scale that made me self-conscious; I also wear wigs.
Over twenty years ago, I suffered a massive hair loss. My already fine hair didn’t just thin; the scalp became visible across the crown of my head. Words cannot describe my embarrassment and shame. I felt disfigured. Ugly. Nightmares of being found out plagued me for years.
For a while, I rarely left the house, except to go to the store, church, and work. I stood in the shade out of the sun’s revealing glare, walked behind others, and sat in the back of the church.
I discovered hairpieces early on. Each month, a stylist tied a topper of human hair to my scalp. This procedure damaged my already fragile hair, causing more to break, and fell out. I knew it was time to wear a wig, yet the idea of walking into a wig shop humiliated me. I was sure the sheer act of going into the store painted on my back a neon Loser sign.
Over five years ago, I scheduled an appointment with myself to visit a local shop. I’d found one with excellent reviews. Less than a week later, I walked in, tried on various wigs, and bought one.
Suddenly a whole new world opened up. Once again, I looked like everyone else. I didn’t have to be afraid someone might notice the difference in color between the hairpiece and my natural hair. No more monthly appointments in a dingy men’s hair salon or having to endure a male aging stylist reattach my hairpiece topper. It freed me from the expense and hassle of getting my hair cut and colored.
Then I moved into a new town, which meant I had to find a new wig shop. My old hairpieces were tired, thinning, and becoming too dry from wear and tear. So, I tried to purchase a couple from the internet to avoid finding a local store, but they didn’t look right. New wigs require a haircut and styling. Most wig shop owners won’t work on a piece that wasn’t purchased in their store. Too risky.
Although old fears and insecurities surged, it was time to find a new wig shop. My date’s no show was just the push I needed.
The store owner, a petite Asian man, greeted me at the door. “Look around!” he told me.
I wandered the inventory as he hovered nearby. I pointed at several beautiful wigs to try on. Then I experimented with a few more.
The front doorbell rang.
I was sitting in front of a large mirror with the last hairpiece when the owner got called away. I heard a deep voice and saw the long blonde tresses of a woman. This customer took a seat across from me, a transgender person who needed an upgrade on a hairpiece, just like me. We admired the wigs models we were considering and discussed color and styles. We talked about what it was like to live as a transgender person. “Healthcare was a challenge,” they said. “Even in a progressive town like Austin.”
The doorbell rang again. The shop owner stopped by to ask, “Are you in a rush?”
“Take your time,” I told him.
Behind me, I heard two female voices. “Hazle tus preguntas,” an older woman said to her teenage daughter.
After living for two years in Mexico, I understood what she’d said. I turned and smiled. “Yo hablo español,” I said.
“Can I ask you a question?” said the younger woman.
She’d never been to one of these shops before and needed some help. She didn’t know what to buy. Her school was hosting a dance Saturday night, and she wanted to fit in with the other kids her age. A new medication that she’d be taking for the rest of her life was causing her hair to fall out.
She turned her head so I could see the bare patches of scalp peeking out of her gorgeous dark brunette hair.
“I can’t do anything with my hair now. I have so little of it left. I can’t even put it in a ponytail.”
“Have you considered wearing a wig?”
“I was thinking hair extensions,” she said. In her hand, she held long tresses of synthetic pieces.
“Try a wig; it might change your mind.” Then I helped her put on one I was considering.
It instantaneously transformed her. Gone was the teenage girl hiding her head, and in her place was a confident, smiling young lady.
For the next half hour, we discuss hair care and styles. She tried on other pieces — black and darker reddish brown ones. She wanted to find a wig that matched her natural hair color for fear someone would discover her secret. I remembered those days when I hid my condition.
Now, I don’t care who knows. These days, I change my hair color from day to day; I shift from a honey blonde to a flashy red and a dark brunette. I’m not scared of someone finding out. I even advertise it on my dating profile.
I’m not sure what’s changed. Maybe it’s because I’ve been living with this hair condition for nearly twenty years. Perhaps I’ve learned there are so many worse things in life, like losing a spouse and almost losing a son to cancer. Or maybe it’s my age.
Meeting the transgender person and teenage girl reminded me of the early days when I was still adjusting to the devastating hair loss. I was no longer confident in myself or my looks.
But over the years, I’ve discovered a paradox. Accepting my baldness has helped to heal some of my worst insecurities. I stand proud these days, with or without a wig.
A little while later, both individuals walked out, looking like a million bucks. I hope their purchases have given them the confidence to hold their head high. To reenter society as their most authentic self.
I purchased two wigs: a sporty red with fun highlights and a longer reddish brunette piece.
Oh, and I’ve already had another date! Someone new. I met him online a couple of months ago, but he canceled our plans because of illness. He got ahold of me again. This time we met and had a great time chatting over coffee and on a long walk. There are already plans for our second and third dates!
Kerry Kerr McAvoy, a psychologist, author and writer, is in cultivating healthy relationships, deconstructing narcissism, and understanding various other mental health-related issues. Her novel based on a true story, which explores the devastating impacts of deceit and betrayal, is due out next year.