And up to now it's been source of tremendous shame
I have a secret. Something that has been a source of shame that I’ve mostly kept to myself. Only a handful of people know. I’m a bald woman.
In my mid-thirties, I suddenly lost nearly all of my hair. Devastated and ashamed, I thought my life was ruined.
And, I wanted to die.
What’s the big deal? It’s just hair, good grief!
Think about it, though. What’s one of the first things we notice about a woman?
We see her bright eyes, her broad smile…and her long and luscious hair. We admire its length, style, color, and cut. Its tresses draw our eye and add to her beauty.
We, women, are aware of our hair’s power. Early on we learn to use its allure and sexual appeal. We flip it, shake it, and toss it to tease and tantalize. Our partners bury their faces in it or to grab it while making love to us.
Our hair plays a vital role in defining our femininity.
Not for me.
For me, all that’s gone. Not for a few days or months. Permanently.
My hair fell out suddenly a few months after I gave birth to my youngest child. I had spent much of that pregnancy sick. It left me exhausted and faint until the hormones returned to normal. Then, my hair fell out.
I didn’t notice it was happening. It wasn’t like I woke up to find clumps of hair on my pillow. Maybe it washed away in the shower or I combed it out. The evidence became obvious while styling my hair one morning. I wanted to un-see it so I return the previous comfortable place of unknowing. Every morning I faced the image in the mirror with shock. She stared back at me. Her white scalp peeked through in sharp contrast to her remaining strands of dark hair. I hated her.
I had loved my hair. It was wispy, baby fine, and dark brown. I wore it short since it refused to grow very long. Its reddish highlights loved to catch the sunlight, turning me into a lovely auburn for a few moments. Each strand was fine and silky, making it soft to touch.
After it fell out, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to go on as a bald woman. As a thirty-something-year-old, a long life stretched out in front of me. How would I face all those years without hair? Unfathomable.
For a while, I hid in my home or at the office where I had a part-time private counseling practice. Fearing my bare scalp might be seen, I welcomed my counseling patients in the hallway’s shadows and walked behind them to my office. My friendships dwindled. I avoided going into the public for fear of being stared at or pitied.
Nightmares of being found out and exposed plagued my sleep. This wasn’t like needing to lose a few pounds, I had no control over my condition with no way out. I began to contemplate suicide.
Desperate for a solution, I began searching the internet. This was in the early 2000s when hair extensions were becoming popular, Wigs, however, still carried a stigma.
After some research, I found a local stylist who specialized in men’s hairpieces. I bought one for women. It was a cap made of human hair that fit over the top of my scalp. Individual strands of my hair were tied and glued to its edges, which kept it in place. For several years, I visited the stylist each month so he could re-tie the hairpiece, keeping it tight to my scalp.
It sort of gave me the illusion of a full head of hair. Sometimes its hair color or texture didn’t match my own well. Or, the cut was a bit off. I made it work, figuring it didn’t matter since my husband loved me. Then he died. The person who knew everything about me and accepted me just the way I am was gone. My safety net disappeared as well.
It was a warm, fall afternoon the day I drove to a local wig shop. Walking up to the door, I glanced at the models that lined the shop’s window. The hair’s funny glossiness screamed “wig.” My cheeks flushed red hot, but I forced myself to grab the shop’s door handle and give it a pull.
The high-pitched sounds of tiny bells clattered above me as I walked in. From some hidden corner, a small Asian woman stepped out and asked if I needed help. I said nothing as my eyes surveyed the hundreds of wigs on display. Where do I begin?
She smiled warmly. “Sit here,” she said as she padded a chair positioned discretely out of the street’s view. In no time she had sized up the shape of my face and skin tone. Within minutes, I was sporting a gorgeous wig trimmed to frame my face.
The woman staring back at me was someone I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years. She looked younger, refreshed, and ready to meet life. Oh, how I had missed her. But, I also felt awkward. Now, I would have to learn how to live with a wig and its upkeep. Would it be easy? Noticeable to others?
It’s been five years since I made that decision, and I’ve discovered several nice benefits. Each morning, I’m up and out the door in about fifteen minutes. There’s no need to wash, blow-dry, or do much styling each day, a huge time-saver. Going grey is optional and at my discretion. My hair never grows or changes color, saving me the monthly cost of having it colored or cut. And, I get to experiment with fun hairstyles previously impossible with my own fine hair.
I wished wearing a wig solved all my self-esteem problems. It hasn’t, but it has helped. I still struggle to accept my hair loss. It’s difficult being a bald woman. In the USA, the majority of men will either experience thinning hair or some degree of baldness.
Despite having lots of company, many men experience difficulty with this loss, it’s still a challenging transition for them. It’s much worse for women. It’s traumatizing to lose an aspect of ourselves associated with our beauty and sensuality.
According to the American Hair Loss Association, 40 percent of women will experience thinning or hair loss by 50. Yet despite this statistic, until recently there’s been few role models for bald women.
That changed for me last week. I was thumbing through the photos on my Instagram account when an image of a gorgeous young woman in her early twenties filled my screen. Her golden gown caught the light and shimmered. Her pose was bold with her hands on her hips. She beamed with a broad contagious smile, and, she was unapologetically bald.
Under her photo, she had written:
Once I learned to accept & embrace my Alopecia and how I wanted to live my life instead of someone else’s standards of beauty life became a whole lot more beautiful 🌼 •
Beauty is being confident in your own skin through and through. Embracing all of you and living your own truth. I am so thankful for my Alopecia and feeling so proud to be bald.
Her beauty captivated me yet her bold declaration scared me. Her hashtags took me to many other photos of gorgeous young bald women who were posting pictures of themselves living busy lives sans hair. These women’s willingness to show their baldness on a public forum rattled and intrigued me. I heard the challenge issued by their examples of ground-breaking boldness.
Although I’m not ready to post photos of myself, these young women’s self-acceptance provokes me. Will I continue to let shame govern my life? Or is it time for me to step out of the shadows where I’ve been hiding and let the world see me for who I am — a beautiful, bald woman?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy is a clinical psychologist, mother of three grown sons, writer, and author of the devotionals: Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Bringing Hope and Healing, Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Healing Without Limits, and Pain as a Starting Point.
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