When Maddie and I first started talking about Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and raising awareness about donating hair to make wigs for women with cancer, my thoughts were, in this order, “I’m so excited to get to talk about this and promote it,” and “I could NEVER donate my hair.” Long hair is just my thing, scene, done. When I found out APW staffer Liz was shaving her head, I thought, “Well, that’s just because Liz is a badass.” (Which she is, so my confusion on the subject was understandable.) So when it came to thinking about hair donation, Maddie’s post about losing her sister to cancer started tipping the balance for me. But it turns out it’s this post from Liz, about how terrifying shaving her head was and is, that made me feel like hair donation is something I could do. Because for Liz, shaving her hair is out of her comfort zone. For me, just the short haircut I’d need to donate is out of my comfort zone. Hearing the unvarnished truth of how hard it’s been for Liz, but also why it’s worth it? That honesty made me want to cut it all off. (While I can’t actually donate because I don’t meet two of the donation requirements, we’re going to talk next week about how we can make hair donation a reality for those of you that are interested in donating, and can.)
I hate being bald.
I’m sure I’m disappointing a bunch of you who were hoping for an, “OMG I love it!” sort of happy ending. But, the truth is? I don’t have hair. It’s not a good look.
The shave itself wasn’t that scary. I’ve been bracing to do this for over a year and growing out my hair for donation the whole time. I knew what was coming, and I figured I was ready for it. Even without the anticipated shots of Jameson, there was plenty to steady my nerves. A troupe of friends and family filled the bar with their encouragement and laughter. My phone was lighting up with messages of support. I had a post full of kind comments to read over and over to strengthen my resolve. Piece of cake.
So it came as a pretty major surprise when I went to the front of the room, put on that smock, and was smacked in the face by emotion. I was crying, my hands were shaking, but I wasn’t completely sure why. I wasn’t afraid, really, but it all seemed so…big. To have a room of friends and strangers alike clapping, cheering, and crying, too. To have Josh beside me, holding my hand. To see my little son waving from the edge of the crowd. It all seemed large and overwhelming in ways I still can’t articulate. I think I even made a bunch of stupid, exaggerated, “OMG, THIS IS HAPPENING, YOU GUYS,” sort of faces to try to keep the tears back, and to avoid wrestling with the messy, complicated emotion of it all.
Then it was over.
There were hugs. Lots and lots of hugs from strangers, a few kisses, and numerous requests to feel my hair. But, you know. I have a sneaking suspicion many of those folks were drunk.
It was a good while before I finally exhaled (when had I started holding my breath, anyway?) and marched into the bathroom to check it all out. Even still, I couldn’t grab a good look. The bathroom was dim, the mirror cloudy, and every time I made my way toward it, someone stopped me to give another hug.
The thing about not having any hair is that I feel incredibly exposed. As much as I was prepared to hate it, I didn’t anticipate the feeling of nakedness. I’ve had short hair and loved it! I’ve never felt that way. But, having no hair is pretty different from having short hair. Having no hair means that you are constantly aware of your face. All of the imperfections that you normally can chalk up to “only noticeable to me” are now large and glaring, and…really all that’s there. So, you know. Earrings are nice. So is thick eyeliner, and sometimes some red lipstick. But at the end of the day, I’m still bald.
Nothing reaffirms that exposed feeling like the people staring on the street. Here’s the thing about that. I live in a city. I expected that a girl with funky short hair and crazy earrings would blend in pretty readily. But, there’s a short leap between “funky short” and “not there at all,” and that leap seems to be the difference between getting lost in crowds, and being stopped by strangers asking, “What happened to your hair?”
Just this weekend, when I was feeling especially bald and naked, a woman pulled me aside and asked about my hair. I told her that I’d shaved it to raise money for cancer research, and to donate my hair. As she started to cry, she explained that she was a cancer survivor of several years, and the year she lost her hair was one of the lowest of her low points. We both cried and hugged, and all of that thick liner I’d put on my eyes was smudged and smeared beneath them.
That’s maybe the bright, shining point of being so in-your-face, strangers-staring, nothing-but-fuzz bald. The conversations. Often, they’re timid. Sometimes begun with a careful, “You look different!” from the coffee shop girl who always remembers your order. Sometimes a little more brash, like the man on the subway half-yelling, “Where’s your hair?!” But they always end on slight variations of the same note. Encouraging words, contemplative furrowed brows, and possibly even a memory of a loved one lost to cancer.
These conversations make the worst part of being bald, my favorite part. My bald head is out there in the open, exposed and unmistakable. People can see it. And because I’m exposed in that way, I’m reminded constantly of why I did it, and why it was worth it. I feel naked in those brief moments at a grocery store, but it’ll pass. I wake up each morning and sadly check to see if my hair’s grown any further, but I have the reassurance that it will. The whole point at the start was to raise money, sure, but also to sort of raise awareness about cancer and hair donation, and maybe get people thinking about it. The conversations with strangers are certainly doing that, but they’re also forcing me to think about cancer—the vulnerable, exposed part of it—in a whole new way. That’s something I hadn’t expected.
**This post was sponsored by Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Thank you Pantene helping make the APW mission possible!**