Solidarity, Wigs, and Pantene Beautiful Lengths: Part II


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.

Photo of Liz before the shave, taken by Maddie, thanks to a generous partnership with Pantene Beautiful Lengths. We’ll have the full photo essay for you this afternoon.

**This post was sponsored by Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Thank you Pantene helping make the APW mission possible!**

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  • Alison

    Beautiful. Liz IS a badass, and I love how honest and lovely this post is. <3

    • Class of 1980

      She is badass and beautiful.

  • “…the man on the subway half-yelling, “Where’s your hair?!”


    Some people’s kids.

    • Right? I hope she responded, “Where are your manners?”

      • meg

        I have been rolling that around in my head for DAYS. I think that was the thing that drove home to me, as someone as no direct experience with cancer, why cancer wigs are SO much more than wigs. Because, for Liz, it sucks, and she can hell “where are your manners.”

        CAN YOU IMAGINE if you were dealing with a life threatening illness and that’s how you were treated every time you walked out the door? I haven’t had experience with cancer, but I have been really sick. First, you have no additional emotional energy for that kind of stuff. Second, walking out the door when you can, is so important for normalcy (as is feeling like you look ok).

        • EXACTLY.

          And having a really scary illness doesn’t change your personality. Some people who are social, sarcastic, or witty under normal circumstances might have a comeback.

          I had a friend with heart cancer who was a competitive public speaker with a pile of trophies to prove it. He made jokes about his illness constantly, and I’m positive he would have had a real zinger if someone had said this to him. And then he would have regalled as many people as would listen with the (most likely exagerated for dramatic effect) story.

          But, my grandmother would have just been really hurt, chosen to not make a fuss by saying anything, and would have let it weigh on her for days and weeks.

          • Kaylle

            I tried to click Exactly and hit Report This Comment instead. Darn touchscreen! My apologies!

        • Lauren

          This makes me think of these photos:

          All of the photos are so gripping and heartbreaking, but maybe none more so than the ones of strangers staring.

          • Kat

            Wow, thanks for posting those. Amazing and heartbreaking.

      • Class of 1980

        People just don’t think.

        A long time ago, I had a tubal ligation on a Friday. I was one of the unlucky ones who had a ton of pain. I returned to work on Monday and was walking very slowly down the hall, slightly bent over. A manager was walking toward me and made a joke about how I was walking.

        When I told him I’d just had surgery, he looked like he wanted to die. He couldn’t say “I’m sorry” enough. ;)

        It’s like if you’re not carrying a sign, some people just won’t draw the obvious conclusion.

  • I appreciate your honesty. For women, hair and makeup can be such a security blanket. You can decide to not wear makeup for a day or a week, but when you shave your head, that’s a decidedly long commitment. It’ll grow back eventually, but you’re stuck being bald for a couple of months. I imagine it would be quite jarring. Thanks for sharing your story and thanks for being so selfless as to shave your head in the first place for such a good cause.

    • So true about the security blanket. When I feel like my face is gross (whether it’s broken out, or I’m not feeling well and I’m all pasty and pale) my go to is hiding behind my hair. Take that away? I’d be feeling very vulnerable.

  • The fact that you had to deal with real fear and insecurity, but did it anyway makes you even more of a badass than I originally assumed.

    I’m agast that someone would yell “where’s your hair?” at you on the subway. Seriously? Who raised that guy?

    • That baffled me, too! A friend of mine shaved her head to raise money for cancer a year and a half ago, and she said mostly people assumed she was battling cancer and she would have to correct them. With that in mind, I’m especially horrified that someone would feel a need to shout at you about it (what if you were bald because of cancer treatment?!?!).

      But, yes. You are the ULTIMATE badass. You knew it was the right thing to do, so you did it even though it scared you. So awesome!

    • Granola

      Since she mentioned the guy was on the subway, I just wrote him off as perhaps homeless or mentally ill? Still bad manners, but maybe less egregious?

      • Liz

        Honestly, I’m willing to expect almost anything when on the subway.

      • That’s a very good point.

  • Thank you for being honest about basic things that we all have, such as vanity, and a desire to look good. I could never do this (I get the naked thing all too well, I feel naked even when I have my hair up in a ponytail), so huge, huge points on the bravery factor. And good for you for wearing the bald proudly and raising awareness, I’d likely slap on a wig or a scarf.

    There is a woman at my gym who takes a lot of the same classes that I take. She’s bald, and I initially thought it was chemo-related, but she seems healthy, never misses a class, and it has been over two years since I met her. I now realize it is probably something else, such as alopecia, but I’ve never asked because I don’t want to be rude. She does wear a scarf at the gym, and for all I know she wears a wig when she’s not sweating it out, but at this point I don’t even notice the no hair–I’m too busy being impressed by the amount of weight she can squat. I’m sure that when people talk to you and hear your story that the bald-thing vanishes for a similar reason–they’re super impressed by your decision, and your commitment to raising awareness.

  • Cherry

    Kudos to Liz!

    I prefer to look for charities that are targeted to helping youth instead of adults. Here’s one for children with cancer:

  • carrie

    You are awesome, lady. Like the other commenters, the honesty in what you felt/are feeling is amazing. but even more amazing is the cancer survivor story.

    You are beautiful. Naked head and all. :-)

  • Thank you for your honesty, vulnerability & giving us an idea of how it feels to be bald for those who have no choice. Just reading about your moment with the cancer survivor brought on the tears. &, for what it’s worth, I think you look beautiful!

  • ItsyBitsy

    I don’t have anything productive to say, just that you rock. Virtual high-fives.

  • Love this. Love love LOVE. Liz rocks my face off!

    And I cannot wait to see the pictures this afternoon!!!

  • I had cancer last year and lost my hair, so I can relate to all of these sentiments. It sucks to be bald. While some women find it liberating, it’s not inherently sexy or empowering when you didn’t choose it, and (as the author points out) it’s not necessarily awesome even if you did choose it. Femininity and self confidence shouldn’t be tied to your haircut, but frankly, losing my hair made me feel like an alien– an exposed, hairless alien. I’m lucky enough to have gotten through treatment and have a hipster pixie cut to show for it now– but really, for me the short hair in the mirror is just a daily reminder that cancer can happen at any time to anyone. Be thankful for your hair and your health, if you’re lucky enough to have either.

  • Kate

    I was lucky enough to do Girls State in high school, and one of the things I’ll never forget about it is a chant we did frequently: “We are proud of you! *Clap* Say, we are proud of you!” It doesn’t sound like much but it was quite something to hear 400 girls leap to their feet and chant it. Right now I’m imagining all the APW readers leaping to their feet and shouting it in unison for Liz. We are proud of you! Say, we are proud of you!

  • What a fantastic project and what a fantastic post! Kudos for Liz for going so far out of her comfort zone and for being honest about the really tough parts of her experience.

    I’ve gone from a pixie cut to bald, twice. Both of my own accord (which is so very different from when you have no choice). The first time was a buzz cut and the second time I used a Bic razor. Both times were exercises in seeing just how tied up my self-worth was in my physical appearance.

    I am surprised that Liz has received so much feed-back from strangers on the street. I didn’t receive much, except for one seller at a Farmer’s Market who asked if I had cancer. She was a cancer survivor and was embarrassed when I said no. I wish I had been able to tell her I had shaved my head to raise money for cancer.

    My hair is the longest it’s been in 19 years and I’ve been planning on donating it. Liz, you have totally inspired to participate in St. Baldrick’s next year. Thanks so much for sharing your story and exposing so many people to St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s terrific work. Great job APW!

  • Oh, Liz. You’re my hero.

    But you already knew that.


  • April

    Liz is the awesome. Truly. And I’m really glad to see this candid, honest post about how she felt about the “cutting of the hair” experience and also that she freely admits she hates being bald. Not that I expected her to love it – the point of what she did was to donate all her hair and that she did!

    Even with all of the support and kudos and the result her amazing, selfless and generous act will bring, at the end of the day – NO HAIR. That’s got to be tough. As well as dealing with random comments from strangers (BTW: I still cannot fathom how people call you out about your bald head – so insensitive. Were they raised by hyenas?!?!)

    It would be interesting to hear how her husband feels about HIS bald head. For guys, it seems like no-big-deal to be bald (since the majority of them have short hair anyway, and bald men are just a lot more common than bald women).

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