I had my head shaved two months ago after my first chemo treatment. Anticipating all kinds of horrifying ego pain…and excruciating first glances in the mirror…and traumatizing my dear ones by the reveal of my naked head… l am shockingly, weirdly, gratefully at peace with it. In a making lemonade out of lemons moment, I am free for the first time in memory of being at the mercy of a bad hair day equaling a bad day.
When we characterize someone, we list their height, their weight…and describe their hair. From Lady Godiva to Rapunzel to Jennifer Aniston, beautiful hair has identified and empowered the most beautiful among us. The state of my (never ever achieved) crowning glory contributed beyond reason to how confident I felt at any given moment. A bad haircut could be ego deflating for weeks. We blow, curl, straighten and manipulate each strand, and rarely, even after a hard-to-justify amount of time and money, are we satisfied.
My mother’s generation relied on weekly visits for shampoos and sets, sitting with huge rollers under space helmet hairdryers, bouffants hair-sprayed into frozen submission. My mom tried her best with my super fine, stick straight hair but dozens of childhood photos reveal that practice doesn’t always approach perfect… pulled too tight ponytails and my way too short bangs slanting upward toward my right ear, the proof. My photo albums include loads of photos Susan, my friend of half a century. I spent decades with basically the same bangs and nondescript straight shoulder length hair, perpetually three weeks past due of a haircut. Susan, on the other hand, teased and pixied and flipped and shagged and wedged and permed and colored her hair with spectacular results hundreds of times.
I worried most about my hair in the 80s. I remember waiting six weeks for a haircut appointment with Cesare, the always hour and a half late Warren Beatty look alike. His scissors were the quickest way to validate my self worth after moving to an upscale new suburban community. During those years, other people’s words determined how comfortable I was with who I was. Once I settled in and went back to work I could hardly believe the price I paid for those haircuts…and how willing I was to waste all that time. The state of my hair, while still important, took a decidedly lower billing to a more authenic self awareness.
But now after chemo, I feared that going without one single strand of our most observed body part would leave me looking ill, feeling disfigured. George, my beloved haircutter for 25 years came to my backyard and shaved my head. He talked the whole time about how we’re going to style my hair when it grew back in… how there was no telling whether it would be thicker or curlier and a whole different ball game. When he was done, he said I looked like Amber Rose, I think it was the most complimentary reference he could make. That such dark circumstances would bring that comparison to mind…. the racy platinum buzzed cut 37-year-old ex-wife of Kanye West… still makes me smile. While I do miss twirling my hair while reading, I’m also learning to enjoy when the water hits my head in the shower, what Tiffany Haddish described as “feeling like kisses from God.”
To make things easier for me, one daughter sewed a downward arrow onto the Velcro band that anchors the wig I have yet to wear. A pandemic takes away most of the reasons for putting one on. My other daughter bought me ten beyond fabulous turbans which determine the outfit I choose for the day. Honestly 90% of the time it’s problem solved. It’s also helpful that I’ve never been on intimate terms with the mirror. My friends will attest to the truth of that fact, verified by the number of times they’ve flagged lipstick on my teeth, toothpaste on my sweater, and a few days grit on my eyeglasses.
Mindy Kaling spoke recently of her daughter taking part in a Hindu ceremony called chuda karana where her head was shaved to signify freedom from past lives, enabling her to move less uncumbered into the future. I like that. My body is the boss of me for a few days every few weeks during these hairy times. The rest of the time the stuff that matters rules.