Difficult memories: Letting go of the grief of hair loss

Here’s possibly the most difficult blog I’ve ever written. It’s the story of my hair loss, from my own very biased personal side of things.

I bet you can count all the bald women you’ve ever met on one hand. Let me add a number to that: I’m now one of them. Here’s possibly the most difficult blog I’ve ever written. It’s the story of my hair loss, from my own very biased personal side of things.

If you are losing your hair (I don’t care what gender you are), or have lost it, maybe you’ll get something from my story. And if you have questions after you finish reading it, please leave a comment!

So, first things first. If you know me in real life, or you follow me in any of my social feeds or professional contexts, then right now you’re wondering what the fuck? I’ll give you a second to deal with the disclosure that I have a bald head.

[Waiting, waiting…]

Over it now? Righto, let’s move on. A few things first: Yes, I have a bald head. Yes, I shave what’s left of my hair. No, I’m not sick.

This is an important point, one that bears repetition. I am not sick. I do not have a hormonal imbalance. I do not have a malfunctioning body of any kind. It’s just who I am.

There is a lesson here for those of you who are in the beauty industry: Every time you comment on someone who has more or less hair than where you think they ought, keep your opinions about homonal imbalances to your fucking self. You don’t have any kind of medical training. And 99.9% of the time, you’re wrong.

Hurts, huh.

Ok, so let’s see where we are. I have a bald head. I am not sick.

When I first started to lose my hair, I was 17 and in my final year of high school in rural Victoria. And before I lost it, I had seriously magnificent hair. I was going to put in a photograph of that here, but I decided once I’d finished writing it that it’s not helpful. Trust me, it was beautiful.

Growing up, adults would swoon over my hair. It was fine and silky and the most gorgeous red.

I hated it. Every time they complimented me on my hair, it made me sulk. I was teased, irrepressibly, ever since I can remember. I was teased about it by my uncles, my cousins, my cousins’ grandparents. I was teased about it at primary school.

And every time I was teased, I wished – fervently – that it would all fall out. That I didn’t have any hair because fuck them.

So, uh, be careful what you wish for.

In any case, so I had beautiful, long hair. I used to love how it felt to brush it. I loved doing my hair. I was very girly about doing my hair. And the one year I had it all cut off, and permed gently so it fell in curls, I felt like I looked a million bucks. I probably did. When I was 16, I had dreams of colouring it the brightest red I could find.

But before I could do it, it started to disappear. I don’t like to say ‘fall out’ because it seems like the falling out is something you should notice. I didn’t, really. I just wasn’t there as much any more.

Now, around this time I got into a relationship that turned into a total codependent, frightful mess. I was actually an emotional wreck. This was partly because I was nuts, partly because my family didn’t understand me (hey put the violins on, someone, yeah?), partly because I felt like I didn’t have any friends, partly because I was a dick, partly because I knew life was going to go sideways real soon. In fact, prior to getting into this relationship I was a confident little upstart. Just goes to show that poison shows itself immediately, huh?

That relationship lasted way longer than it should have. And if my ex reads this, he will agree with me that we should have just called it quits, like, six weeks in. Or a year at most. And certainly in the first two years. It was the most toxic thing, ever. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I wouldn’t mind betting that we were both much damaged by its early days.

And this would be by-the-bye if it didn’t have a startling little piece of impact. I spent so much time being so goddamned emotionally drained and upset for no good reason that I did, for a while, indulge myself by pulling my beautiful hair out.

Don’t ask me why I did this. It’s the stupidest shit, and beyond the activity resulting in a feeling like the fact that damaging my most beautiful asset ‘proves’ to someone else that I was struggling, your guess is as good as mine. Also, hate to admit it, it felt better than my imaginary emotional pain.

Now, as a grown woman, all I can think is urgh you self-indulgent, annoying pathetic thing. But hey, the truth is the truth. Even if we dislike it.

So, no doubt, I did directly damage my hair follicles. Irreparably, no doubt.

At the time, I was in rural Victoria. I was 3.5 hours from Melbourne, 6 from Adelaide, 3 from Geelong. It is not regional, it is rural. My family believed that I was just ‘stressed’ and never once offered to help. Quite probably they just thought that once Year 12 was over it would all come good. And also, most likely, they were sick of my shit. We had become so fragmented that it’s hard to say. All I know is, my sister (who was 14 or 15 at the time) called me Leukaemia instead of Leticia, and that I was dealing with this stuff effectively alone.

Nobody offered to take me to a GP to see what could be done. Nobody offered to find something to hide the hair loss. Nobody offered me any support. And that is not necessarily their fault, I want to point out. It’s not a common thing, for a young woman to lose her hair. Probably they were worried sick about me but didn’t know whether I’d even accept help. And to be fair, I may have just fought them over it.

So, while I resented for a very, very long time that nobody offered to help me, the truth is that I don’t know how well the proffered help would have gone down. Knowing me, probably not well.

When I did eventually go to a GP and out my bald head and request a health check, his response made me laugh.

‘Sorry mate. You’re perfectly healthy. You’ve just got shit genes.’

At least it put to rest everybody’s endless speculation about hormones. Oh your hair fell out, it must be hormonal. Nope, it’s genetic.

The hair loss was something I tried to hide for a long time, and in the early days was reasonably successful. I could still tie my hair on top of my head (bingo, no bald spot). I could sweep it over, braid it, whatever.

But gradually, it got worse.

Throughout my 20s it got progressively worse. From age 17 until about age 25 or 26, that gigantic bald patch with its shitty skullet was my thing. This meant: University, going bald. Applying for jobs, going bald. People trying not to look at me weirdly. And to their credit, the majority of people didn’t broach the topic.

For a long time, I figured that there was nothing I could do about it. I was proud of it, even. I made a decision that if a balding woman goes boldly forth, nobody can say a fucking thing. And nobody did.

Until eventually, said ex suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to find out if it could be covered. His argument (rightly) was that it would do amazing things for my self-esteem, and to at least go and see what’s out there. For a while, I resented the idea that what a person looks like has anything to do with life. But you know, what? That’s bullshit bravado.

After a lot of research, and some chatting with some nice ladies in a Look Good, Feel Great program (who were hairdressers and deal mostly with cancer patients, for whom I have very little sympathy in regard to hair loss. Yours will grow back, deal with it!), I ended up with a very heavy top piece.

It wasn’t quite right, and I spent my time terrified that it would fall off, shift, get blown backwards, or otherwise turn into a disaster. But it didn’t. And, gradually, I gained more experience with fibre, wear, construction, and care.

The first time I went out with my hair on, people were a lot warmer towards me. And I realised, after people made vague comments about me dying my hair, that people are intrinsically unobservant. Tons of people had no idea. They just knew that I looked amazing for some reason.

Like, wow. Humanity, you amaze me.

For a long time, I kept my skullet and wore top pieces that clip in. My favourites were made by Noriko, who, I maintain to this day, make the best wigs and hair pieces in the world. The BEST. Hands down. No competition. The problem is that they discontinued the beautiful reds that I loved and wore constantly.

But eventually, the top pieces didn’t do it any more. The problem with toppers is that because they clip in, you either have to be careful how much you wear them, or move the clips occasionally, preferably both. Otherwise, they pull your hair out.

I failed to do both. And as a result I have two or three smooth-as-a-baby’s-bum patches on my head where my topper used to clip in. Nothing will grow there. It’s like nothing ever did.

So, y’know, listen to the cats who tell you not to sleep in your clip-in toppers, and to move the clips. They say it for a reason.

And then eventually, with the baldness getting worse, and the clips having nothing to clip to, and the colours being discontinued (I’m still sad at Noriko about that), the toppers didn’t do it any more. It was around this time that my (then fiancee, a different guy) suggested I should just shave it all off. His argument (rightly) was that it looked like shit, I’d feel better without it, and fuck it who really cares.

So, one day, I did. I went out and bought a clipper, and I stood in my bathroom and I shaved off every last bit of it.

It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I laughed while I did it. I felt uncontrollably happy that I had removed this hair that I no longer identified with, and that had caused me a whole lot of pain. And from that point forwards, I wore full wigs.

That has been a gigantic journey in and of itself. I’ve learned that wefted wigs are itchy to wear. That hand-tied, all-over monofilament lace wigs are beautiful and look realistic, and cost about $700 Australian every time you buy one. I’ve learned that people in wig shops are hairdressers with no experience of wearing wigs, and so their advice – at best – is about 25% good. I’ve learned that importing from overseas is cheaper than buying locally. I’ve learned that lace front wigs by Jon Renau are hands-down the most comfortable wigs I’ve ever worn, and the most beautiful.

And I’ve learned that I want nothing more than never to wear one ever again.

Today, I went for a long walk up a tall hill in the morning sunlight, with my head uncovered for the first time in over 12 years. And for the first time in public with my bald head out. First time in public. I only just outed my bald head to my friends on Instagram on my birthday this year, so it’s still a big deal for me.

These days I actually look like a Buddhist monk. I have a fabulous photo of myself meditating in a wrap. Such a monk.

Walking up that hill, bald head out, was the most liberating thing. The track isn’t a quiet track, either. I passed probably five people on the way up, and at least that number coming down. The older ladies couldn’t contain their horror when I greeted them; the younger ones smiled and then looked away immediately.

Don’t look at the bald woman oh my god it’s a bald woman.

And when I was two-thirds of the way up the hill, I started to cry. As the tears mingled with the sweat on my face and rolled down my cheeks, I suddenly realised that I had never grieved for the loss of my hair. I had never allowed myself really to feel it. I thought I had. I wrote to myself about it a lot, and had some kind of intellectual understanding that I was ‘over it’.

But I wasn’t.

The walk was sparked by the fact that I’ve had a phenomenally stressful few days. I’m in a place with my company where I feel solid about it except for a gigantic swing in focus that could quite literally break it. I’ve been dealing with people who refuse to pay, people who want to pay me for things I can’t help them with, and a whole lot of work that I’m battling internally because it’s not what I want to be doing. It pays the bills, but it’s not my thing. And then my husband got really upset with my frustration at his negativity and ranted about how depressed he actually is. And I felt like the biggest cunt in the world.

And my meditations lately have been focusing on compassion. It’s like every opportunity to test my compassion has hit me in the face all at once. It’s difficult to be grateful for it, even if you know, intellectually, you ought to be.

So, there was I was, walking. In the sun. Bald head to the sky. Weeping with the overflow of grief that I hadn’t let go since … well, ever. Between the first peak of the hill and the bench that is a few hundred metres further down the track in the ‘reserve’ area, I understood why most of my recent worries don’t matter.

I am alive. The ground was damp and beautiful. The sky was blue. The sun was warm. The birds were doing their thing, like they were hundreds of years before I was here, and will be doing hundreds of years after I’m gone. Looking out over the city, filled with the bustle and rush of the noisy, daily city life, it dawned on me that technology doesn’t matter. That our daily lives are false representations of a life. That we are all face-down, working on things that have actually no bearing on the greater concept of life. We work to make other businesses work. And work is a false construction, one that stops us from being us, from evolving, from learning about what life really is. I realised with a visceral, intense clarity that, if tomorrow I didn’t exist, my so-called ‘struggle’ would be but the finest blip in time. All the issues I have about not being able to have my bald head out in case other people freak out don’t matter. All my business concerns, in the scheme of things, don’t matter. A job is a job, and given that work as we know it is a false construct, the meaning we ascribe to it is way out of proportion with its importance.

So I sat on the bench (after the wind didn’t want to play with my kite), and did nothing. For about two hours.

By the time I came down again, I felt much more complete. Still sad. I have a lingering sadness. I sat on a rock on the way down and it took me a while to identify my feeling as sadness. The difference is that this time it is a necessary sadness, the tail-end of 20 years of hiding my grief, and it isn’t a self-indulgent angst arising from some unidentifiable thing.

Today I found that thing, and I started to let it go.

8 thoughts on “Difficult memories: Letting go of the grief of hair loss

    1. Wow, thanks Janiece, that means a lot to me that you thought it was amazing. Really appreciate you taking the time to comment. x

  1. Wow.

    Not really sure what to say, except thank you for sharing, and that grief can be so refreshing and cleansing, as well as extremely painful. Grief brings clarity, I often find. That is insanely gutsy. I know a little what it’s like to be angry at your body. So much of this – particularly the last part – feels familiar. Your husband is spot on, fuck it who really cares. My husband says the same thing to me a lot, and I think we find we do a lot better to adopt a bit of that attitude πŸ™‚

    (Loving these essays, btw).

    1. Yeah, you know Steff I thought of you when I wrote this. πŸ™‚ I’m glad your other half says that to you too! I think women can learn a lot from their men tbh. πŸ™‚

      Also, SO happy you’re loving my essays. ^_^ That made my day. xx

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