Friends of the interwebs! I have something to share with you. I can probably count on two hands the number of people who know this about me, but I feel ready to give it the full light it deserves. The following feels like a personal release and a deepening into that vulnerable place of Beingness in which I love All of me (and all of you), that space from which we are challenged to dissociate from our shame and simply show up. Fully. As we came. As we are now.
Well, here goes…
I have been dealing with the effects of Alopecia (ie, hair loss) since I was 11 years old. The cause is unknown – possibly genetic, or maybe some kind of environmental autoimmune trigger – as Alopecia is rather mysterious in this way.
If this news seems anticlimactic to you, allow me to elaborate because sharing this publicly is actually a BIG deal for me. We are talking layers of shame being shed right now.
Recall, if you will, entering middle school. You were likely navigating everything from rigorous school work to your first kiss, with the volatile effects of puberty and mass media influencing you at every turn. In a frenzy of exploring independence as well as the notion of belonging (not to be confused with Belonging), you became increasingly aware of your body – because it was changing so rapidly – and started to explore those budding feelings of attraction. You were, perhaps, excited to “try on” different identities by altering your appearance, from your clothing to school gear to hair.
WHAT IT FELT LIKE AS A YOUNG PERSON TO BE LOSING HAIR.
Oh my god, it’s falling out in clumps.
I was in 7th grade.
Doctors’ visits followed with treatments ranging from steroid creams to supplements. Nothing I tried seemed to make a difference.
I woke every morning to style my hair for the sole purpose of concealing my bald spot, anxious as to whether it would grow back, or worsen. I tried not to fixate on the situation, but always felt like my inability to experiment with different hair styles kept me looking like a little kid in a sea of blossoming teenagers.
I never lost all of my hair. In the first year of high school I was actually able to wear it styled down (it was such a deep longing of mine, to “let my hair down”), but was incredibly conscious of my ever-thinning patches of hair on the crown of my head, so that didn’t last. My hair loss continued to worsen and it wasn’t long before I resorted to one hair style and one hair style alone: the ol’ “half-up, half-down.” This happened to be the same style I wore growing up in elementary school, which intensified my feelings of being underdeveloped in the presence of my peers. See, I was small for my age, slow to develop and, in my eyes at the time, my hair situation was the icing on the cake of childishness, to the extent that I was still getting asked if I wanted a kids‘ menu at the age of 16. (The horror.)
By the end of high school, my hair loss had seemed to calm down. I still had to conceal the areas that never grew back, but what remained was full and relatively healthy. By the time I entered college, I cared less about my hair because I experienced a pretty powerful shift in moving from my small-town existence to the openness of city like Seattle. I made friends so much easier, as everyone seemed more accepting, but for the first year I found dorm living challenging in the sense that my hair loss made me feel a continual discomfort when using the communal bathrooms and sharing a bedroom with two others. I never talked about it, and did my best to hurriedly conceal what I needed to conceal before moving on with my days. Not the best feeling.
Part of the doctor’s recommendation when I was younger and first experiencing hair loss was to “wait it out” and see what happens… great. I got really tired of that option, especially because, in the years that followed college, I was doing more and more soul searching – and soul baring – and I wanted to allow for real, honest connections with everyone in my life, and everyone I had yet to meet. In order to do this, I knew that I needed to look at some practical solutions for my hair loss. And that meant that I had to fully accept that this was a reality in my life, and that I was ready to embrace it and truly make the best of it. I had to find something to help me SHINE through it.
MY PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS
Can you believe that it took me 14 years to seek out solutions to help me find peace with my situation? I have no idea why I waited so long. Oh wait… actually, yes I do. It takes a great deal of time to break through that much shame, even if a good portion of said shame was never truly mine but rather superimposed thoughts from outside influence. If you ever have to deal with anything like this, don’t wait to make peace. As I have learned in just the past two years, there are some awesome options out there that will ease your mind and help illuminate that beautiful smile of yours.
The things I’ve tried:
SOLUTION #1: Clip-In Hairpiece
In the Summer of 2011, I took a small group of my dance students to train in NY. a couple months prior, I happened to do a google search for hair loss solutions. Part of me thought a wig was overkill since I still had a good deal of my own hair, and it sounded kind of scary, somehow (leftover shame, to be sure), One of the first sites that came up in my search was a salon in the heart of downtown Manhattan. Their website advertised hairpieces and wigs, even calling them “medical hair prostheses” for people whose conditions were of medical nature. Once I booked my trip to NY with my students, I called and setup a consultation with this salon. Less than a week later, I ended up leaving NYC with an unbelievable custom-made hairpiece in which each hair was hand-sewn to match my hair color to perfection (this came at a price, of course, for which I was I graciously given an immediate loan from a relative whom I paid back a month later in proceeds garnered by leading a summer dance choreography residency. Whew!).
How long did I use this hairpiece?
- one year and two months.
Why did I stop?
- A couple reasons: my hair is naturally curly and so it was a 3-hour process of steaming/curling/blow drying the hairpiece in order for the textures to match. I didn’t want to be that high maintenance, though thankfully I only endured that styling time about once a week. Also, because I had to style it so much and because I am so active, I used up the life of the hairpiece relatively quickly. Also, as careful as I tried to be clipping it into my own hair each day, it did end up pulling out some additional hair of mine over time, which could be because I was so active, and also because of the length/weight of my hair.
Would I recommend this option?
- YES! It felt SO incredible to finally have stumbled across my first solution. I felt more free, more Me, in the presence of others because I was able to drop so much of my hyper awareness about my hair’s appearance. For the right person and the right hair type, I think hairpieces can be a brilliant option. I would very highly recommend where i went in NY: Joseph Paris Salon. Their attention to detail, quality, and stellar service made me feel taken care of. They even went the extra mile to help me try and get my hairpiece covered by my insurance company. (Which didn’t work, unfortunately, to no fault of theirs.)
SOLUTION #2: A full wig
Dun dun dun… when I knew the hairpiece was reaching its end, I took a deep breath and decided it was time to figure out what was next for me. After having worn the hairpiece for a year, I didn’t feel like I would be able to go without it anymore, or without some type of solution. So, I found a place called Hair Options in Seattle. Again, I went in for a consultation to ask the shop owner, Darla, what were my, umm, options. A full wig was on my mind but I didn’t know what wearing one would mean. So many questions: would I have to shave my hair, how would it adhere to my head, would it be noticeably fake? And then just like that, during my consultation Darla simply put a wig cap over my own hair, slipped on some wigs for me to look at styles, and when I found one I liked, stuck in a couple bobby pins and BAM! That thing was secure. Huh. Who would have thought? Okay, and I have to say, trying on wigs was SO much fun! I tried on one that made me look like my grandma, one that made me look like a pageant queen with sweeping blonde locks down to my mid-back, and more. The last one I tried on was “the one”- the second she put it on me, I didn’t assess the color or the cut. Instead, I looked in the mirror and instantly saw ME. What?! I don’t think I had ever noticed my own eyes sparkle so much. Needless to say, that wig came home with me out of the shop that day. On my head. Darla helped me find comfort in wearing a wig and realize that there is nothing to be ashamed of for doing so. In fact, I felt SO great about my newfound Me-ness around others that I was actually excited to share with people close to me what was the cause of my cool new ‘do. (Nope, not a killer cut and relaxer. Guess again!)
How long did it last?
- I used this wig for one year. In terms of durability, it definitely could have lasted longer, but as you’ll see below, I simply decided to change my style.
What about my high level of activity?
- Just before acquiring this wig, I became really interested in hot yoga. Well, this was a synthetic hair wig and would get damaged in high heat. Rats. Well, not to worry. My solution was as such: I ended up, over the course of a couple months, purchasing two more of the exact same wig style. One of them became my hot yoga/workout hair. I never wore this wig down, always back in a headband and ponytail. I rotated the other two as my “hair down” style for daily wear. I had two so that I could send one to Darla to be washed but still have one to wear while I waited to pick up the other.
SOLUTION #3: Full wig, style number two
I recently accepted a job dancing full-time for a professional company in Austin, Texas. Towards the end of this past summer, I began thinking about how a shorter hairstyle might be better suited for how much more active I would soon be, as well as the hot weather in Texas. I liked the thought of not necessarily needing 3 wigs for different purposes, and instead that I might be able to find one to wear for all activities (and I was only going to be doing non-hot yoga in Austin, so no added heat intensity to address).
So I found this stellar bob. And I love it!
How long did it last?
- Okay, so I ‘m still wearing this style right now. It has been three months but let me be honest. With how much dancing/yoga/working out (ie, sweating) I’m doing, I really put this wig through a lot. I wore it out very fast and just purchased a new one this week. I will keep my old one around for any intense athletic days, or if I jump into hot yoga anytime in the coming year.
MY COPING MECHANISMS
I loved middle school, a quirky little charter school that emphasized music and science. There, I had some really stellar friends who I felt did appreciate and accept all of me. The high school I attended was huge compared to that intimate schooling experience, so to make it through these years I sculpted a comfortable little personal bubble and then largely kept to myself. It was beautiful in the sense that I ended up turning inward and staying in touch with all the awesome things about myself. I just didn’t know how to share that with many peers because I thought they wouldn’t be able to see past my physical differences, maybe even be disgusted if they knew more. It was such an age to be obsessed with appearance, especially, I felt, in our small town in which my peers seemed to follow every suggestion or fad the media threw at them. I couldn’t fit the mold if I wanted to, so I didn’t waste my energy trying.
And it is said that how we respond to everything in our lives is a choice. I can vouch for that. It is true. This is always in our power, no matter what. I aim to stay on the high ground as far as positivity is concerned. If you’ve been connected with me for a while, or read some of my other posts and it seems like I see the world through rose-colored glasses, I will tell you, “HELL YES, I do!!! And I chose them.” Does that mean I don’t get very sad about the horrendous inequities in our world, and just turn a blind eye? Absolutely not. I feel all suffering deep in my core. But, that is all the more reason to pull out those rosy shades and work on living in my joy each and every day, to the best of my ability. I can only truly change me, and hope that it can inspire others to do the same in their lives.
My biggest guides and healers?
Dance and music.
It is why I am the artist I am today. Because through these channels I found a place to express myself in ways that I didn’t feel safe communicating verbally. As a teenager I didn’t have enough common ground with my peers, I didn’t fit in anywhere. But dance-music taught me that I can’t not fit into the grand scheme of things. And so I would escape and feel my heart soar, my whole body and mind free every time I laced up my tap shoes. What power. What healing. Music is VITAL to a joyous life. Play. I learned this early. I am so grateful.
OUR CONDITIONING, OUR NATURE
In a great way, my experience with hair loss has definitely given me a “nothing is as it seems” perspective on life and peoples’ appearances. Interesting how we adorn our facades (faces) when we can only ever see them ourselves if we look in a reflection. Have you ever thought about that? And do we really see what we are when we look in a mirror, or is it entirely a projection of our thoughts about who we are? What if mirrors didn’t exist? Would we still take such care to embellish ourselves for others? And if so, would we really find satisfaction in doing so, would we actually feel better about ourselves (whatever that means)? How much of this drive is natural and biological (attracting a mate) and how much is a conditioned dis-ease of media (of which we are all players and contributors)?
Isn’t it crazy how strong is the desire is to express identity through alterations of our physique? This is, of course, very pronounced in our teenage years, but realistically, even in our adult years we are acting on thoughts related to this desire every single day of our lives.
When I think about that, and then interject the experience of hair loss, it is no wonder there is so much shame surrounding the topic for women, especially, but definitely men too. I think women’s hair loss is actually much more prevalent than is being talked about because in the media femininity is defined almost exclusively through physical caricatures in which, well, hair is EVERYTHING. Hair is beauty, power, sex appeal, you name it. For a woman dealing with hair loss, the media consumes her with feelings of worthlessness, shame, and fear of being ostracized.
For these reasons, I have found the wearing of a wig to be my preferred solution. It allows me to consciously “play the game” in a sea of people (myself included) who discern so much about other people based on appearance. I have thought long and hard about why I finally felt like I could see “me” in the mirror once I found a wig that seemed to match up with me… was it because there was a stylishness to it that made me feel normal? Aren’t I still concealing what’s actually going on for me? Is that a bad thing? I wondered what made me feel such a drastic relaxation around other people thereafter. Is a new level of connection and acceptance really all in my head? Am I just allowing for these deeper relationships to develop because I’m happier in my own skin – with something that is, in and of itself, an adornment? What.The.Hell? But then again, let’s say I were to choose to simply shave my head instead of adding fake, stylish hair on top of my own. Could I be comfortable as a woman with a shaved head? What preconceived ideas would pop into the minds of others upon first glance of me? Would they treat me differently? Would I be seen as an outsider? Or, if I were bold and confident enough to really “rock” a bald head, would other people be comfortable with it, too? Or would that be insincere if I ended up putting on a persona of “yeah, look how cool and collected I am as a woman with a bald head.” But then there’s the fact that my profession as a performing artist involves being in the public eye. So maybe that intensifies my contemplations here…
….I think a lot. Hmm, and you know what? I’m not saying this bald option will never happen. Maybe I’ll get more adventurous in years to come, or maybe it will be as simple as getting tired of wearing wigs and the upkeep involved. Who knows, but I can definitely say that I am excited and infinitely more relaxed about my journey ahead. And this blog post helps tremendously.
I am thankful for everyone in my life, past and present, who loves me for me.
My family, thank you for your guidance, love, and obnoxious overprotection. I know you were as scared as I was trying not to be and I thank you for keeping me safe even though I found it ridiculously annoying of you. (Ha!) We can all let go now. I “turned out fine”. More than fine, in fact. I know my strength, immeasurable Love, and calling to produce meaningful creative change in this world.
Friends, thank you for your inspiration, laughs, support, and for sticking with me.
My Loves, thank you for your desire to share such intimate space with me – these moments have been some of the most healing, soul-stirring, and rejuvenating experiences of my life through which I have felt completely accepted, honored, and empowered to be more fully and unapologetically me with everyone I meet.
On this 3rd day of 2014, I want to wish you all the best in health and happiness. May we all have the courage to be vulnerable with one another and to share, not hide, our struggles. Let them Be Light. We’re in this together.
Peace and blessings,