By Amy L. Hatch
In the photograph to the left, I’m wearing a wig.
This picture was taken about six months after I asked my husband to shave my head.
Why? Because the last wisps of hair clinging to my scalp made the fact that I was 90 percent bald even more glaring.
That moment with the razor, in the bathroom of our pre-kids loft apartment, was more intimate than any other I’d experienced before.
I looked at myself in the mirror afterward and cried like a child, the big, ugly cry. The feature that defined me for most of my life was gone, the one aspect of my bodily self that made me feel attractive had been taken from me.
During the six months prior to that evening in the bathroom, I vacuumed up long bunches of my brown hair from the floors each day, pulled wads of it off the agitator in the washer.
I lived with that bald head for a little over a year.
I have an auto-immune disease called alopecia areata, a condition that causes the body to recognize your hair follicles as an enemy force and so, it sheds them. The root (no pun intended) is inflammation. Most people lose just a patch of hair here and there, and it grows back.
I’m an over-achiever, and so I lost nearly all of mine.
The consensus in the medical community, or so I gather, is that auto-immune diseases are triggered by stress, and that makes perfect sense to me.
During the time that my hair fell out I got married, my dad was diagnosed as terminally ill, I found out I was pregnant, my dad died and then, I had a baby.
My hair did grow back, which was fairly unexpected. When alopecia areata causes such a significant loss, generally you either suffer from frequent regrowth and loss, or you just stay bald.
By the time my daughter was a year old I had my old long locks again. I had a brand-new gray streak on the right side of my head, too, but that didn’t bother me a bit.
What I do know is that I learned — the hard way — that appearances really do count. A bald woman wandering around Panera will turn heads, generate sympathetic clucks and, even, sometimes, a giggle.
Hair is part of your identity. It tells a story about who you are. It makes a difference in how you look — and how you feel.
Over the years I’ve had patches of hair loss here and there — again, always during times of high stress. But right now, I’m in remission.
So it seemed like a good time to get rid of all my hair.
When I was bald I spent a lot of time avoiding looking in the mirror. I learned to compartmentalize my face, seeing just my eye as I applied make-up and just my teeth as I checked for debris.
I couldn’t stand the sight of myself, as a whole. After a month of two of regrowth, I still hated that image. I hated the boyish look of my growing-in pixie, I hated the reminder of what had happened and the hint of what could happen again.
Which is why I felt my heart trying to come out of my chest as I strode into the salon and presented my stylist of photo of Emma Watson and said, “I want to cut my hair in a pixie.”
I’m risk-adverse and I don’t love the way my face looks. I’m insecure about my appearance in 100 different ways. I’m insecure, in fact, about most things.
So why did I do it? Why did I make such a drastic change? I’m not totally sure. Maybe I’m having a mid-life crisis. Maybe I wanted to show my daughter that her appearance doesn’t define her. Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I could take a chance and live to tell the tale.
My friends reacted so positively that it knocked me off my feet. Words like “elegant,” “ballsy” and “chic” are tossed at me like giant bouquets. It’s easy to brush the compliments off. It’s harder to actually hear them.
But I’m trying to open my ears a little wider — and trying to decide if I’ll grow my hair back.
After all, it’s just hair … right?