This is a guest post. Sarah is a first-year graduate student, getting her PhD in philosophy. She and I have been writing back and forth for around a year now. When she talked with me about her hair, I begged her to write a guest post for me. Here it is (begging works). She is awesome:
I am bald, I am 22, and I am female. Sometimes I think that this is an unfortunate combination of traits; but other times, I feel differently.
To make a very long and painful story rather shorter: I had just turned fourteen when my hair began to fall out. It was the beginning of eighth grade. It started innocently enough with a few extra strands left behind in my comb after I showered. At first, I thought nothing of it, but it quickly became very apparent that what was happening was something I needed to think seriously about. Because it was all gone before I turned fifteen.
The year my hair fell out was the worst year of my life. Maybe this is biased, but I contend that eighth graders are the cruelest creatures to inhabit that awkward chunk of life known as ‘adolescence’. To be fair, it’s a tough time for everyone. We want people to acknowledge that we exist, but not as much as we want to blend inconspicuously into the background. To say that it is difficult for a rapidly balding female to go unnoticed in this environment is a laughable understatement. My middle school morphed into a freak-show and I was the main attraction. My classmates pointed and sneered and snickered and laughed; I tried my hardest to escape their piercing stares, but found myself trapped in a nightmare that had become my life.
To be honest, I would rather not focus on how terrible that year was or the hair loss itself. This is partially because even now, nine years later, it still hurts to think about, and partially because the event itself is far less significant than its consequences. This is horrifying, but I simply stopped feeling someone who deserved anything at all. My sophomore year of high school, I stopped eating and lost sixty pounds in less than seven months. Somehow things got better by the end of high school, only to plummet back down in college: by my junior year, my 5’10’’ frame weighed just 114 pounds.
On a good day, I feel beautiful *almost* because of my bald head. I leave my hairpiece (which my boyfriend so lovingly christened my ‘hat’) on its stand and stay inside. I shave my head as close as I can; I paint my lips dark red and put on my favorite scarf; I stare at myself in the mirror and feel shockingly feminine.
But on a bad day, things are much more complicated. I shower in the dark; I can barely meet my own gaze in the mirror; I refuse to recognize myself as a person.
To be a person is to be the originator of one’s own behavior, to be the driver rather than the passenger, to be the director rather than the directed: ultimately to be a person is to be autonomous. But this description is deceiving because it makes our aspiration to recognize ourselves as people look easy. It isn’t always. Even if we bracket philosophical considerations about freewill, the difficulty remains, because little things happen every day that challenge our ability to act autonomously. For example, when I lost my hair, I lost my position behind the driver’s seat, and by extension, my ability to recognize myself as a source of value. Yet the fact that we cannot control the things that happen to us doesn’t mean that we cannot control how we choose to respond to those things. We cannot help but live in a world that presents us with such challenges on a daily basis, but our ability to self-reflect allows us to reclaim what we thought was lost.
The truth is that I am not sure precisely why I wake up each and every day more okay with myself, bald head and all. Part of it is most certainly growing up and realizing that of all the horrible things to lose, hair really ain’t so bad. Part of it is finding my niche in academia and losing myself in philosophy. Part of it is falling deeply and entirely in love with a wonderful guy who shaves my head for me and finds me most beautiful hatless and hairless. And slowly but surely, I am beginning to recognize myself once again as deserving, as a source of value, as a person.
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Sarah’s Unroast: today I love how striking my hatless head looks against my black cowl-neck sweater.
Does anyone else have a baldness/hair story to share with Sarah? My hair started falling out just before I’d been diagnosed with sort of serious anemia. The anemia was fine, but the hair loss terrified me. I am still self-conscious about it. Even though I have really short hair now, hair has always seemed like a critical part of being feminine. And having it fall out has felt a little like being sabotaged by fate. Which is part of why I cut my hair off, actually. Because I didn’t want to feel like fate could mess with me as much. I wish hair wasn’t such a cultural requirement. Sarah looks stunning bald. In fact, I’m a little jealous. Bald should be a real option, even if it’s unrelated to a medical condition. It’s definitely good for turtlenecks.