I started to lose my hair in my twenties. I don’t remember exactly when because it’s not something you notice for a while, but I know it was before I turned thirty that I realized that my already baby-fine blonde hair was looking a bit more sparse than usual on top. I asked my doctor about it, but let me tell you something doctors did not care about in the ‘80s was hair loss. The doctor did a thyroid test and when that came out okay it was just blamed on ‘genetics’. I’ve since realized that my hair loss is most likely due to the autoimmune disease that was diagnosed at age five. I tried Rogaine but it didn’t seem to do anything and it made my scalp red and itchy so I stopped. On to the ignoring stage! I was good at that.
It thinned a tiny bit more every year but still very slowly. I started lightening it to make it look thicker, and cut bangs that started further and further back on my head as the years went by. Anyone who has female hair loss knows what I mean—the lady combover. I told myself it would grow back and that it ‘wasn’t that bad’. And maybe it really wasn’t that bad.
Until finally, it was.
I think hair loss is something you can’t fully understand unless it happens to you. There’s something about having a balding head that makes you feel hideous, and nothing anyone says to you helps much. The most well-intentioned attempts at comforting you usually make you feel worse. You never feel pretty, not ever.
Even worse than the dismay you feel when you look in the mirror is the guilt you feel for being so dismayed. So much guilt. I think there are a lot of murderers who haven’t felt this level of guilt. How could you be so loathsome and self-centered? It’s not like you’d be any kind of beauty even if you did have a big old Texas-sized head of hair. Get a grip.
You’re not dying—it’s just hair. Your limbs are not missing or paralyzed—it’s just hair. Your brain is not malfunctioning, you haven’t lost your sight, your hearing, your power of speech—it’s just hair. You have not lost a loved one. Just hair. No biggie.
You find yourself in the horrifying position of being jealous of cancer patients because—if they make it—their hair will grow back. You hate yourself for this more than most people could imagine but you can’t help how you feel. You lecture yourself constantly to suck it up and stop being so shallow. Because. It. Is. Just. Hair.
That doesn’t work. It makes you feel worse.
So on to the poisoning phase. I tried the new, stronger Rogaine for women, which for me was like a rollercoaster that crashed into a wall. Hey look, tiny hairs are growing! Look at all those hairs, they’re an inch long! Wait, they’ve been an inch long for a couple of months now and they’re kind of…clear. And now the sides of my head are almost as bare as the top. Well, darn.
When I stopped the Rogaine even more hair fell out.
So I moved on to hats. I bought a little black bowler and it looked kind of cute with my skinny ponytail hanging out the back. Then I bought a couple of straw porkpies and a fedora. I liked the hats, but the problem is that you always have to be wearing a hat. This is not convenient.
I finally talked myself into going to a wig store. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of a wig because I remembered the wigs my mom wore in the 60s when she didn’t have time to get her hair done. They were like hair-helmets and when I had tried one on I looked like Davy Jones from the Monkees. I’m not going to write about my wig store experience here, I’ll just say it was slightly weird, but I came home almost five hundred bucks poorer with an ash-blonde wig that was a synthetic copy of the bob-with-bangs style I’d worn for years.
I hated it.
When I looked in the mirror I felt like I was auditioning for a low budget high school production of Grease. There was so much hair! When you’re used to looking at a head barely covered with puny strands of corn silk well, that’s going to happen. And it was uncomfortable. The wig cap wouldn’t stay on my head; I felt like it was always on the verge of popping off the top of my head and flying around the room like a deflating balloon. The wig slid up the back of my head and I was so self-conscious whenever I wore it. But I tried a wig grip and some hair clips and that worked a little better. I got a little more used to it. A little. I still wore the hats more than I wore the hair.
A few months later I stumbled on an online wig review. I watched it, then I watched about twelve more in a row. The hair looked so good on real people, I couldn’t believe it. I did some research and finally ordered myself an expensive (but still less than I’d paid at the wig store) 100 percent hand-tied wig, a lovely bob without bangs in a pretty, light blonde. And eventually I did something else that made me feel even better in my wigs— shaved off the little bit of stringy Gollum hair I had left. It’s hard to explain but it’s so much easier for me to see a bald head in the mirror than a balding head, and the wigs are so much more comfortable and secure. It was amazing to be able to put on that hair and feel…almost normal? To take a photo and see myself with a full head of hair. That hadn’t happened for close to thirty years. This wig was the first of many because when people say it gets addicting they’re not lying because it’s so much fun to be able to change your hair to suit your mood or your outfit. I even have a purple one now! And I’ve discovered the most supportive, wonderful bunch of ‘enablers’ on Instagram who make me laugh and make me feel normal and sometimes even make me feel beautiful. I wish I could hug every woman who is just starting this journey and tell her how much better it can be, that she’s still beautiful and sexy and feminine, and most importantly that she’s not alone.