I recently saw a fundraising page for someone shaving their hair for charity. What stood out to me was the campaign logo which said “be brave & shave”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for campaigns like this that get people involved and raise money for an important cause, the problem I have is with the language used and assumptions it makes about what it’s like to lose your hair to chemo.
I’ve written before about how much I struggled with my hair falling out and as it continues to grow out I still to this day think of it as my biggest challenge to get through so far. Bravery is part of my experience but not in the way it’s sometimes depicted in fundraising campaigns.
Before this happened to me, I had this impression that you shave off your hair and then you feel strong and like you can conquer the world. I did have this feeling once I shaved my hair, but it only lasted for a few hours before I felt a feeling of extreme loss, and started grieving for my identity.
More significantly, I had no idea that hair doesn’t just fall out all at once, it falls out in clumps over a long period and gets very painful. Yet I still held off shaving my head for a few weeks because I had a glimmer of hope that maybe it would stop falling out. What drove me to take the plunge and shave wasn’t bravery, it was the fact that I was fed up and had had enough.
The point where I believe bravery does come into my experience is in how I pushed through and managed to see myself positively and find my personality again without my long hair.
I also had to be brave in knowing what to say about why I’d gone for a drastic change when unsurprisingly I didn’t always want to say it was because of chemo.
When you shave your hair for charity you have a reason and an applaudable back story that is easy to open up about.
When I lost my hair due to chemo treatment for my rare disease, I didn’t have a back story I was comfortable sharing with everyone. This made me extremely nervous going into work for the first time without my wig on. I had pre-prepared what my answers would be to the common questions but it killed me inside to smile and say “oh I felt like a change”. But it did get easier to respond to well meaning comments about my new look and I pushed myself to always do it with confidence because at least it gave me a bit of edge!
I wonder if there will ever be a day where a woman having short hair or being bald will become more normal. There are so many awesome women rocking short hair for whatever reason, and I think it’s time that’s not seen as out there, brave, unique – and rather, beautiful and common. If this were the case right now I don’t think I would have struggled as much with my identity post hair loss.