Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"I Am Not My Hair"

“I Am Not My Hair”

I thought it might be fun to make this post a little lighthearted, as heavy-hearted as many of us are probably feeling after yesterday’s tragic anniversary.  I awoke yesterday morning and turned on “Good Morning, America,” as I always do and found myself humming along to India.Arie’s song, “I Am Not My Hair.”  The lovely Robin Roberts, one of my personal heroes, was about to enter the hospital for stem cell treatment to take care of a cancer related to her original, treated diagnosis of breast cancer and had shaved her head down, I guess because she will probably join the ranks of chemo patients everywhere (again) and go bald.  She posted a picture on her web site and her colleagues at GMA showed it during the broadcast.

I have a very uneasy relationship with my hair, dating back to when I was a child.  I don’t like getting it cut, I don’t enjoy the salon, and I don’t really like spending too much time styling it.  I’m more of a no-muss, no-fuss kind of girl and fortunately, found a hair stylist I love as a hairdresser and as a friend.  She has been guiding me along with my own post-chemo hair:  long, kind of curly, turning white.  Yes, my head is turning white, though in patches; it seems that the rare few of us who were lucky to survive our stage IV melanoma diagnoses by using a particular immunotherapy all have the distinction of having white hair.  Interesting, huh?

Not so much if you still fancy yourself a young woman with plenty of dark-haired days in her future.  But when I get to feeling vain about it, I start thinking of it as a battle scar and one that I will wear proudly.

But back to India.Arie.  I got up this morning and looked at my multi-colored hair and wondered what I was going to do.  It was very long and now, very white in certain spots.  Would I keep dying it every four weeks, getting highlights every eight, getting a cut every ten or so?  Or would I go back to the buzz cut that I had after treatment—and that I loved—and embrace the world of short, white hair (though only in certain spots)? I knew that if I went to the hair salon I would lose my nerve; someone would surely talk me out of this.  Because even though my hair was turning white, it is nice, thick, wavy hair.  Hair that some women would kill for.  It just wasn’t right for me anymore.  I have to come to the place, though, where I want to make things easier, not harder.  For me, finding a few hours each month to go the hair salon was getting harder and harder.  And this is me, now, so why not embrace it?

Before I lost my nerve, I went downstairs to the bathroom, took a scissors and hacked off about six inches of processed hair.  Then, I took it down shorter.  Finally, I took a buzzer and with the #8—the longest setting— in place, I buzzed it off, my heart racing.  I left a little length on the top but took everything else down to as far as it would go on that setting and then, jumped in the shower to wash off the pieces of hair that were stuck to my body.  When I was done, I combed it out and wouldn’t you know it?  I didn’t do a terrible job!

I sent my hairdresser an email and explained what I had done and she couldn’t have been more supportive.  She knows how I squirm as I sit, waiting for the hair dye to take effect.  She knows how I jump from the chair as soon as it is washed out, not waiting to have my hair blown out, running out the door.  She knows that I was born without the gene that allows me to sit, be pampered, and enjoy the experience.  She told me that if I wanted I could come in when I had a little length so that she could shape it just so.

Cutting one’s hair is not for the faint of heart but as I reminded myself when I was bald, “It’s just hair.  It grows back.”  I am not my hair anymore.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Good for you, Maggie. Can't wait to see it!!!!

  2. Very brave action! Not for nothing, I've often heard and read that when we cut our hair suddenly much shorter that it means psychologically that we are making a big change in other parts of our lives. Maybe this is part of your new writing direction, Mags, or part of the whole kids-are-starting-to-head-out-on-their-own stage?

    Your story reminded me of a lady I once complemented on her very lively, cute super short haircut, which she’d died a wild orange-red, and she said, “oh, thanks, I did it myself”. When I praised her bravery she told me it was easy because she used cuticle scissors (wow!?!) so that she would be forced to do it in little moves and snips and that way if she made a boo-boo, it would be a tiny mistake!

    On hair and age, etc., I have not earned my white patches the same way as you surely have, but I also have sections that are going over to gray/white and the hair that I always wore mostly one long length has been pixie short for a few years. At first, I didn't like the idea of that--I feared I'd look too much like a guy. But, I love it now. It's easy, cool, quick, free, and (as friends point out) once we get older and gravity starts to work on our faces, long hair often makes your face look more fallen and slack. Shorter hair puts more lift to your look, gets the focus back on your eyes or smile or cheeks. And, it’s a great cut to show off fun earrings and pretty scarves! My theory is that after about 45 and certainly after 50, VERY few women look better with longer hair--it really is nice to give up the "college girl" hair and go with something shorter (chin length and up, I’d say) at that age. Not for all, of course. Everyone is different and no rule is without standout exceptions. But, for most it works.

    Two asides: If you haven't seen it, take a look at Chris Rock's recent documentary, "Good Hair". Fascinating. And, did you know that gray hair has a different weight and often curl or texture and that hair naturally turns darker before going gray. In my case, the auburn brown I used to have is much more dark brown/black as I transition to it being gray.

    And, lastly, I always loved that pic of you, Maggie, with the short, short pixie! You are lucky that you look pretty either way, but, wow, that was just knock-out gorgeous on you!

    So, good on you for taking action and letting go of not just some hair that will indeed grow back whenever you want, but of being locked in by your locks.

  3. Congrats on taking control over your hair, Maggie! I'm glad you're doing what works for you and makes you happy with your hair. Too often we are suckered into the huge societal obsession with women's hair.

    I'm with you in hating the obsession with hair thing. When I started losing big patches of my hair due to lupus and then had to go on a chemo drug that would take out the rest, I had it buzzed. Unfortunately, I inherited my dad's linebacker shoulders--I'm the only woman I know who had to take shoulder pads out in the 80s--and I did look like a woman prison guard in one of those B movies about women behind bars. Remembering my mother's fashion wigs from the 60s, I bought a wig, unsure if I'd even be able to wear it since I don't like hats on my head. It worked well, though. Eventually, I was able to go off the chemo drug and some of my own hair grew back, but I still had big patches bare, and my doctor said lupus would take even more of it away over time.

    By that time, I'd fallen in love with the ease of tossing a wig on and heading out the door with no fussing, no bad-hair days, and no expensive salon visits. I decided that, rather than try a female version of a man's comb-over, I'd just stick with wigs. I'd found one that looked much like my real hair and style. It wouldn't be the right choice for everyone, but it works out beautifully for me.

    And I love India.Arie! She has such beautiful, empowering songs.

  4. Thanks for your support, everyone! Cutting one's hair is not for the faint of heart, but frankly, quite liberating. I've gotten a lot of compliments from people who had seen me and I am pretty confident that they are not just being polite. This weekend comes the real test: seeing the extended family and my mom (who always liked me with short hair). Let's see what they say. Maggie

  5. I've never worried much about my hair--it never does what I want anyway. I do dye it though, just because I want to. I think you are really brave and your hair champions that. More power to you.

  6. I don't know if I am brave enough to do it myself but I do remember the freedom I felt when I had 14 inches cut off for donation.

    Another woman in the salon cried. I don't think anyone should be that attached to hair ... on someone else's head.

  7. Thanks, Marilyn. It really is liberating to be rid of all that hair.

    Aimee, someone was crying because you cut YOUR hair? Hmmm...that sounds like something my doctor once told me. She said she had women come in and say that she could treat their cancer as long as they didn't lose their hair. That's some kind of disconnect there...


  8. I'm a long time reader of this blog and never posted before, but I have to chime in here. My first reaction is "Right on!" I gave up hair almost 10 years ago. It never was very long, but I was inspired by how wonderful Judi Dench looked. I printed out a couple of pictures that I took with me to my hairdresser and never looked back. These days if it gets long enough to comb, I go get it cut. I gave up dye when I retired. My husband loves the look - my mother hates it. I'm happy. BTW, love this group!

  9. Thank you, Kathleen! So glad you enjoy our group and even more glad that you decided to go Judi Dench and have been happy every since. I see my mother tomorrow but she was always a big fan of my short hair...we shall see. :-) Maggie