The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol

Hair and Life

April 1997

It was a strange sensation. I was standing in the shower, warm water pouring over my body, as I reached for the shampoo. A quick squeeze of the bottle, a little lather, and in my hand a clump of hair the size of a shaving brush. There was no way this could be mistaken for a couple of loose strands. Staring at those soapy locks, I couldn't move. For five minutes it was just me, those misplaced hairs, and the horror of not knowing what to do.

I finally ran my hand over my wet scalp. There in the drain was enough hair to make a small toupee. I stared at that for another five minutes, and I still didn't know what to do. When I finally got out of the shower and gazed into the bathroom mirror, I saw the stringy hair and bald spots, not unlike an aging baboon. Around the apartment I paced. Could I accept this loss and move on? It seemed I had no choice.

Within an hour I was on the street, baseball cap on my head, certain that every passerby was going to find out my secret. I headed down Broadway towards Dramatics for Hair, an appropriate name for a salon at that moment, I thought. I also thought about the doctor's words to me before I started chemotherapy, about the list of side effects he had rattled off, and about how hair loss was thrown into that list at the very end in a barely audible muttered tone. Won't happen to me, I reasoned at the time; certainly I didn't think that it would happen two weeks after treatment. Nervously entering the salon, I asked for the first available "hair consultant," and was assigned to India, a graceful, slim woman from Bombay.

"I've had chemo. Just shave it all off."

She nodded and proceeded with the razor. So calm was her demeanor that during this ritual I almost felt like Yul Brynner in The King and I, attended to by an exotic courtesan in her silk pantaloons and scarf. Thank God she didn't smack gum and talk relentlessly, like most underpaid haircutters. Completing her duties, this Hindu angel gave me a mirror to check out the finished product; at least I didn't have one of those weird-shaped heads like I've seen on some bald guys.

It has become clear to me why the sanyassi monks shave their heads before becoming initiated. Giving up your hair is giving up part of your ego. We all suffer certain losses in our lives, and attachments are given and taken away. How interesting that the drugs that gave me back my life also took away my hair. Chemotherapy is a slash-and-burn healing technique, and sometimes we experience little deaths in order to more fully appreciate and live our lives.

So now I have a bald pate, but the cancer is in remission. I don't jump back 10 feet every time I pass a mirror anymore. No longer can I look forward to those compliments about my "nice, thick hair." But hair is just hair and life is life. Besides, I hear it all grows back anyway.

Back to the April 97 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
More on Self Image and Coping With HIV