Dealing with my hair in its new changed state



I am a contributing writer to a breast cancer awareness website, Fight Pink. Stacy found my blog one day and just reached out to me, asking me to contribute to her site and provide a voice for black women struggling with breast cancer. Its been a good collaboration so far. The Fight Pink website is really awesome, lots of different perspectives about breast cancer, lots of good information. Just really a welcoming site.

Today, I had a brief email conversation with a sista-friend who is watching her father and his wife deal with cancer. (yes, both of them at the same time) And she was telling me that they are at the stage of their treatment where their hair is falling out. They are struggling with this latest loss and just reading her message took me back to the time when my hair fell out. I was so devastated then. And interestingly enough, I've been really thinking about losing my hair then and dealing with my "new" post-chemo hair for a few weeks now.  My hair is just so very different and dealing with it now is just amazing. Its nothing like the hair I had before. And it took me a few weeks before I realized just how much that difference in texture was making me reassess myself, my own beauty and what I felt about being a beautiful black woman.

As I try to navigate myself back to a place of "normal", issues about my beauty come up all the time. My weight is an issue, my mono-boob is an issue, my radiation "scar" (square patch of super-tanned skin), my nubbin, my hair... everything that is different about me now because of my breast cancer treatment causes me mini-moments of despair and distress as I wonder whether I'm still beautiful. Whether guys still find me attractive. And will it always bother me that my body will NEVER be the same again.

And then there's my hair. Its just weird now. Its so different now. Its...ugh. Its nice hair. I have to admit that much. Its really soft and shiny. But its not Nicole-hair. And then again, it is. Its just not the Nicole-hair I'm used to. Its different. Dr. S warned me that I would have new cute, curly hair after chemo but of course I didn't believe him. (gotta wonder why I didn't think he knew what he was talking about) I just figured that kinks would surprise us all and do what they do best -- be resilient to change.

I was wrong. My internal reaction to the difference in my hair texture has been crazy. Really crazy. When people ask me what I put in my hair...I have no idea how to respond. I understand what they are asking, and why...but when I say that its just hair oil and maybe some conditioner, they give me this look. Like..."why she don't wanna 'fess up that she got some chemicals in that hair?"  (laughs)  I just don't feel like having to explain every time that I have breast cancer and this curly cotton ball of hair that I have now is my prize for going through chemo and losing all my hair.

Anyway...I tried to explore my feelings about my new hair texture on the Fight Pink site.

I'm going to repost some of my Fight Pink article here... but I really want you to go to the Fight Pink website to read the whole article and let me know what you think.

I Am Not My Hair…


Washington DC–September 21, 2009–India Arie has a song “I am not my hair” and it’s all about her lifetime journey with her hair. Hair is a very sensitive and tenuous subject among black people, women especially. We have this “thing” about “good hair". In fact, Chris Rock is coming out with a movie called “Good Hair” about the very topic.

It is one of those things in our collective black experience that tends to drag us back to slavery issues, issues of acceptance in present times and self-esteem issues. Little girls with long, curly hair are often considered prettier than little girls with short, nappy hair. And that same mindset follows us doggedly into our adult lives as we learn to love and accept our hair - no matter the curl pattern we are blessed to have.


Entire blogs and on-line communities have sprung up around the issue of our black hair; how to care for it, how to love it, how to grow it, etc. There is an almost militant counter-culture making its way around the nation of men and women who are happily nappy and proud to showcase their affection for their very distinctive tightly-coiled, sometimes wiry, definitely defiant hair.


Before breast cancer, I wore my hair very short. There were many reasons. A part of it was because the very short haircut looked great on me; another part of it was that I like to sleep as long as possible and waking up early everyday to wrestle with my hair to prepare for work in corporate America was just not working for me; and another part was that even though some days I felt like a corporate sell-out, by wearing my hair very short and in a very distinctively black style, I retained just a small portion of my inner rebel against the mainstream culture that said I HAD to present myself in a certain way to be considered beautiful.

In other words, I took my frustration with my hair and turned it into a statement that dared anyone to look at me and not see beauty in my face.

I am not my hair.


Meanwhile, my very southern and very old-school parents had a hard time understanding why I loved my super-short boyish haircut. Long hair (for them) was very representative of beauty and without my hair, they worried that I would send the message to people that I was gay (which I am not), or that I was too strong to need a man in my life (which I certainly do not). I tried to reassure them for years that I never had a problem with anyone mistaking me for someone in the “life”. And men unfailingly found my short cut very sexy and ultra-sleek. It never was a problem, even with men who self-professed that they loved women with long hair. For me, they made the exception and embraced my standard of beauty for myself as one they too found beautiful.


For 12 years…I made the point with my haircut that I am not my hair.

When I was told that the chemotherapy would cause me to lose my hair, I did not think for a moment that it would bother me. I came into this world of breast cancer with an attitude that I was going to chop down this obstacle in my life and I wasn’t going to let it take me down. Nope. I was going to get through all of these treatments and surgeries and maintain the same life I was living up to that point. What was breast cancer to a determined sista? Nothing I couldn’t handle. Superwoman…that’s me.

Well, I’m sure my pink ribbon sisters are smirking right now because they know what I eventually learned. Yes, you can (and will) get through breast cancer treatments but you will also be changed - even if it’s just a little bit. But like I said in the beginning, I am not my hair. So, I had no idea that losing my hair would devastate me the way that it did.

http://www.fightpink.org/writers-corner/i-am-not-my-hair-by-nic-mclean.html

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