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Friday, June 18, 2010

Confession of Bad Hair Days

Last year, I was interviewed by a freelance journalist asking my opinion of individuals applying for jobs who were, either bald or balding. They asked me, what advice I could give as an Empowerment Consultant to individuals who were having confidence issues when applying for a job because of their hair, or lack thereof.

I have been thinking about this situation during this last week. At the time I was contacted, I had a full head of hair, but I had been going through my own very private self-conscious shame and pain as my own hair had been thinning considerably since being ill in ’01 and ’02; and after the coma in ’02 it seemed to be coming out in clumps.

In my youth, I had a thick head of hair, so thick in fact that my Mum had difficulty getting the “bubble” around my ponytail. My hair was often talked about in such a way that I would sway from feelings of guilt because I had so much “more” than some of the older lady friends who visited us, to feelings of pride at how thick and lush it was.

As a teenager, I experimented with lightening my hair (much to my mother’s chagrin), and I’d cut it short a few times. The first time when I was 11 and the “Princess Diana-look” was popular; I loved that hair-do.

Then I started puberty, and my hair “suffered” with extreme oiliness. I was told so many different things, from washing it twice a day to not washing it for several days, washing it with vinegar, rinsing it with beer, bleaching it, etc… nothing worked, and I had to learn to manage with having constant “bad hair days”, as almost every high school photo mercilessly showed.

But always, my hair was a main focal point. My mother always raved about it, and styled it in ways that would make me cringe, and sadly I have too many photos that remind me of those moments in humiliation when “the comb” was brought out.

In my early 20s, I entered into the world of modeling and my very first “gig” was a hair show. They loved the length of my hair, the colour, the thickness, the healthiness and thought that my hair… along with my “look” was a perfect marriage for their show.

So, the bunch of us girls who were “hand-picked” were loaded into a van and driven to a hotel and herded into a room that had been transformed from a simple bedroom to a full blown salon; with the bathtub serving as the “hair washing” station.

My hair was cut, permed, and rolled into tiny rolls and pinned to my head. I was told to not take the pins out that night, to basically sleep sitting up so as not to mess the “process”, and to arrive early the next morning so that they could maneuver these little curl rolls into the fabulous “do” which I was to model. Yes, the things we have done to satisfy vanity, not just our own, but others as well.

And as had often been the case over the years when I had my hair done, it look great – at first; but then, a day later… I had to wash my hair. From the moment hair dryer hit hair I was left with a fuzzy nest on top of my head, with long strands hanging down at the nape of my neck. I now had to figure out what to do with the fuzz… too short to roll into a bun, I lived with hats covering my head for the next several weeks, until finally I could stand it no longer and chopped off the long strands, leaving my hair with a cute curly bob reminiscent of when I was 16 – this, I knew what to do with.

The thought of shaving it all off and letting it “start again” never even crossed my mind in those days, that was an extreme left to those who had had chemo or alopecia, not me; I was, after all, a model and I NEEDED my hair. Of course, in those days’ super models that graced the runways sans hair was not quite the rave; sheesh having a tattoo automatically rendered one “undesirable” for the modeling world; so no hair… not even an option. How far we have come! 

Years later, as my hair began to thin, I was so self-conscious about it that I had a classic ‘comb-over’, only having long hair and being a woman, it was carried well. But even still, I would often have my husband check my hair to make sure all the “bald spots” were covered well while we were out.

It was a silent shame that I lived with for many years. I could not even contemplate a “short cut” because I feared that it would not leave enough for cover up.

The norms of society dictated that my having thinning hair was something I had to fear, something I had to feel shame about – as if it was a situation which I had created all on my very own.

I started seeing more and more women whose hair was thinning, and each time, I felt this overwhelming fear that eventually that would be me.

While I was empowering people in my day-to-day life, I had this incredible deep secret that I shielded from the world.

In the interview, I had mentioned that having a bald head was not what was important but rather the manner in which a person carried themselves. Even referring back to my years when I had worked as a headhunter (Executive Search) in Hong Kong, and the scrutinizing way we looked at people; we looked at their grooming, their presentation, and the confidence with which they carried themselves. Balding heads were never commented about as it was never seen as a flaw, especially if a person had confidence in themselves and their abilities.

But that was “everyone else” and I was not them; this was my own very private nightmare, and I felt like I was drowning in the fear that people could “see” this flaw and, I confess that, I felt shamed not only at feeling like it was a flaw, but also that it was actually happening to me.

Hair is deemed by society as such an important part of a person’s makeup. In some cultures it’s the worth of a human being, in other cultures it’s the measure of a person’s virility and fertility. My own fertility issues came into question and I wondered if my losing hair was actually telling me that I was useless and the world could see this, I mean it’s not like I had any children to show them otherwise, right?

This deeply private secret was crippling me in so many ways, and it began to hound in on my personal life and relationships. Hair products were my best friend and each trip to the salon, I’d ask if there was anything I could do or take to help re-grow my hair to its original thickness. I even contemplated using Rogaine until a friend gave me her theory of it causing hair to start growing in places other than where it was intended as it’d run off to such places while in the shower. I investigated hair plugs, hair transplants, weaves, extensions; but each step had its own side effects which could be devastating. Each trip to the salon was made by special arrangement to go and have my hair styled when the shop was closed so that no one would know my personal shame.

The more I delved in to my work, motivating and empowering people, the deeper my insides sunk as I felt like I was somehow being deceptive. I mean, how could I be motivating and empowering people when I was struggling with my own, very real and devastating issues?

After I was diagnosed with diabetes and other health ailments in September ’09, I realized that these crippling issues I was dealing with had manifested themselves into physical dis-abilities. It was around the same time when I came to this realization that I began to get flashbacks to abuse I had suffered in my past; abuse that was outside of my previous abusive marriage, abuse that extended far into my earliest cognitive memories. I tried to understand why… HOW… I had attracted to me the kind of man who would abuse me in the way he had. In my digging deep, I came to many deeply painful realizations. I saw how my life pattern had been developed and the pattern I had continued to follow.

I saw how I was intensely controlling of myself and of those closest to me. I saw how I was repeating patterns which I had vowed to never allow into my life again. In many instances, I would speak and I would no longer hear my own voice, but the voice/words of those who had oppressed me. And while I was doing it all under the guise of love and caring, it helped me to understand where the originators had come from also.

Often, abuse is not characterized by individual’s intent on hurting or abusing; and any therapist will tell you that abuse stems from the need for power and control. Most often, these individuals don’t realize that they are acting out the role of abuser. Parents can fall into this category, often under the guise of love and protection which they believe they are carrying out. They work with the best that they have, the knowledge that they are given in their own up-bringing, the views of the world and their protective instincts to shield their beloved child from the pain and hurts of the world. Sometimes, the best intentions can cause a situation which leads to a life of confusion, lack of self-esteem, complexes and more in the very individuals whom parents had sought to protect from these emotions and experiences.

For many, realization of abuse leads to blame, hate, anger, sadness, and many other emotions; and I admit that my own realizations lead to many of the same emotions. The things I am most grateful for is a loving and understanding husband, who is emotionally extremely healthy who is always there to help me steer my course without taking the reins; as well as my own background in empowerment consulting, specifically helping individuals find their truth, moving past the bubble of prior abuse, and turning obstacles into opportunity.

I admit, when I first broached the idea in my mind about shaving my hair off, it was done so in jest – a running joke within my own psyche, the 15-year-old in me that was rebelling against my mother and “the establishment” and what they would have thought.

The more the thought came to me, the more I realized that the thought was not my own; but rather something being filtered in by some unknown force…  The more I examined this absurd thought and in asking why on earth I would actually do this, the more I received the strong and solid answer that if I found that braveness within myself, I would be doing this for no one other than me. Maybe this was the final step in letting go, releasing, creating the positive change and seeing the constant reminder WHY.

Usually, I am someone who does things immediately and then figure it out as I am on the path. This was actually one of the first times in my life where I really examined an idea, weighed it out. Of course, I could not know what the outcome would be until I had experienced it; if I hated it what would be my reaction? What if it looked like crap? It wouldn’t be as if I could simply glue it back on. I had to weigh everything up and be absolute when I made the commitment… IF I were to make the commitment.

The process evolved naturally for me.

And on a day which had been particularly bad for me emotionally, I discussed my thoughts and feelings with my husband, my best friend and confidant, and reveled to him my desire to shave my hair. When I had initially thought about it, and envisioned my conversation, I had seen him adamantly talking me out of such a drastic move. I almost found comfort in thinking that he would be the voice of reason and would talk me out of something “crazy”, because it was a crazy thought after-all, right?

He asked the right questions, made alternative suggestions, but he was not in shock or horror at my private revelation. It surprised me especially considering here is a man who, when I broached an idea of cutting my hair short, told me “NO” in no uncertain terms. He loved my long hair, didn’t even see the thinning; so why on earth would he allow me to shave it all off and be bald?

When he was convinced that I had thought it through, he told me that he supported me in all my decisions.

I was happy at his support, but also a little taken aback.

Hang on here; he was supposed to be my voice of reason! He was my “back-out plan”; this was not what I was expecting.  What the flip?!

So now I had to examine this new emotion. Did I really want to do this? Was I ready? And why the hell was I doing this again?

My mind reflected and through the butterflies and nerves, I was ready.

I remember watching intently in the mirror as he took the first part off, and while I was initially shocked and thought “well, if we stop now, I can still hide it”, but as he took more and more off, there was an intense feeling of relief and release.

The moment I saw myself for the first time without hair, I smiled. I had prepared myself for tears, possibly for regret, but nothing could prepare me for the intensity of joy which I felt at seeing myself. For the very first time in my life, I truly, deeply, resolutely felt beautiful.

I had always known I was attractive, remembered turning heads in my late teens and twenties, but truly KNOW I was beautiful? The tears that suddenly sprang to my eyes was one of the intensity of joy at seeing, for the first time, the way that God see’s.

People have questioned me when I have mentioned that for the first time in my life, I truly feel beautiful, so they say “and you feel this way WITHOUT hair?!”

In my standing bare before people, without any coverings to shield me, or to hide my secrets; I feel lighter, I feel happier, healthier, more complete.

And while I am still working through many emotions dealing with my past, my understanding of many of the reasoning has helped me love my parents with a completely different passion and intensity. While there will always be things that I disagree with, I understand. I don’t see them as these foreboding people whom I had a love/resent relationship with; if anything, I feel for them. I see them for the first time, and I feel for their pain because for the very things they worked so hard to shelter me from, I experienced firsthand. But I don’t regret my decisions and experiencing these things because had I not, I don’t think I would have been able to be the person I am today. Yes, at the time, it was devastating, and I did have regrets; but as time can tell, each made me stronger, helped make me well-rounded, open-minded, and non-judgmental.

I have not spoken with my parents about my past, my experiences with them, my feelings, or my realizations; I don’t think it would be advantageous, but rather would have an adverse conclusion. But just because I will not carry out what most therapists would advise as being “closure”, I have already done that in my own way, and I don’t think that saying things which would hurt and confuse would have any merit.

What I have learned, I have learned for me, for those in my immediate environment, for you, and for those who will come in to contact with me at some later place in time.

1 comment:

  1. You are so beautiful Leyla, I am so proud of you!

    Miryam Bohabot-Aspinwall