If I cut off my hair, will I lose my femininity along with it? (<—recent thought)

My hair is shedding—a lot. This is the third time in recent years it has happened, yet this time there is some uncertainty if and/or when it might stop. The usual treatments (what has slowed or stopped it in the past) aren’t working, and given all of my investments of time and money in body ailment “cures” over the years, I’m thinking of surrendering to what is as opposed to trying to fix, manage, or control it instead.

This is a very big deal for me, on multiple levels.

Growing up, my physical presence was baked into my identity. I internalized the message that it was incredibly important to look good on the outside, whatever that may cost. This way of being became part of my “hook” when I was active in my sex and love addiction, and in recovery when I heard someone say, “My appearance was my currency,” I actively panicked, wondering if I—now sober—had any still left in my bank.

This body image gig is not for the faint of heart.

Many women I’ve dated in the past fought with their appearance—namely their weight. In part, they yearned to be the shape or size of when they were younger for aesthetic reasons, and I could never convince them that they were loved dearly for exactly what they looked like at that time. And even though I thought I understood from a broad perspective, my current situation is bringing that empathy right to home plate.

Because I might not ever get what I once had back.

I always find it endearing when I’m struggling with something that the Universe plops down people or circumstances of support directly in my path. As if something were to say, Oh Amy, we can’t stop what you’ve signed up to experience, but here, let us help and remind you everything is going to be/already is ok.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said to the doctor’s office receptionist. I was there checking in for a routine appointment. Before she could answer I laughed and added, “Well, I guess I’m going to ask anyway. What I meant was, if you’d like you can choose to answer or not.”

A broad smile drew across her young face. “Sure,” she said. Her eyes sparkled with generosity.

“Your badge . . . the photo . . . was that you? Did you . . . had you shaved your head?”

I was looking at her ID picture as if it were of a different person. The woman in front of me had shoulder-length black hair that fell in gentle curls. But in the image she had no hair, and I found it no coincidence the length of the lanyard placed the photo on her chest, as if it were tucked in at her heart.

“Yes,” she said, smiling. “I got really sick with COVID and my hair started coming out. I visited a doctor who said it was [the same as my diagnosis], so instead of watching it happen, I decided to shave it instead.”

“Wow,” I said, hoping to breathe in some of her boldness.

We then proceeded to share about the feeling of powerlessness, watching the long hair you’ve loved for years come out in your hands. And the balance between accepting what is and grieving what was, especially when the loss is attached to your self-esteem and sexual appeal.

“It was hard at first,” she said. “In my culture, long hair is a prized possession and an important part of being considered a woman. But in the end, you’re still the same person. You just have to rock it.” (<—code for “stand by your decision”)

I wondered, Could I ever be so confident in myself?

This past week, I have had two other peripheral encounters. One was when a middle-aged woman with an unusual buzz cut stood tall and assured, disregarding the looks from other patrons, right next to me in a checkout line. The other was a woman speaking on a podcast about a terminal diagnosis who, when asked about her hair loss from treatment said, “I just want a body. I don’t care what it looks like.”

Third time’s a charm, as they say.

We all wish that we didn’t have to experience hard things, and although we may not have a choice in what it is, we can choose if and how we show up for them or not. And I’m so grateful to the women who have gone before me and set aside societal expectations to say, “Yes, let’s do this,” because their journey has now given me the greenlight to be more of who I am. Thus, I become more endearing to myself.

And hair or not, I believe this is part of why I’m here—to do the same for others. To pass on the priceless blessing of grace in return.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
—Martin Buber