Don’t touch the hair!

Tell me you remember this scene from Saturday Night Fever: John Travolta comes down to the dinner table, chaos ensues and after his dad hits him, he famously yells:

“Would ya just watch the hair? Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it. He hits my hair.”

Funny how a different lens changes your views on things. I’ve never really liked my hair. Too thick, a little frizzy, and lacking Gisele’s oh-I-just-spent-the-day-at-the-beach, or sexy-wavy look. I’ve spent years fighting with my hair. Hours blow-drying, smoothing, straightening, coloring and waiting for bangs to grow out.

It’s a war I’m never going to win.

You know when you go through a tunnel and hold your breath? Or blow out birthday candles? For as long as I can remember, as a kid, my wish more often than not comprised of wishing for my hair “grow long.”  I can trace my obsession with long hair back to when my mom had my hair cut in the “Dorothy Hamill” hairstyle. Not my best look, but I wasn’t alone. I suspect many girls my age between 1976 and 1979 suffered along with me.

As soon as I was capable of taking control of my hair, I grew it out. From 1980-1982, I more or less sported a shoulder length style, adding of course some variety into the mix for spiciness: with or without bangs, with or without bubble barrettes, oh and with or without or ribbon barrettes. Like a true fashion pioneer, I had ribbon barrettes in every conceivable color combo: my faves being red and gold for the  49ers (who won the Superbowl in 1982) and pink and green in honor of the Preppy Handbook.

In Junior High, like many others I experimented with Sun In and thus began the years that I had orange hair in front and brown in the back. Who allowed us to go out in public like this? Blech.

[I must digress and if I’m being truthful I must share my most dramatic hair story. When I was in 7th grade, I got a bad haircut, so bad that I was determined never to leave the house again. Ever. But when the carpool honked for Sunday School I refused to go and so I ran away and hid in our backyard. I figured my parents would come to look for me and force me into the car. Couldn’t they see I was devastated by my awful haircut? Apparently not, because instead of coming to get me, they turned on the sprinklers, in an attempt to flush me out. So I climbed the fence and walked over to my friend’s house about a mile away where I spent the rest of the day with her by the pool hanging out. When I called my parents around 4pm to tell them I was coming home, I was greeted on the phone with a very stern “Get home immediately.” Click. Let’s just say they were not only not happy, but decided I needed a something that rhymes with clanking. Ouchies.]

In High School, I refused to cut it and it grew down my back in un-even lengths which covered my boobs. I was desperately going for the full Blue Lagoon effect.

You name it, I’ve tried it:  Japanese Straightening, Keratin Smoothing, Brazilian Blowout, in order to tame my thick and not-curly-enough-to-look-cute unruly hair. On vacations to hot and humid climates,  I’d wrap my hair in a tight bun or a slick braid in an attempt to exert some kind of control over it. I couldn’t relate when friends would daydream about getting married in Hawaii or another tropical (read: humid) destination – “But how would I wear my hair?” I’d wonder with deep despair. And I’d question why anyone can live in Seattle or Portland (no disrespect people) and maintain “good hair.”

You could say I felt like my hair was my preventing me from embracing things.

Enter breast cancer. And with it came the proverbial dangling carrot (in this case an anti-carrot) of Chemotherapy in front of me. Do it? Not do it? Recommended? Not recommended? Low Risk? High Risk? And in the face of potentially undergoing treatment that would render me the likelihood of losing my hair, I suddenly became desperate to save what I’d always hated.

Take my boobs – ok I can live with that. But my hair? No. Thankyouverymuch.

And so, when the news broke that my test results from the Mammaprint Report resulted in a low risk score which meant no chemo, I was relieved for many reasons not just relating to my hair. But a funny thing happened after that: I stopped hating my hair. I guess it took potentially losing it to make me appreciate it – split ends and all.  And then I started to think about how as women we constantly beat ourselves up about our appearance – how we look, how we want to look, and what’s “wrong” with our looks. It made me sad because I don’t want to spend one more minute fighting with something that’s a part of me and then be sad when it’s gone. I’ve already said so-long to my boobs.

In the Sunflower Wellness Qi Gong class I took yesterday at The Bay Club Marin, I was in a room with 7 other women facing treatment for cancer. All of them older than me by about 20 years and all of us in different stages of our journey. Three of the women had lost their hair from chemo. One wore a wig. One woman had to use a stool to help maintain her balance. These women and I chanted, stretched, breathed in good energy, pushed out bad energy and bit by bit, piece by piece, paid loving attention to the parts of our bodies and celebrated them. It was a nice switch for me after feeling such betrayal with my own body for quite some time to actually turn it around and express gratitude and love for my body. I stood in the back on my brand new Yoga mat and wanted to cry.

I wish I’d appreciated my arms more for their strength instead of criticizing my stomach for not being flat; I wish I’d admired my fingers and toes for being long and lean instead of being self-conscious about the veins on my hands; I wish I’d gotten joy out of my hair instead of frustration.

Breathe in the good, breathe out the bad.

Ok. I got this.



8 Responses

    1. FYI not very important but thought you should know I was voted best hair 1962 Lowell High School year book You must have some of my genes!

  1. You are amazing…you have such a memory…such an incredible style of writing and such depth of caring and appreciating yourself and life!!!! Love you Love you Love you!!!! xoxoxoxx

  2. Wow Jen. I hope you continue to spread the word as you’re clearly gifted to do so. The media has taught us to self loathe and its a bunch of bs. We are all beautiful- it’s what’s inside that matters and how you treat others. Delighted to know you are in this positive space. I visualize you cancer-free with fabulous hair (always?!). Xoxo

  3. There are no words that can adequately express my joy in reading this. I am so proud you are part of Sunflower Wellness, proud that you are honoring your body, and so proud you are challenging yourself with the intensity of Xi Gong/ Tai Chi. One of my all time faves by the way. Love you!!!!!

Leave a Reply