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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hair 3

Hairraaayyyyyy!!! (At last, I am Punning with Scissors!)

First up, let me announce, that my head hair is growing back. And I can tell you it's a little uncomfortable: by turns itchy and painful.

In fact hair is sprouting again and, although here in Australia we are moving into autumn, in Bronwyn Land it's spring!

The resprouting of the head, however, is a real cause for celebration.

This week we took this picture of the start of the regrowth: a very sad smattering of grey and black but I don't care.

I can't wait to have even a tiny bit of lawn cover - I'm not fussy - because frankly I'm over it.

Being bald has been extremely practical - less time in the shower; less water wastage; no nasty sulphate-containing shampoos ; less time preening altogether; money saved on expensive visits to the hair dresser.

But it's also meant that I am by turns freezing or sweating with the loss of, apparently, an important part of my body's thermal regulatory functions.

It's meant I take less pleasure from dressing. Despite the countless times I seem to have been congratulated on the lovely shape of my head, and the sweet efforts of friends suggesting I'm beautiful, I'm sorry guys but, to coin a phrase, it just doesn't cut it.

It's meant I feel self-conscious at times: like the rogue Crash Test Dummy at a fancy Mannequins' Convention; like a frame from 'Metropolis' accidentally spliced into a Pantene commercial.

I admit it, okay! Lately I find even the most ordinary heads of hair positively mesmerising. I've been pining over them like a star-struck lover chasing the unattainable - until now!

There’s simply no denying it.

Where cancer patients are concerned, one of the side effects of treatment that we, possibly, most despair over is the loss of hair.

Somewhere after the first round of chemotherapy, in follicles then clumps, many are divested of every inch of bodily hair, until what’s revealed is the truly naked self.

This defoliation may be compared to a return to a pre-pupal state. Cancer patients are gradually stripped of their vanities until, what appears is a kind of larvae, a human returned to a pre-adult stage almost: smooth and bald as a baby.

But it’s the bald head that most galls.

Bald may be beautiful but my observations suggests that by and large, most cancer patients seem to want to cover up as much as possible.

At a recent radiation session in fact, my nurse Trish, commented on my bald pate. She too, has noticed that there are few who choose to be brazenly bald and bare.

What is it with hair - or its lack thereof?

I'm a lover of trivia as you may have realised by now, so of course I want to tell you that that a developing fetus has all of its hair follicles formed by week 22 by which time there are 5 MILLION follicles on the body, one million of which are on the head and around 100,000 on the scalp. (Yes, I like you, wonder at the poor sod whose job it was to count them).

Personally, I have long been fascinated by the symbolism of hair and several years ago, had my first ever magazine story published in ‘Girlfriend’ magazine on that very subject (it was even promoted on the front cover: Gee, they were desperate!).

Most of us will, for instance, know the story of Sampson and Nisos, where the length of the hero’s hair was linked to strength and mortality; or Rapunzel where it was associated with imprisonment and freedom.

Certainly, being proudly bald has been a kind of freedom for me.

You might even know the story of Queen Berenice II of Egypt who swore to the goddess Aphrodite, to sacrifice her long, blonde hair of which she was extremely proud, if her husband returned safely. (He did and today, there’s a cluster of stars called 'Berenice’s Hair’ that is sometimes visible).

Maybe for cancer patients, giving up their hair is like a contract with your God (whoever that may be for you): I will lose my hair if you will save me.

Scientists say that long hair plays a large part in natural selection among many species. That’s because long, thick and healthy hair (or fur) is a sign of fertility and youth.

Maybe it's fitting that, as menopause seems to have aged my body overnight, that I'm bald?

In East Asian cultures, long, unkempt hair is a sign of sexual intent or of a recent sexual encounter (either that, or they lost their hairbrush). That’s why ponytails, plaits and buns are the norm.

In the case of my utter baldness, this could explain... hmm, have I mentioned VAGINAL DRYNESS?

I have combed through Google for some other hair facts.

I've found that the association of hair with sexuality is, historically, a common theme through most cultures with long, loose hair associated with youthful maidens (subtext: I’m available, honey) while married women wore their hair in a bun.

It seems, chemotherapy gives you neither option and suggests that perhaps sexual availability is irrelevant. My husband would agree, alas.

The cutting of a woman’s hair, save those taking the veil of a religious order, it seems, was considered "deviant, punitive and a self-inflicted denial of sexuality".

I also found an argument where one scholar suggests ‘cross culturally, the head represents the penis, and head hair, semen.' From here, he provides a discoursive rationale as to why long hair represents unrestrained sexuality, and removing it expresses sexual restraint, as in celibacy or castration. I like it!

There seems to be a kind of absolute castration with female baldness. Maybe this absolutely hairless state is how Greer might have imagined the Female Eunuch?

Google also reveals that, in the Old Testament, long hair in men was a sign of devotion to God. This is also reflected in the beliefs of the Sikhs, where allowing your hair to grow naturally is a sign of devotion to God and lack of worldliness.

This could explain where on several occasions of late, I have caught sight of my bald head and cried "Oh God!".

For Sikhs and others, the long ponytail (or queue in the case of some Chinese tribes) was seen as the way in which God would reach from the sky and pull you up to heaven (and life in the hair-after I suppose).

So I guess my bald head means that, for now, I must put up with whatever my hell is here on earth.

In Ancient Greece, long female hair signified freedom, health, wealth and good behaviour.

In fact this carries through several culture, for example, traditional Chinese culture where long hair represented wealth and power. In many countries, such as Indonesia, the enforcement of shorter hairstyles on men especially, was a sign of servitude.

In West African cultures, women with long hair were highly valued with long, thick hair seen as a sign of health, strength and the capability to bear many children.

All of this explains why chemo patients could be described as 'poor bastards' in one context or another.

In some Jewish customes, hair was shortened to signify mourning and sadness. Tearing out or shaving the hair was believed to be an offering to strengthen the ghost of the departed into the nether world.

I suppose, I'm mourning a few things: the loss of my health, beauty and, to an extent, freedom.

But the relationship with hair and life (or cutting hair and death) recurs in other cultures.

In Victorian times, for instance, there existed a bizarre practice of creating ‘mourning art’ where the hair of the disease was preserved in pieces of jewellery, or ground into sepia paint and used on canvases, or woven and glued to urns and other high relief or three dimensional works, or even embroidered into silk pieces. Yuk. Truly creepy.

During this era, the hair of the diseased was often cut off and crafted into a wreathe to be displayed in the home. In fact, the hair was a prized possession, and the wreathe proudly displayed.

Reading all of this then, I have a deeper understanding of just why so many chemotherapeutically balded women seem to be ashamed of their naked heads.

Could it be that we feel not just uglified, but stripped of our social context?

Perhaps we are unsure as to what being brazenly bald says about us?

Perhaps we are ashamed of the fact that we are 'marked' as 'the unlucky ones', attracting pity because we bear the scars of breast cancer?

I don't know what the reasoning really is and the literature offers no answers.

What exactly does it SAY about a woman who is PROUDLY bald?

Once, when I had extremely short hair, I had to literally beat off a few lesbians. But aside from that, what else might being proudly bald tell you?

I will tell you what I think.

Being proudly bald simply means that you are person who isn't ashamed of whatever life has dealt you.

It might also mean, that in my case, you're simply being practical. Listen, mate, the wig's just uncomfortable, okay?

What is wrong with us if we are not permitted to be hair-free, regardless of our own discomfort?

So you know what?

My bald head may say different things to different people. It may say I'm ugly or unsexy, unhealthy or unwell, infertile, un-whatever.

But who cares?

The only thing that should be important is what it says to ME!

And here is what it says:

Live in the Hair and Now as best you can.

Because nothing is forever. Bald now? Pfft. Tomorrow. Hair.

It really IS as simple as that.

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