Sunday, May 31, 2009

pañuelo of the day: Sunday, May 31, 2009

This is one of my favorite scarves ever, from Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store. The company used to have a better selection, but they've cut back over the years. Still, if you're desperate for a headscarf pronto, it's definitely worth a look. Best of all? The price: about a buck each.

The Difference Between Women and Men

This cartoon says it all.

For credits, and more funny stuff, go to

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

"Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street bald and still think they are beautiful!" – Stephanie Hawkins*

For a bald girl, I am about as Out There as I can get without going bare. I wear scarves to weddings, dates, work, and job interviews – basically, everywhere. I talk comfortably about my alopecia with anyone who asks, and even those who don’t. And now I’m writing about it. In a public blog. Under my real name. (Honestly, I debated that, but opted for transparency.)

And yet.

I avoid mirrors, especially when my head is bare, like when I first step out of the shower.

After a shower, I still wrap my head in a towel.

Once I’m dry, the first thing I put on is my pañuelo.

Even when I’m alone, I wear a fleece hat to sleep, and not just because it warms my head.

I can count on one hand the people who’ve seen my naked head – two hands if you include doctors, wig store owners, and an arrogant photographer.

The other day, I am waiting at a bus stop in The District, wearing my gray pinstriped pantsuit, when an African American man in an oversized t-shirt, baggy jeans, and a New York baseball cap approaches me.

“You are lookin’ fine today,” says New York. “For a white girl.”

I look behind me, side to side, but see noone. Is he talking to me?

“Jenny Craig be workin’ on you.” His t-shirt hangs to the middle of his thigh. He’s probably a large, but the shirt is at least a triple extra large.

He must be homeless, I think. “I need Jenny Craig,” I say, emphasizing the word need.

“You look like that naturally? Ooh, girl.” He reeks of alcohol.

Ah, he’s drunk. I smile politely. “Thanks, I guess.”

“When I see something I like, I jus’ say it. And I gotta say, you look good.”

I look behind me, side to side, and see a young woman leaning against the storefront, her arms folded against her chest. She is watching us. I roll my eyes in her direction.

He is from New York, he says, tugging on the bill of his cap.

I nod.

He admits to having had a few too many drinks, but he’s in the midst of a divorce, and he’s drowning his sorrows. He doesn’t use these words, but that is the gist.

I look off to the distance as he’s talking, shift my weight from one foot to the other.

Finally, he gets the hint. “You have a great day,” he calls from the intersection, turning back for one last look.

Here’s the thing: My first reaction was to label him as crazy, an alcoholic, some sort of derelict. No man in his right mind would hit on a bald girl. Normal men don’t even notice bald girls.

I did not think, “I’ve still got it!” And I certainly didn't think, "I sure am beautiful."

The truth is, I struggle with my image. I truly believe that bald can be beautiful, but on other people. I don’t consider myself beautiful. When people say I’m beautiful, I don’t believe they mean it.

I am not alone. And this is not unique to bald women (though it very well may be magnified).

According to The Real Truth about Beauty Study, commissioned by Dove in 2004, more women are dissatisfied with their beauty than any other area of their lives, with the exception of financial success. Approximately $230 billion is spent each year by people around the world on products designed to make them feel more beautiful, yet a mere two percent of surveyed women described themselves as such.

As a child, I felt beautiful. I must have. Everyone around me said I was beautiful, and I believed them.

At what point, I wonder, did I stop believing? Was it when they stopped saying it?

Can you feel beautiful if nobody ever says you’re beautiful? If only your mom says it, or your grandma, or your spouse? Is it merely the sum of a lifetime of affirmations?

Is beauty a state of mind or a physical attribute, a weight, a shape, a hair length or color or fullness, the size of a lip pout, the upturn of a nose?

Is beauty defined by others, based on a narrow description created by a society of people, most of whom don’t even meet the strict criteria?

Does the criteria, by definition, need to be strict? If we all described ourselves as beautiful, if we all truly felt beautiful, would it dilute the meaning? If we all were beautiful, wouldn't beautiful be the new average?

I hope we get to find out.

And I hope I live to see a day where bald women walking down the street really do feel beautiful.

Check out the Dove Campaign and the research behind it.

* excerpt taken from "from WOMEN" by Stephanie Hawkins, published in Deluxe Rubber Chicken, a Web-based journal of poetry published from Cheektowaga, NY.

© 2009 Christy Bailey

Saturday, May 30, 2009

pañuelo of the day: Saturday, May 30, 2009

I vividly remember getting this scarf, but I don't remember from where. I checked the label: 100% COTTON MADE IN CHINA COLOR FAST RN 13960 (Not helpful)

pañuelo of the day: Friday, May 29, 2009

Ok, so technically it's Saturday, but this is the scarf I wore all day Friday, so I'm counting it as Friday's photo.
Manufacturer: Eddie Bauer Year: 2008

btw, the yellow nails? They're my "Go Yellow" effort for Taryn and her mum. I'm happy to report that the surgery went well, and that we are all breathing a sigh of relief.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Benefit of Not Having Hair #1

No concern about frizzy hair in humidity - especially important in the summer, and in humid areas, such as Northern Virginia (where I'm at today).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Are you taking your hair - or lack of it - too seriously?

This school staff goes purple - or bald - as a reward to students for meeting a fundraising goal. Check it out!

Here's me going purple...I think it was a good look. And fun, so fun!

What are you doing to have fun with your hair?

Yesterday's Word of the Day: Pañuelo

A friend just told me that yesterday's Spanish word of the day on was pañuelo.
(thanks Jeannie!)

I've copied the text in case they don't archive:

pañuelo, noun:handkerchief; headscarf
People use them less and less nowadays, but the word for a handkerchief is pañuelo
Sacó un pañuelo del bolsillo y se enjugó el sudor de la frente
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow
Pañuelo also means a headscarf, such as the ones favoured by the British Queen
Se puso un pañuelo en la cabeza y unos lentes oscuros antes de salir a la calle
She put on a scarf and dark glasses before going out
Pañuelo also comes into an idiom:
El mundo es un pañuelo
It’s a small world
Content By © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 2006. All rights reserved.

Want to learn a new Spanish word each day? Check out the site.

The Sisterhood Fraud

It happened again.

I am shopping at Macy’s when a curly-haired brunette catches my eye from across the circular clearance rack.


“No,” I hold her gaze. “Alopecia.”

“Ah. I know alopecia. Your hair will grow back.”

In my alopecia support group, I’ve known alopecians whose hair grew back. Jeanne’s regrowth was triggered by pregnancy. Something about the hormonal changes of carrying a child reversed the immune system’s attack on the hair follicles. Her hair fell out again post-pregnancy, but for a time she got to feel the wind blowing through her hair without the slightest bit of worry. Lorna got her hair back after getting a series of steroid shots in her head. That’s a common treatment for alopecia, but only for the short-term, and usually for small patches instead of whole heads. Most doctors won’t even do it in cases like hers. But Lorna is articulate, and clever, and she talked a hesitant doc into it – with great success. Several other ladies got their hair back unexpectedly, spontaneously, for no known reason. Alopecia is unpredictable like that. You never know what could happen.

I haven’t had a full head of hair for sixteen years. At this point, it is highly unlikely my hair will grow back.

But to my fellow shopper, I don’t say that.

She goes on to tell me she’s a hospice nurse, and a cancer survivor. “I’m sorry to bother you, I just can’t help myself. I get so passionate about helping people with cancer.” She looks at my scarf, the dressy black one I tied on that morning for a meeting in The District. “And I just thought, well, you know.”

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.

Well-meaning women see the scarf as a signal that I’m in the sisterhood, an invitation to connect. They tap me on the shoulder while I’m reaching into the grocery store freezer. They approach me while I’m sitting at a restaurant waiting for a friend. They lean over at a wedding and place a hand on mine, gently, tenderly, and tell me I’m going to make it. They’re not talking about the hair; they think I have cancer.

Each time, I provide a brief, educational statement about my own disease. Just like the Macy’s shopper, they listen. They wish me well. They usually apologize.

No, I want to say, I’m the one who’s sorry, for drawing you in unnecessarily, for misrepresenting myself, for committing sisterhood fraud – as if scarves are reserved for the sick, the domain of cancer patients actively undergoing chemotherapy.

From Merriam-Webster:
Fraud \ˈfrȯd\ noun
1 a: deceit, trickery ; specifically : intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right b: an act of deceiving or misrepresenting : trick
2 a: a person who is not what he or she pretends to be : impostor ; also : one who defrauds : cheat b: one that is not what it seems or is represented to be

I do not wear scarves to solicit support from people whose lives have been touched by cancer. I wear them because they’re comfortable, and fun, and affordable. I am pañuelo girl, the girl with the scarves.

And in all honesty, I felt more like a fraud when I wore wigs, especially once I upgraded to the vacuum-seal, custom hair pieces made of fine European hair. People asked where I got my hair cut, what dye color I used, how on earth did it dry so fast? I could have fessed up, but I didn’t have to: $3,500 buys you a natural look, one that easily fools people.

Of course, I didn’t want to discuss alopecia back then. A headscarf, especially on a bald girl, can be a conversation starter. You have to be prepared for questions. You have to want to explain and educate.

Shortly after the Macy’s shopper and I part ways, she pops her head back around the corner.

“You know, you don’t really need hair,” she says. “You’re beautiful without it.”

Maybe the sisterhood extends well beyond cancer.

© 2009 Christy Bailey

pañuelo of the day: Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is one of my largest scarves - so large that the ties look like a long ponytail.

Manufacturer: Banana Republic. Year: 2008.

Tip: Check out the clearance racks; you can get some great deals.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

pañuelo of the day: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another Goodwill scarf, cotton, lightweight, perfect for summer. Courtesy of Mom.

P.S. Can you see the three wiry hairs? Look closely.
P.P.S. Does the photo help you name my hair color?

Blonde? Brunette? Red? Check one.

What is the hair color of a bald girl?

As I consider big changes in my life – new places to live, a new job, making new friends, maybe a new boy – this is the question that keeps me up at night.

It’s such a trivial thing, but I have to be prepared. It comes up. When I get a new driver’s license, I have to check a hair color box. If I sign up for online dating, I have to identify my hair color, so that men with preferences can find me in a search. If I meet friends of friends at a bar, I have to be able to explain how they’ll know it’s me. Usually this is accomplished with a quick “I’ll be the fiery redhead in the Kelly green shirt.” Or, “Just look for the blonde with pink streaks in her hair.” Real people don't carry yellow roses on blind dates for the purpose of identification. They tell you their hair color.

Do I say I’ll be the one with three wiry hairs that spring from my forehead? Look for Squiggy’s twin sister, with hair squeezed into a point at the top of the head, minus the grease, and with a much sparser point, dishwater instead of jet black, and without the full head of hair behind it?

Is my hair the color of these three wiry hairs?

Is it the color of my eyebrows? My eyelashes? The random stray hair on my leg? That way, there’s still some authenticity in the response. Does it have to be scalp hair?

Is it the color of the wig I have to wear in the driver’s license photo? I can’t wear the scarf for a license; head coverings are not allowed in official identification photos. Trust me, I found this out the hard way. If I wear the fancy hair – the auburn, vacuum-seal, custom, natural hair piece made of fine European hair, do I identify myself as a red head? If I wear a cheap pink wig from the costume store, do I say my hair color is pink? Will they let me be photographed for an official identification in a pink wig?

Is it the color of my childhood hair? Until about fourth grade, I was a tow-headed blonde, with white, almost colorless hair. At the start of puberty, I had yellow, golden blonde hair. In middle school, my hair darkened to an ash color. When I was fourteen, I sprayed my ash-colored hair with a lightening product, which turned my hair orange, yellow, and then a platinum blonde only seen on strippers. Should I pick my favorite from among these hair colors?

Is it the color of my hair just before it fell out? The natural color or the enhanced highlighted version? With or without the perm? (Yes, perm. Remember when we all had perms? It's been that long since I had my own hair.)

Is it the color my hair might be if it hadn’t fallen out? I sometimes say that just the gray hairs fall out, which explains why every year I have fewer hairs than the year before. Aging.

In a world where hair color can be changed in a quick visit to a hair salon, with a home coloring kit, or a few spritzes or dabs of temporary hair color, in a world where women change their color on a whim, or hide their gray for years, why would we want to lock in to one hair color on a license? Why should we have to?

And in a world where a driver’s license lasts 10, 12, 15 years, how useful is that information?

Of course, this doesn’t answer my question. I live in a world where hair matters, and the revelation of hair color is the password to enter.

So back to my question: What is the hair color of a bald girl?

What do you think?

© 2009 Christy Bailey

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

pañuelo of the day: Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mom bought this scarf at Goodwill. You can find a lot of nice scarves at Goodwill if you're willing to stop in frequently. I like the cotton ones best; they're the most comfortable on my bare head.

Manufacturer: Esprit. Year: unknown.

Oprah Got it Wrong

I love me some Oprah, I do. She struggles with her weight. I struggle with my weight. She motivates people. I motivate people. She has a passion for sharing information that can help us improve our lives. I have a passion for sharing such information (though I’ve done it on a much smaller scale). When Oprah ran a marathon, I wanted to run a marathon. And I did run a marathon. Because Oprah inspired me. Because Oprah made me think it was possible.

Oprah usually gets it right. But yesterday, Oprah got it wrong. Okay, the breast cancer stuff was great. And “Breast Cancer Battles” was the topic. She got that right. Of course she did.

But then she made an off-hand comment that made my heart sink. I’ve searched all over the Internet for the exact verbiage but can’t find it. (Note: Oprah really needs to get her show online. Seriously.) So I’m forced to paraphrase.

I think it was during the Maimah segment. God, I hope I’m getting this right. Maimah is this beautiful, thirty-something, African American breast cancer survivor. She is talking about a moment when she’s in the bathroom, crying softly, the water running in the shower so her Mom won’t hear. She’s naked, and bald from the chemo, and she’s thinking that nobody will ever want her again, nobody will ever love her again, not without breasts, not without hair.

Oprah is being compassionate and supportive. She is nodding. But the hair grows back, she says, the hair always grows back.

I cringe.

Yes, the hair grows back after chemotherapy. But with that one comment, Oprah has just perpetuated the belief that you’re only okay with hair.

She gets that you can be okay after a double mastectomy. She gets that you can be strong and courageous and beautiful without breasts, and with scars, but she doesn’t get that you can be strong and courageous and beautiful without hair.

I want to grab her shoulders and shake her.

Maimah gets it.

"I had this whole facade of being superwoman, always being perfect. Breast cancer strips you of that because you realize that's not important," she says. "All that matters is what's inside.”

And she specifically mentioned the hair.

Check out the slideshow of all the brave breast cancer survivors, including Christina Applegate

© 2009 Christy Bailey

Monday, May 25, 2009

pañuelo of the day: Memorial Day 2009

Red for Memorial Day...Mom made this scarf too. I loved the color so much I dragged it to every store in town until I found a shirt to match.

Note: In one photo, I'm wearing mascara. In the other I'm not. Can you tell the difference?

Secrets of a Mascara Lover

I was lying in bed last night when all of a sudden I felt something roaming around my eye socket, poking and stabbing my eyeball: a single lash. I blinked, rapidly, to flush it out. I rubbed my eye, blinked, rubbed, blinked. Nearly scratched my eye out. Squeezed my eye shut and rotated my eyeball up and around the socket. Mashed my eye with my entire fist. I finally did get the lash out, but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing way to nod off.

Once upon a time, I celebrated stray lashes. I gently placed them on my index finger, closed my eyes, and blew them into the Universe, never to be seen again. In return, I wanted the Universe to grant me the wish I wished while propelling the lash into the air. The wishes never came true. Or maybe they did, only I never realized it, because they showed up in an alternate form. Maybe when I wished to go through life with a loyal, affectionate partner who would love me unconditionally, that’s when the Universe sent me a dog. Maybe when I wished for self-acceptance, or beauty, or for a sign, any sign at all, that I had a life purpose and would discover it one day, that’s when the Universe took my hair.

In the early days of my alopecia, I lost all my eyelashes. One day I was cursing the Universe for giving me short, dull lashes; the next day I was begging the Universe to give me short, dull lashes. When I was outdoors, I had to cover my eyes with my hands like a celebrity fending off photographers. Only it wasn’t paparazzi I was battling, it was pollen, and dust particles, aiming straight for my unprotected eyes. Eventually I had to trade in my contact lenses for glasses, just to maintain some semblance of eye health.

When I was a kid, I looked like my niece, Lindsey. Family members get our photos confused. “Oh, what a gorgeous picture…is it Christy or Lindsey?” I had the same white blonde hair, the same smooth skin on my apple cheeks, the same quiet smile that said I knew something you didn’t. But Lindsey has something I never did: long, thick, lush eyelashes that attract second glances and unabashed flattery. Long eyelashes are associated with beauty in our culture. That’s why there are television commercials about mascaras, and magazine articles about why it is so essential to use eyelash curlers and how to create long, thick, lush lashes without getting clumps.

My eyelashes grew back, but I worry that I’ll lose them again, that they’ll come and go, or just go, forever. I have come to accept my baldness, but I am not sure I can accept being lash-free. My lashes are short, and dull, but they give my face structure. They frame - and showcase - my eyes. They are a reason to buy mascara. And somehow, despite all my progress towards self-acceptance, despite my quest to redefine beauty and embrace individuality, I secretly love applying mascara and feel more beautiful with longer lashes.

© 2009 Christy Bailey

Sunday, May 24, 2009

pañuelo of the day: Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mom made this scarf for me. It's batik - our favorite fabric for fun scarves.

It Starts at Birth

"It's a girl!" soon leads to comments about hair. "Oooh, what a head of hair!" they say. It's so soft, so dark, so blonde, so messy, so short, so long, so straight, so fine, so thick, so cute. Or maybe they don't say anything about the hair, just that it will grow in time. Which prompts Mom to run out and buy a hairband with a giant pink bow at Target. Girls learn from an early age that hair is important. Important enough to warrant dozens of hair decoration products and a drawer to store them in - metal clips and plastic barrettes and bobby pins and snag free pony tail holders with fabric flowers or tiny crystal balls. Important enough to demand daily attention - shampooing and conditioning and styling, often accompanied by the sweet scents of pineapples or tangerines or lilacs or spring meadows. Important enough to require suffering - the real tears cried when Mom brushes the tangles out of your hair. Important enough to garner compliments - and advice - from strangers. "What beautiful long hair you have, my dear, don't ever let your mommy cut it." Important enough to attract the gentle touch of loved ones, Mom running her fingers through your hair, Aunt Sally tucking it behind your ear, Daddy smoothing down a flyaway hair at a picnic, Grams caressing your hair as you tell her about your day.

I don't remember a time in my life when hair wasn't important. So imagine my surprise, and horror, when it all of a sudden fell out. I was 26 years old when alopecia areata attacked my hair follicles and robbed me of hair, and along with it, my drawer of hair decoration products, the required daily attention, the compliments, the caresses and strokes.

My journey to self acceptance has been a long one. A bumpy one. An emotional one. Along the way, I have come to know more than I ever imagined about treatments, and wigs, and beauty, and strength, and compassion. I've learned a lot about myself. And for reasons I can't explain in one single post, I've also learned about scarves, which have now become my hair - well, more like head - decoration product of choice.

Sometimes I think my journey is over. I've made my choice about how to present myself and I'm okay with it. I own it: the girl with the scarves. That's me. But I've also learned that journeys are never really over. Every day I face a new comment or challenge or dilemma. Every day I have to explain or justify my choice or even question it. Four million Americans suffer from alopecia, but three hundred million Americans don't. Of those three hundred million, many have never even heard of alopecia. And until everyone knows and understands and accepts girls without hair, my journey won't be over.

© 2009 Christy Bailey