Friday, September 18, 2009

I know the rules.

When I go to a job interview, I always wear a suit. I wear nice shoes, even if they hurt my feet. Sometimes I get a manicure.

What I struggle with is the neat, professional hairstyle, because I don’t have hair.

Sure, I could wear my wig. That’s what I used to do years ago, back when I wore wigs, back when I hid behind my wig and nobody even knew I had alopecia.

But the $3,500 wig has been packed in a shoebox since 2002, the year I walked away from everything I knew and joined the Peace Corps.

It wasn’t easy. I struggled with the change from fancy hairpieces and wigs to bandannas and scarves.

Some of the volunteers thought I had cancer, as if the Peace Corps would have accepted an active chemo patient into service. They didn’t ask me about it, they asked my friends.

Some of the people in my small, volcanic island town thought I was hiding Rapunzel hair under the bandanna. “What’s your hair like under there?” they’d ask. “Is it long and beautiful?” I’d roll my eyes, throw a sideways glance their way, try to laugh it off. But I wasn’t laughing.

I wasn’t laughing when a photographer instructed me to remove the bandanna for my official permanent residence ID card photo. I wasn’t laughing when a Peace Corps doctor said I would probably want to wear a wig to the baile (dance), and not the bandanna. I wasn't laughing when an airline employee bumped me out of the first class cabin because he thought my nice headscarf wasn't dressy enough for the buddy pass dress code. I wasn't laughing when another airline employee looked at my driver's license photo with the wig, and then looked at me with the scarf, and said I looked better before.

There were times I would have given anything to have my wig back. There were times I wished I hadn't made the change to scarves.

But, gradually, I got used to the look, along with the comments and questions and challenges that came with it. Today I am the girl with the scarves, and I like it that way. I couldn't go back to wigs now.

But are headscarves appropriate job interview attire?

Maybe if you have cancer.

And therein lies the dilemma.

If I wear the scarf and don’t mention it, the interviewers will think I have cancer. They’re not supposed to ask about that kind of thing, but they will make assumptions—assumptions that affect me and my chances for proceeding to the next round or getting that job offer.

If I wear the scarf and do mention it, things get awkward fast. I’m talking about personal, private, medical stuff that’s not typically discussed in the interview format. It’s like saying, by the way, I have a wart on my big toe, and I just thought you should know that upfront.

It’s not that I mind talking about it. I just wonder whether or not I should. I wonder how to approach it. And I wonder if maybe I’m making things harder for myself when I don’t have to.

And yet.

If I were to wear the wig, I would feel like I had sold out. And that’s exactly what I’m trying not to do.

How will the world ever accept women without hair if nobody steps up and demands acceptance?

How will the world ever get used to women without hair if there are no women willing to present themselves without hair?

And really, would I even want to work for a place that wouldn't allow me to wear scarves to the office? Would I want to work in a place where the range of acceptable images didn't include my scarf look?

I need to figure this out fast. My next "interview" is coming up, an oral examination by a panel of experts about my knowledge, skills and abilities in healthcare communications.

I need a plan. I've got my ideas, but I'm open to yours. What do you think?