Monday, November 14, 2011

Achieving Self-Acceptance

When I attended my first alopecia conference last June, I met the most amazing hairless people. Some wore headscarves like me. Others were more daring, showing off scalp tattoos—butterflies and rainforest flowers, sunbursts and peace signs. Most simply displayed their smooth, shiny domes proudly, parading from conference site to ballpark, to restaurants and bars and clubs, one stunning scalp after another snaking through the streets of downtown Indianapolis.

I found the bald heads to be gorgeous. Provocative. Inspiring. But I did not expose my own hairless scalp during the conference.

As photos emerged of my scarf-wrapped head against a backdrop of bald and beautiful, however, I began to think I was still hiding, no longer beneath a wig but under the cover of my pañuelo. I began to question whether I had truly accepted myself, my alopecia, my hairlessness. I began to wonder if boldly bald and beautiful was the next logical step in my self-acceptance journey, the step that would signify my arrival at a self-acceptance endpoint.

By mid summer, I was ready to do what I couldn’t at the conference. Not amongst other alopecians, but to a population I deemed equally safe—people I didn’t know and would never see again.

In July of 2010 on a crowded Dominican Republic beach, I removed my pañuelo and bared my hairless scalp in public for the first time.

I loved how the elements felt against my skin—the ocean breeze, the sun’s heat, the cool water—how they contacted me directly without having to permeate fabric. Without the pañuelo cover, I felt free. Exhilarated. Bold. Like a first-time skinny dipper.

After an hour or so of sun exposure, though, I’d had enough. I re-wrapped my head and grabbed a bite to eat or joined a spin class. Then I’d do it again. Unveil. Re-wrap. Unveil. Re-wrap.

When I dressed for dinner, I chose a black pañuelo to go with a new sundress. A violet to go with a halter top. A deep blue to match my eyes, the cloudless sky, the Caribbean ocean, and a v-neck t-shirt I wore with a jean skirt. In the pañuelo, I didn’t feel free or exhilarated or bold. I felt comfortable. I felt confident. I felt like me.

Every day for nearly 10 years, I’ve selected a pañuelo to wear. I’ve uncurled the fabric roll, wrapped the scarf around my head, and secured it in place with a double knot. I love this ritual. I love the feel of the soft rayon in my hands. I love finding just the right pañuelo for my outfit, or just the right outfit for my pañuelo.

The freedom and exhiliration? They’re fantastic. They’re the reason we jump out of airplanes and cross over the jungle on a zipline. They’re why we strip off our clothes and cannonball into a lake or dip au naturel into a natural hot spring.

But they’re not the same as self-acceptance.

Some people feel most comfortable with their bald head exposed. Some feel most like themselves in the nude. If that’s what makes them happy, then by all means, that’s exactly what they should be doing, as often as possible.

This morning I counted the pañuelos in my collection: 102 fabric squares that make me happy.

For me, accepting my bald head isn’t about baring it any more than accepting my body is about joining a nudist colony. For me, it’s enough to be able to bare my head, if only for a few days in a foreign country. Maybe for me, it’s not even about baring my head at all, but being comfortable not baring my head, if that’s what I choose.

One day I may revert back to wigs. One day I may decide to join the bald beauties/beautiful baldies. Life changes. We change. Endpoints shift.

It’s cliché to say the journey is the destination, but it’s true. All I can do, all anyone can do, is enjoy the ride.