Sunday, November 25, 2012

So Thankful

We all make different choices in life, and while no one path is better than another, I'm grateful for the life I've led, not always what I envisioned, not always easy, not always socially acceptable, but always rewarding in the ways I've come to value most. At 45, I don't have a spouse or children, don't own a house or have much of a retirement account, don't have a big title or salary or even a benefits package, but I've traveled to 19 countries, resided in 12 U.S. cities, worked in a pub outside of London, served in the Peace Corps, run two marathons and five half marathons, completed five triathlons (sprint distance), hiked and snowshoed in more national and state parks than I can count, climbed three fourteeners (peaks above 14,000 feet) (two in one day), soaked in three of Colorado's natural hot springs as well as one in southern Bolivia, earned my MBA and MFA, edited a magazine for stroke survivors and their caregivers, and taught some form of writing to hospitalized children, homeless youth and now college students. I've witnessed an active volcano, stood atop Machu Picchu, wandered through ancient ruins, saw original artworks in museums around the world, and encountered in their natural habitat a variety of wildlife including monkeys, sloth, an anteater, toucans, anaconda, pink dolphins, llamas, alpaca, capybara, flamingoes, whales, big horn sheep, moose, elk, and a mountain goat. I've mourned the loss of a friend to a drunk driver and another to ovarian cancer and the brother of a friend to suicide and from these tragedies I've learned that life is short and must be lived fully and I've done just that. I've lost my hair and journeyed to acceptance and I've written a 300+-page manuscript about it and through the experience have found my purpose in life: to create a world where it's ok to be hairless. And best of all is that I've experienced much of this with you, my friends and family, and these adventures not only shaped who I am today but have bonded us in ways that cannot be broken by distance or even time. And so during this season of gratitude, I am thankful for the gift of life and for you, the people who make it worth living.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why I’m Pro Bald Barbie

There’s a growing movement to get Mattel to create Bald Barbie. The rationale, as I understand it, is to provide a relatable doll for young girls who’ve lost their hair due to medical conditions and treatments. A doll they can see themselves in. As a long-term alopecian and recent cancer survivor, I support that.

But that’s not why I’m Pro Bald Barbie.

Let’s be clear. I’m not exactly Pro Barbie. Sure, I had quite a collection when I was a young girl. But I also grew up with a warped idea of what it means to be a woman. My waist was never narrow enough; my chest, not full enough; my eyes, not wide enough; my nose, not small enough; my legs, not long enough; my thighs, never, ever slim enough…The list goes on. Was this Barbie’s fault? No. But she didn’t help. I’m not sure that any girl ever looks at Barbie and sees herself, and I’m not sure that Bald Barbie would change that. What she could do, however, is help normalize female baldness in our society.

I don’t think people realize what it takes to be female and bald in America. I’m not talking about chemo patients, though they experience their own hair loss challenges. What I’m talking about is the experience of girls and women facing long-term hair loss due to alopecia.

Yes, there are wigs. Most bald women wear one, especially in the beginning. For those who have the money, there are wigs so fancy even your closest scrutinizers won’t guess you’re bald. But be prepared to pay three thousand dollars or more for this option, a small price to feel normal, you’ll tell yourself. Even with the most natural of wigs, however, eventually you’re going to have to explain why you avoid immersing yourself in water, sharing hotel rooms, gale force winds, open gym showers, and anything that involves turning you upside down. Eventually you will have to tell the guy you’re dating that your scalp is bare, or patchy, and that your hair is really a wig.

Let’s say you choose to be bald and beautiful or to adorn your head with scarves. Be prepared for people to assume you have cancer and to approach you with their concerns and good wishes—all the time. Be prepared to explain that you have alopecia, not cancer, an autoimmune disease that causes your body to fight off your hair. Every now and then, you may be accused of making a mockery of cancer when someone finds out your hair loss is caused by something else. Be prepared to respond with dignity. On rare occasions, you may be called an alien, a pirate, or a lesbian feminist Nazi who just wants attention. Be prepared to laugh it off, have fun with it, or ignore it, depending on the situation. Be prepared to explain your hair loss in job interviews, obtain permission to wear a head scarf in passport photos, maybe even remove your scarf on command for an ID photo. Be prepared to be stopped cold in the driver’s license office by the simplest of questions: What is your hair color?

Though I embraced my hairlessness years ago, I still struggle to feel normal without hair. Would a doll in my own image help me feel better about myself? Maybe. You know what would help more? If the rest of the world understood, accepted, and embraced bald females.

I see Bald Barbie not just as a token doll for those who are familiar with hair loss, but as a conversation starter and educational tool for those who aren’t. If every household contained one Bald Barbie, maybe the next generation would grow up thinking that bald girls are normal. As a result, maybe bald girls wouldn’t feel so isolated, ashamed, unattractive, and unworthy.

I support Bald Barbie, even with all her unrealistic proportions, because I think her presence could help create a world where it’s ok to be bald and female.

I’m Pro Bald Barbie because I believe she could be a game changer.