Head shaving

When I was bald, lots of people asked me if anyone had shaved their head with me. Nobody had done so. I was perfectly fine with that. Had somebody offered I would’ve told them not to. I would’ve gotten no pleasure from seeing somebody else bald because I had to be. I think it’s a wonderful thing for someone to do for a child or teenager, so that they can feel more normal and less alone, but I’m an adult.

I find it interesting when people do this and then post or blog about their experiences though; talking about how life-changing it was, how they enjoy not having hair, how they decided to keep their hair short afterwards, how they realize beauty is only skin deep and hair doesn’t really matter, etc…etc. 

I think that shaving ones head in support of somebody going through chemotherapy (or for charity) is a lovely thing to do, particularly if that person wants you to do it. But I also find some of the things these people say about it to be mildly offensive, because it is in no way comparable to losing one’s hair to cancer, or other natural causes (I assume):

1. You choose it. You may choose it because of something your friend or family member did not choose, but you still choose it. Somebody who loses their hair to chemotherapy did not choose it.

2. The moment you shave your head, it starts growing back. Not so for somebody during chemotherapy, their hair won’t even start growing back for four or six or eight months, and when it does it will be thin and sparse because it has been damaged below the follicle, where you still have strong hair waiting to grow. They won’t soon grow back a full head of hair like you will, and they won’t do it as quickly either. Even if you keep shaving your head until your loved one is done chemo and their own hair starts growing back, your hair will still grow back faster and better than theirs. Even when you first shave your head, unless you take a razor to it every day, you have that short defining stubble and hairline like Sinead O’Connor or Amber Rose, that we don’t have.

2. You do not lose your eyelashes or eyebrows, which is in some ways is even harder than losing the hair on one’s head. I feel angry every time I have to draw on my eyebrows, and sad every time I see a woman with beautiful lashes. My hair is starting to grow back on my head now, but my eyebrows and eyelashes are still MIA.

3. You are not dealing with the other appearance issues that chemotherapy brings. It’s easy to say beauty is only skin deep and hair doesn’t matter when it’s not as hard to look beautiful and healthy. When your skin isn’t pale or damaged or sensitive or broken out from medications. When you’re not swollen and bloated from steroids, when you still have eyelashes and eyebrows and a hairline of stubble, when your eyes and nose aren’t constantly watering, etc.

4. When you look in the mirror, you see something noble that you have done to support a friend, or for charity. When I look in the mirror, I see a completely changed person, by a disease that was inside me, that could still be inside me, that could cause me to not see my children grow up. Even if I try to be positive and instead see the medicine that made me lose my hair and hopefully killed the cancer, I also see the medicine that could have long-term side effects, that made me sick for months, and that put me at risk of having different kinds of cancer later in life.

If you want to save your head in support of people with cancer, or because you think you would like to have a shaved head, or for fundraising, go ahead! You should have whatever kind of head and hair you want. But please, please do not compare your experience to that some of someone that has lost their hair due to illness…or say to and in front of that person how wonderful it is to not have hair or all the wonderful life-changing lessons you’ve learned from it. Because that bit of thoughtfulness and compassion for their experience is 100 times more supportive than shaving your head in my opinion.

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