When I was a kid, I had gorgeous hair. Long, black, silky Asian hair, tumbling down my shoulders.
Of course, I didn’t think I had gorgeous hair; I didn’t think I had gorgeous anything. I thought my hair was too thick; not helped by disparaging comments from the old Asian dude who used to cut my hair and mercilessly thin it out with hardcore layering without asking my opinion on the matter. I had the Rachel haircut for about a decade until I reached a point when my mother no longer administered hairdresser appointments.
When I was about sixteen, something changed. My hair started falling out in chunks – my hair was everywhere. As much as I whinged about my shitty haircuts and the endless halo of baby hair, I was pretty proud of my hair; and I counted on my hair to be there, as my one redeeming quality in this doomed attempt at being pretty, when I started erupting in acne, and when I had psoriasis and dermatitis and tiny boobs and the myriad of other things that can go wrong with a body. I hadn’t quite counted on my hair’s ability to suddenly vacate my head, but suddenly I had a bald patch. It’s still sort of there, but now my hairline is just a bit wonky instead of widely gaping.
I don’t think I can describe how horrible it feels, to be sixteen, female, and balding. Our society places such a high value on physical female beauty, and hair in particular is such a symbol of youth and health and femininity and I was losing it. The only people who were allowed to be bald were old married dudes, and I was none of the above.
The bald spot never really got bigger than a coin; and I’m sure most people don’t just stare at random stranger’s heads. But it was always on my mind; it was something I was always conscious of.
There are many reasons why my hair decided to just give up. I was unhealthy, unhappy, stressed, battling an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, and an abusive relationship. It was a period of losing control of my life, losing control of myself.
This was also, ironically, around the time my body became public property. I had spent so long dreaming and longing and impatiently waiting for love and romance and sex and all that crap, but when it happened I didn’t know how to handle it. I had little confidence and no agency; things just happened, without my having any say in the matter. Every time certain people touched me, or played with my hair, I didn’t feel anything but an odd sensation of disembodiment, like I didn’t belong to my body, couldn’t own what I was experiencing. It took a long time for me to learn how to take control of the situation, and then, slowly, to learn to love how I could feel.
But, this year, my hair started growing back. And now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have to worry about my hair; as long as it’s clean, you would never guess at the anguish and anxiety and insecurity my hair has caused. My head is once again surrounded by a halo of baby hair; short, spiky things that stick up in all directions. I don’t care. I love it. I am far from okay, but I don’t know how to say how significant it is to have this part of my body back. And in getting my hair back, the hair of my carefree childhood, I know now that I have become the kind of person who owns her body, someone who doesn’t apologise for the space she occupies; just like when I was a child, nobody touches me without my permission, and I feel like I can own who I am and what I feel.
I often talk about recovery as a series of small victories; having to re-learn things, having to re-discover and reclaim yourself. And this, for me, is a little miracle.