What is beauty?
I've debated this question over and over again, wearing many different hats. Student, young adult, free spirit, cancer patient, and now cancer survivor. It's certainly a vague question, open to interpretation and very much dependent on each individual who answers it. I've seen edited graphics upon edited graphics all over the Internet reminding me that beauty is internal, and when the right person sees it, it's love. Blah blah blah, cliché cliché cliché. I get it. If I'm a nice, kind, loving person, eventually someone's bound to notice.
But what if that someone doesn't see past my hair, or lack thereof? What if the fact that I'm current rocking a Sinead O'Connor buzz-cut deters my soulmate, or even just the cute guy across the bar, from striking up a conversation?
When I first wore my wig at school, out to a fraternity party on a Friday night, the reactions I got were astounding. So many people told me how pretty I looked, how real my wig was, how they'd never guess it was a wig, and how I appeared so beautiful and healthy. That night was a great night -- for the first time in ages, my ego was boosted and I felt truly gorgeous. But why didn't my bald look prompt this same reaction -- did I not look beautiful bald?
In my head, that night was the turning point where I began to wear my wig nonstop. Class, a night out, office hours, breakfast at the dining hall -- I was almost never spotted without my wig. I began washing it late at night, so that it would be dry enough to wear by morning. If I did have to go out in public bald, like to the gym (because who really wants to sweat into a wig?), there was a hat covering my scalp at every moment possible, to reduce the shame I felt. Yes, I do mean shame. Because in today's society, being a bald girl typically elicits two emotions from others -- pity, from those who recognize that I've battled cancer, or disgust and confusion, from those who don't get it.
My wig allowed me to exude the confidence of a normal college girl -- one who didn't have an ovary missing, or a giant scar on her stomach, or who didn't feel like broken, damaged goods after such a hellish ordeal. It became my "security blanket" of sorts. I was ashamed of my bald head, and therefore I assumed everyone would feel the same pity for me that I felt for myself when I was bald. So, I didn't give them reason to stare and feel bad. I wanted to blend in and not have to worry about feeling like all eyes were on me. The worst part? I didn't even realize how dependent my confidence and happiness was on my wearing of my wig until a night a few weeks ago, where I had no choice but to take it off.
It wasn't even a big deal, reflecting back on it. If anyone was going to understand my baldness, it was one of my best guy friends, Kevin, who'd managed to not see my bald head in person yet. He'd come over to catch up, chat, watch movies and listen to music, and it had gotten so late that he'd decided to crash at my dorm since we were both so, so tired. But I'd forgotten one little detail in agreeing to that. I don't sleep with my wig on. In my mind's eye, the memory of taking it off plays in slow-motion worthy of an IMAX blockbuster drama, while I turn my head to avert Kevin's eye contact and blush scarlet with embarrassment.
"I'm not a pretty bald person," I remember saying.
"You still look beautiful to me," he replied, moving so that I had no choice but to look at him gently kissing the top of my head. For the first time in weeks, or maybe months, I believed it, too. What are best guy friends like Kevin for but to introduce me to cool new music, make me watch sports, and be brutally honest when necessary? If he was saying it at 5 a.m., he meant it.
I've worn my wig less and less since then, and not just when I go to shower or work out. I've grown accustomed, I realize, to my wigged reflection in the mirror, but I'm starting to appreciate the wigless one, too. I'm less afraid to take the wig off and show people what my "real hair" is growing in to look like. It's a slow process, accepting my new look again. It was easy not to care during cancer -- I had bigger preoccupations, and I focused on making it through those. But now that I'm in remission, and sickness it behind me, my lack of hair is the little sign left that I was sick and broken as recently as a few months ago. It's hard not to focus on, especially when other people fixate on it, too.
I know that there are people out there who appreciate baldness, in times of cancer and not. But often, women who go bald when they aren't sick are making a statement about beauty, about convention, about how radical they are for "trying something new." Today, I challenge the world not think about baldness as a statement of any sort. Just think of it as a style, like any other
Women in today's society have an inherent attachment to long hair. But being a bald woman -- or even just rocking a buzz or pixie cut -- is a sign of inner strength. It defies society's expectations -- and that takes guts. It shouldn't deter people from flirting with me at bars, or deter me from being confident enough to flirt back. It should just be, like every other hairstyle. And it is beautiful, through and through.