Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I am not a PSA.

I recently encountered a well-intentioned friend who used me to make a point (albeit a relevant one) of female empowerment and self acceptance to her daughter, and guess what?

It sucked.

Now.......I'm all for female empowerment and self acceptance. Teach your daughters to love the body they're in. Teach them never to take subpar treatment from anyone. Teach them that they can do anything in the world, that they just have to put their mind to it. Hell, you can even teach them that beauty, true beauty, comes from within.

But, don't use me to make that point.

Not right now, anyway.

Now, I have to preface this with: this friend meant no harm. She's a pretty great person, and like most people, would never say something offensive on purpose. Nobody ever means to do harm when they say well-intented things. But alas, sometimes the best of intentions fly like a fart in church. And that's what happened to me. Only, surprisingly enough, it wasn't me farting this time. Shocking, I know.

Just call me Svetlana.

So I walked into my children's school with a new wig on. I'd won it in a contest, it was long, dark, and glamorous. I was told that when I wore it, I looked like a Russian assassin. I felt very sexy and pretty and beautiful and confident while I wore this wig...all feelings that elude me because of my hair loss. Bottom line: I feel like **** about myself all the time these days. It never lets up.

This is a picture of what a REAL Russian assassin looks like. Or what one looks like in my mind. Hint: I do not look like this. At all.

You see, Alopecia does something to a woman, whether you fight against the feelings or not. Whether you had infinite amounts of self confidence prior, whether you say that you'll never succumb to the self loathing Alopecia creates.... in the end, you will. It's part of the process. Alopecia strips you of every ounce of confidence you have, your physical identity, your self image, your self worth, your sexuality, your personality.....and you, the victim, are forced to rebuild it all, brick by brick. You have to find out who you are internally, without the facade, and what version of yourself you want to present to the world. You have to grasp that you're still a woman, despite not having your "crowning glory." You have to find acceptance within yourself, and with your partner--and you have to find some way (and so help me, GOSH, it's so much more difficult than it sounds) to believe them when they tell you you're attractive.

I have said it a thousand times, and I will say it again: it is infinitely more difficult to cope with the emotional repercussions of Alopecia, than the physical. Sure, the physical repercussions SUCK. Hard. The itching, the twinging. Ugh. The other day I had a scalp spasm that was so awful, I nearly peeled off my wig in PUBLIC at my children's school to find relief, I actually sweated through my shirt (it was cold that day, too) AND I started to cry. And anybody who knows me knows how out of character that is.

I'm told all the time "It's just hair." And honestly, I say that to friends often. "Don't feel sorry for me, it's just hair." But, inside my brain and heart, I feel completely different. And I've found that usually the people who claim dealing with the emotional side of hair loss isn't that difficult, are people who have likely never experienced hair loss. And no, I'm not talking about shaving your head in the 90's to prove how "non-conformist" and "feminist" you are. I loathe the videos on YouTube of the hipster millenials who are shaving their heads to free themselves. Get over yourself. You aren't brave until your hair is taken against your will.

I'm trying to learn how to rebuild my confidence now. How to present myself to the world without feeling broken or flawed. I've learned that wigs help. Some women prefer to rock their bald heads. Me, not so much. I feel naked and vulnerable. And as someone who struggled with weight issues for most of her adult life, having no hair makes me feel frumpy and overweight and uneven. When I have a long, glamorous wig on, I feel undeniably safer, more protected. My vulnerability isn't as glaringly obvious as it would be if I were walking around hair-free. That doesn't mean that's the road everybody else should take, it's just the right road for me. Having lots of wigs and trying lots of new looks helps me. Makes me feel powerful in a powerless situation.

But, I digress...

So this woman (who knows I have hair loss and wear wigs, as I am very open about it) spotted me in my new hair, and complimented me on it. She was really sweet and I was very appreciative. (Like I said, she's a good person) So, I said, "Thanks! I love the long hair. It makes me feel beautiful." I said that because it's true. When I wear short wigs, I feel boring, frumpy, and old. And since my bio hair was never very healthy, and was always translucent and wispy, it never grew past my chin. Wigs gives me a look I was never able to achieve, even before Alopecia. Long hair makes me feel feminine and pretty, and (to me) feeling feminine and pretty is important--especially now that I have been stripped of what 99% of the world considers a woman's "crowning glory."

The friend smiled and said, "That's good." And I thought the exchange was over, but then the PSA happened. (Makes me cringe thinking about it.) She turned to her daughter, who is, probably around 10 or 11, put her arm around her, and announced in a voice loud enough for both the daughter and I to hear, as well as anyone else around, that "It's good that Mrs. Moss feels beautiful, but what we all know is that real beauty comes from within, and that she's beautiful on the inside. That's what really matters."

I know it wasn't intended as a backhanded compliment, I am.

I smiled at this sweet little girl who was staring at me curiously, probably wondering what I looked like underneath my hair, because that's what kids usually want to know. I nodded in agreement with her mother (who was I to argue with the woman? It's not like she was saying something bad! She was right. Beauty does come from within.) Then, I briskly walked away, and went down another hall to have a good cry. And, if I'm being honest, I've spent the last few weeks rehashing that moment in my mind. Because that's what I do. I rehash things. I overanalyze stuff. Its a curse.'s not lost on me that the point she was trying to make was poignant. AND...very kind. True beauty, the beauty God sees in us, and the beauty we should be seeking in others, is that which comes from within. This I know. As a Christian, and a decent human being, I try to remember this often.

However, making me the example for a "life lesson" moment with a kid, literally while I was standing there smiling like a moron, was painful. Imagine what I looked like a few years ago, when I was overweight....

What if someone had said to their child, "Now, see? It's good that Mrs. Moss feels so good about herself, despite how fat she is. Because we all know that true beauty comes from within, and it doesn't matter whether a person is skinny or fat."

I would've been mortified.

However, in this day and age of fat-shaming and "loving the body you're in", I don't imagine that would've been said. At least, not right in front of me. Most people would've had the forethought to save that "life lesson moment" for a time when I wasn't present. But because I've chosen to be open and transparent about my hair loss and wig wearing, I've opened myself up to unwarranted criticism and unsolicited opinions. People give their opinions, even when I haven't asked for them; and they aren't afraid to be honest. Which is good....but also sort of bad.

In a way, I've shot myself in the foot by opening myself up, and telling people up front that I have a shaved head and bald spots. In the same way that a celebrity opens their life up to the world simply by starring in TV shows and movies, they open themselves up to the criticism of the world, the opinions of the peons, and the paparazzi hounding them night and day. Or at least that's what we (the said peons) say, right? They deserve it! They're the ones who became movie stars! It seems I have done that to myself: I'm the one who told everyone that I have hair loss and wear wigs, therefore, I have opened myself up to everyone's opinions about said hair loss, my choice of wigs, and (inevitably) my treatment options.

***Now, I have to clarify, I am not a celebrity. The only thing Angelina Jolie and I have in common is a giant family and (what I am assuming to be) a very expensive grocery bill.***

But, in openly sharing my journey with my friends, family, and readers, it seems I have automatically made myself painfully vulnerable. I've basically (inadvertently) told the world: tell me exactly what you think about me, my choices, my illness, my health, my life, and my freaking hair, without one thought to how it is received. People don't consider what it feels like to be told "I don't like that wig. You should go back to the other." or "Why wear wigs at all? You should rock the bald look. That's what I would do." or "I think wig wearing sounds fun! I wish I could do it!" (Spoiler alert: it isn't fun when it's happening against your will, and you, too, can wear wigs whenever you want to. They're not available by prescription only.)

If I'm being honest, I freaking hate it when people offer their unsolicited opinions. If I ask, then that's another thing. But just offering your thoughts on my hair? *shudder* Stop it. Just stop.

This "PSA moment" with a friend is not the first time someone has said this (or something similar) to me. In fact, since "coming out" to my expat friends here in South Korea (about my hair loss and wig wearing) I've heard it all:

Oh, I have hair issues, too, so I can totally relate. My hair grows slower on this side, than the other, so I am practically bald, too. I'm forced to wear it short! 

For what feels like the 387th time...never compare your hair GROWTH to a person's hair LOSS. This is bad form. Don't do it. It's thoughtless and tacky. And will inevitably make the bald chick feel like crap every single time.

Or My grandma used to wear tons of wigs, and we loved trying them on as a kid. I wish I could wear wigs. I think it would be so fun! Trust me, ladies, I used to say the same thing, until my hair actually fell out, and I was forced to wear wigs. That is a horse of a different color. Once you lose your hair against your will, living like Kim Zolziak no longer looks like fun.

Then there's the all-offensive: Did you see there is a new hair loss clinic on such-and-such road (South Korea is the most beauty obsessed place I've ever known, so there are hair loss clinics everywhere!) Why don't you go try their products? Or get hair replacement? Why don't you do something about it? If it were ME, I would at least do something!

Mother of pearl, I hate that comment. "If it were me, I would do it" Of course you would! Just like I used to say I would love to have a closet of wigs. Well, fate has an interesting way of shutting people up. And it shut me up by making my hair fall out. 

It's not you going through this. It's me. It's MEEEEEE. It's not you. If it were you, you could do whatever you wanted, but it's me. And the truth is, if it were you, you might change your tune. Suddenly expensive shampoos and onion juice and needles in the scalp don't feel so beneficial, do they? Suddenly wasting precious money on ineffective treatments feels frivolous and excessive. But you never believe it, until you're going through it.

I don't use hair replacement centers, because my hair loss has no real pattern. It falls out, grows back, falls out in a new spot, grows back, and so on and so forth. Bottom line is: If I replaced the hair in my current bald spots, the likelihood is it would fall out in another spot within 6 months, thus making my time, discomfort, and money go to waste. Not to mention that these treatments are overpriced, not terribly effective, often boast hyper-exaggerated results, and many times will involve painful shots.

Yeah. Needles in your scalp. And not just a few. We're talking 5 to 10 shots of steroids in EACH bald spot, to be repeated every month or so for a 6 to 10 month cycle.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in putting myself through that for what will most likely be little to no results. I want things like a new house, and vacations with my family, and to live debt-free...and spending my money on BS Witch Doctor hair loss treatments seems like a waste of money. Call me crazy, but I think the fact that I am a relatively healthy woman is cause for celebration, and that if hair loss is my one health issue right now, I should be celebrating.

This is how I feel when people mention hair restoration clinics.
Seriously? Does ANYBODY know how alopecia works?

Back to my original point: I've heard different variations of the same sentiment at least twenty times. Though I can't quote them all verbatim, they're all generally the same, and they go something like this:

"Yes, you look pretty in your wig, but what really matters is that's you're pretty on the inside."

Good. Great. I couldn't agree more. Truly, these words couldn't be more correct, than if God himself had uttered them. Maybe He has. It would suck to be as gorgeous as Kate Middleton, but be icky and gross on the inside like Saddam Hussein. I wouldn't want that.

But...that doesn't mean I want to walk around looking like I fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch down! That's not to say that's how ALL bald women look (because that's simply not the case--some women with Alopecia are stunning. I happen to not be one of those women.) But ugly is how I feel right now. When I look in the mirror, I am literally filled with disdain.

And frankly, I don't feel like exploiting that feeling just for the sake of placating everyone else's need to spout "bumper sticker" slogans at me all the time!

Fact: I swear, people say these condescending "positive affirmations" to me,  not to make me feel good, but so that they can feel better and more confident about THEIR own response to MY hair loss. That way they can pat themselves on the back for being a good friend.

Stitch that on a pillow, because I just preached the Gospel. PRAISE THE LAWD.

Again, I must state that most people who say these things to me mean no harm. It's just that you don't really "get it" until you're living it. This is fact. This is why now that I'm thin(ner) I never make cracks about someone's size. It wasn't until I experienced life as a morbidly obese woman AND a thin woman that I realized how much my jokes about "skinny b*tches" hurt.) Nobody can expect a person who has a full head of perfectly healthy hair to understand why their "positive affirmations" sting to the girl with no hair.

I'm sorry. I have no interest in being a poster child for Alopecia. I don't want to bear my bald head proudly, daring people to judge me, and rudely reminding them that my beauty comes from within. I don't want the role of advocate. I have no interest in being the face of positive self acceptance. I have a hard enough time accepting myself as it is, adding the pressure of being an advocate for empowerment is too much for me! I'm barely hanging on here, folks!

I'm not that person. I'm just a chick with Alopecia who is trying (desperately) to find her footing after it was washed out from underneath me. I'm not "there" yet. Don't put me on some sort of pedestal to make yourself feel better about my ailment.

But here's the (real) rub.......

The absolute worst part of being told/reminded/lectured that "true beauty comes from within," is that it is often said by women who, they themselves, look fantastic.

They are dressed nicely--and in this city, they're usually wearing designer clothes on their perfect bodies with red bottoms on their shoes, and a Coach or Givenchy purse slung over their shoulder. They have faces painted up perfectly with expertly applied  department store makeup that costs 5 to 10 times more than my cheap Maybelline or Cover Girl. The often bear white, orthodontically straightened teeth that are surrounded by Botox smoothed skin and silicone pooched lips. They often have manicured nails, and if I could see into those Manolo shoes, I'd see that they have matching pedicures--in gel, of course, which costs twice as much, but last twice as long! (<<<<Do detect the note of sarcasm there)

And--here's the clincher--they often have full heads of their own bio hair. Lush, curly, shiny, straight, long, short, highlighted, straightened, happy healthy hair spouting from their very own follicles. Not cool.

When someone, who is lovely and looks like they (clearly) put a considerable amount of effort into their own outward appearance tells you that "true beauty comes from within" comes across as condescending and patronizing.


Again, nobody means to do this......but alas, it happens. Just like when I used to make "skinny b*tch" jokes all the time. It was mean! It wasn't intended as mean....but it was.

Who likes being patronized? I don't think anyone enjoys that. Especially when your self confidence is hanging by a freaking thread, and you're convinced everyone around you is laughing behind your back. Nobody likes to feel like someone is pitying them. And nobody wants to be made into a PSA about women's self acceptance or empowerment when they themselves are still trying to muck their way through the emotional war their body has decided to thrust upon them.

Geez, man. Just wait until I am out of earshot to have your ABC After-School Special/A Very Special Episode of Blossom moment with your kid. Because when it is deliberately said in front of me, at full volume, the only thing that I'm thinking is that you want me--and everyone else around--to hear how kind and accepting you are.

Besides...there is something else that all the girls in the world should understand, and I feel really strongly about this: it's okay to want to be beautiful.

They shouldn't have to be beautiful for a boy, or for a job, or for enough "likes" on Instagram that she "breaks the internet." (IMHO, that's not empowerment, that narcissism and a skewered sense of self value wrapped up in their sexuality...but that's a blog for another time.)

But if a woman wants to feel pretty and beautiful so that she can like what she sees when she looks in the mirror, and so that she can face the world with confidence, then by all means, do what you've got to do! Whether it's by dressing modestly, or showing more skin. Whether it's with a blank face, or covered in cosmetics. Whether it's in Converse or five inch heels. Whether it's in Victoria's Secret or Hanes. Whether it's walking around with long Russian assassin hair or going Kojak bald. Whatever makes HER feel good about herself, that's what she should do.

There is no shame in wanting to feel beautiful, and I'm sick to death of the pseudo-feminists of the world making women feel like it's something to be ashamed of!

I guess the moral of the story is, I need to wear whatever freaking wig I want, and stop explaining to people why I chose what I chose. No more telling people that long wigs make me feel pretty. No more explaining that I have alopecia and that's why I'm wearing fake hair. No more "coming out" to the people I meet. I need to wear whatever I want to wear, and let everyone scratch their heads in confusion when I go from blonde to redhead to Russian assassin hair all in the space of a week. No more admitting to these people--who clearly do not get it, and likely never will--why I am doing what I'm doing, and why I make the choices I make. It's no longer their business. It's mine. And I'm done explaining my business to other people. I am not the face of your PSA, world. Choose someone else. Someone less broken.

My transparency is a blessing and a curse at times...and right now, it feels like a curse.

Le sigh...