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FEATURES Oct 18 2012 6:04PM

Lost Ones: My Hair-Loss Experience

by Shaunequa Brathwaite www.templeofglam.com

The scent of burnt hair, though stifling, didn’t overhsadow my mother’s wailing. I, maybe about 13, arose and walked to the bathroom and found her pulling out strands of freshly hot-ironed tendrils. I remember asking her why she was crying. The only response she could muster was closing the bathroom door. I don’t know if it was then that I realized what the box braids and weaves were hiding. My mom was losing her hair. As she continued her grieving process, I was bewildered by the reason for her tears. Let’s just say I am no longer bewildered.

For many years I would try to “reason” with my mother and tell her to just “Go and buy some hair”, “What’s the big deal? It’s only hair”, “If it happened to me, I would just slap on a wig”. That last one stings quite a bit because as the adage goes, don’t  judge a woman until you’ve walked in her shoes. After all of those years of “borrowing” my mom’s shoes, it’s almost poetic that I’m now metaphorically walking in them.

As I mentioned before, I have seborrheic dermatitis.  It causes insane itching, scaling (sometimes bleeding) and yes, it can cause hair loss. Three years ago I found myself staring in the mirror with my feet bathing in fallen hair. I contemplated my worth, my beauty and sadly, my very reason for waking up in the morning. It was beyond traumatic and I immediately returned to that Saturday morning with my mom.  On top of feeling like less than a woman, I berated myself for being a hypocrite. It was a rough day that began my follicular mourning process. The best way for me to describe it is to put it within the frame of the Five Stages of Grieving.


“That’s not my scalp I’m seeing. Nah; that’s just the light hitting my head strangely.” As I combed my hair, I noticed my hair was lying differently. I spent more time styling it to get my desired look. There was no amount of dry shampoo that would change that. Trust me; if it was on the market, I tried it. As more explanations for my loss of density permeated my mind, I found myself at the next stage.


“Why me?! This isn’t fair.” Look, I have to be honest with you: I was pissed. Everything was going so smoothly. I had just returned from an incredibly fun trip to Los Angeles (my hair looked phenomenal by the way) and the last thing I could imagine was at the center of my head, my exhibitionist scalp was showing herself. 


“OK like so if my hair grows back, I won’t touch another Kit Kat. I swear.” That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration; I’m not really into Kit Kats. But seriously folks, I tried everything. I promised to do more of this and vowed to do less of that. I was desperate to hold on to a hair style that I equated with my identity. It’s my experience that when you have those feelings of attachment, you’ll inevitably be tested. The beauty is that’s also when you realize the difference between what you want and what you need.


“You are now a dude…face it. A woman is nothing without her crowning glory.” Oh this was particularly painful because I was forced to admit that I adhered to society’s standards of beauty. Hair makes you pretty…or not. Guys like hair. College opened up the wonderful world of feminism to me. So the thoughts I had were such no-nos. Sorry, Naomi Wolf, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath and them. I failed you, but my feelings were very real and all encompassing. On to the next stage.


“Que sera sera. ” Now with the help of a great dermatologist, hair stylist, and a fantastic support system, I work with what I have. I’m grateful for all of the stages I went through because they brought me to this place of unconditional self-love and compassion. When one of my closest friends told me about her current experience with hair loss, I spoke to her in a way I would have never been able to without my experience.  Rather than have a pity party, we rejoice about all of the wonderful opportunities each day brings. As for my hair, hell, I appreciate every strand that stands strong and bid the others a fair adieu.


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