From a customer e-mail:
A personal question for you. How do you bring up to a new person you’re interested in that you wear wigs? I’m sure it’s easier for you because it’s your livelihood, but I’ve heard some horror stories about people freaking out when you tell them. I’m just worried when I meet someone I really dig that it’ll be hard to tell them. Anyway, sorry for all the angst, just wanting some advice. Have a great day!
This is an AMAZING question and one to which there is no one bulletproof, sure-fire answer, unfortunately.
I am going to discuss this in two very different ways. First, I am going to go through my philosophical stance on the matter. Secondly, towards the bottom of this article, I will dole out some concrete, practical advice for how I handle this. I think are both are important, though, so I will address both as thoroughly as possible.
PART ONE: My philosophy on this
The truth: Dating is BRUTAL. People can be a-holes. There is always the possibility that someone, somewhere, will be super-immature and get freaked out by the fact that you wear helper hair.
You can’t control other people or how they respond to this information. You can’t help how they react to your reality. STRANGERS CANNOT BE EXPECTED TO BE AS STRONG AS YOU ARE. It is in moments like this that you see what they’re made of…and it’s their weakness and intolerance that shows, not yours.
I’m not going to say something trite like, “Well, it’s their loss.” (Even though it’s true.)
What I will say, however, is that you need to focus on the one thing you do have control over in this situation: YOU.
You can either let their weakness and insecurity leave a mark on you and define how you feel about yourself . . . or you can choose not to let it mar your spirit or damage your heart. YOU are in control of this. Never forget that you always have the choice. Don’t get me wrong, here! I am a sensitive person. I know that the initial sting happens subconsciously, whether or not you intend it to. This is a process and it takes practice. The more you build up your own confidence, the harder it is for other people to tear it down without your permission. It won’t happen overnight. Give yourself permission to be hurt when someone hurts your feelings . . . but also know when it’s time to face that insecurity head on. 😉
One of my favorite quotes about this (to put in your pocket for a rainy day) comes from Eleanor Roosevelt:
Give yourself time and space to experience the emotion, and then ask WHY that person’s opinion matters so much to you. A lot of us run away from the answer and place all the blame on the other person for being a douchecanoe when in fact it was our own inner mean voice that was doing most of the abuse on our behalf. We give away all of our power when we do this!
Most of the time, you’ll find it’s not because the person who said something about your hair really mattered at all. The only real crime they committed, aside from being an insensitive jackass, was that they gave voice to an insecurity that we hold secret deep down inside ourselves, a tiny, hidden voice that we are desperately afraid other people will hear:
“I am ugly because I have no hair . . . and because I am ugly, I am a lesser person.”
You are soooo wrong.
First of all, if this is something you wrestle with, I just want to say I love you and I send you EPIC internet love. <3 <3 <3
This is a very common thing. Most women with alopecia struggle with this flavor of Hell at one time or another. You are in excellent company . . . and almost ALL of us are beautiful with or without the hair, for the record!
This insecurity is normal and makes complete sense. It crops up because of the social stigma surrounding hair loss, especially in women. Hair is our “crowning glory” (I freaking hate that term!) and is a secondary sexual characteristic that helps people separate the masculine from the feminine in social situations, even in the progressive 21st Century. Frankly, it would be weird if you DIDN’T occasionally feel the pressure to conform to this social norm! The fact that this makes you insecure just means you have eyeballs. You are a normal, thinking, feeling, observant member of Western society.
For just a casual, strictly non-scientific example of this, look at the picture I just took (below). (I am at a Panera Bread, writing this article for you and drinking some delicious hazelnut coffee.) The people with their backs turned to me all have long hair, except for the older one at the end. This signals to us socially that these people are 1) women, 2) young-ish, and 3) relatively healthy . . . all without them turning around to show me their faces. The woman on the end, on the other hand, has short grey hair, which signals that she’s 1) probably female based her build, 2) mature-ish, and 3) you can’t draw as many conclusions about health from short hair as you can long hair.
So, like I said above, when it’s ALL AROUND YOU, it is very difficult to avoid feeling the pressure to conform and a lot of insecurity when you CAN’T.
Have you ever heard of the term cognitive dissonance? This is a term social psychologists use to describe the discomfort associated with being confronted with an opinion or fact that deviates from our own inner narrative or world-view. The discomfort is the result of us having to adjust our own interpretation of reality in the face of this new information.
For a lot of us, especially during the initial stages of our hair loss, we construct a careful inner narrative where, if we hide everything perfectly, no one will ever know. We clutch onto this belief like a security blanket: our newly-purchased hair is our life preserver, our gateway to normalcy; as long as we keep everything locked down and spend oodles of cash on high end hair, no one will ever know. The truth is SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE will always know that you’re wearing helper hair, whether that’s a significant other, your mom, a best friend, or just some little old lady you run into in the frozen foods section of the grocery store who just beat breast cancer and, having been a wig wearer herself, can spot even a good lace front from 40 paces away.
Cognitive dissonance can also result when we try to force our world view into existence when it is clearly impossible. In this case, I am referring to the wishful thinking that people will universally be kind and accepting of our hair loss simply because it would be hurtful to us to think otherwise (as I outlined above). I would love to think people have the capacity to grow and become this fabulously open-minded . . . but I am a realist and know that the people around me can be kind of ignorant sometimes and, for better or worse, have limitations.
We must be prepared to cope with life in the world we actually live in, which is not the same as the world we wish it were.
Much of the discomfort we experience in these initial transitional stages is the result of this cognitive dissonance. Our world view is a fantasy. We can never hide enough to shield ourselves from occasional bitter moments 100% of the time. We must be prepared to talk to people about it when they “out” us – and we must also have an internal, emotional strategy in place to deal with these incidents when they occur . . . because they will.
Click here for Part Two.