I lost a couple of friends during those first two weeks after intersession. I didnit steal anyoneis boyfriend or lottery into someoneis coveted space in Fairy Tales. I just lost them, and it took a while for them to find me again. I came back on Feb. 2 with a new look, and everyone from housemates to TFs, blockmates to fellow Crimson editors took a while to recognize who I was. Itis pretty amazing what a different hairstyle can do.
At the Currier Valentineis dance, I saw a friend Iive known well since freshman year and waved to him from across the room. Thinking that I was some random girl hitting on him, he came over, introduced himself, placed his arm over my shoulder, and asked if weid ever met before. At dinner one night, a fellow sophomore who himself had dyed his hair many times, stuttered,iThis is so eerie. I didnit recognize you at all, Susie. I mean, for most people hair isnit the defining characteristic...but thatis what I noticed when I thought of you.i
Over the years, I too had focused on my hair as a defining characteristic. Everyone dwells on the things that make her feel abnormal. Marcia Brady never could get over that broken nose and George Costanza constantly worried about his height. For me it was something called Alopecia Areata, an auto-immune disease that causes unpredictable hair loss. Having lived with this condition since fourth grade, I adapted to it by choosing to wear a wig from sixth grade on. I have had varying amounts of hair over the past decade from none to a little to a fair amount. At the time, a wig seemed like the right solution, but I grew to wonder whether it was really the best choice. As a young girl it was easier not to have people stare at me on the street or whisper about my hairless presence. No ten-year-old wants that. But, as I grew more comfortable with my situation, I resented that I had to hide something from the world. I avoided overnight trips and retreats in fear that people would find out my secret. I reluctantly shied away from many sports teams, afraid that my hair might fall off in the middle of a play. How many times have you tugged on a friendis ponytail to say hello? Probably a lotoI do it too. But every time someone pulled my hair, knocked off my baseball cap, or even put an arm around my shoulder, I imagined a humiliating scene in the middle of Annenberg or the center of the Yard. Fear is not a fun thing, but what bothered me most was that I wasnit being fully honest with my friends.
Every summer when I was about to return to school, I would always have a fleeting moment of courage. iI think I might not wear my hair anymore,i Iid say, and my girlfriends, family and I would debate the pros and cons. But this year, over winter break, the balance finally tipped. I was more tired of keeping my secret than ever before, and, in addition, much of my hair had finally grown back. My roommates, sisters, parents and friends all asked the same question: iDo you really think people arenit going to like you just because you donit have a full head of hair? And if they do, do you want to know those people anyway?i
Despite their logic and no matter how many times they told me, I didnit acknowledge the truth of their advice until I was ready to listen. Although I knew in my head that the answer to their question was no, the butterfly in my stomach was never quite convincedonot at age 10, 15 or even 20. I still wasnit fully convinced when I came back to school second semester wearing only a baseball cap and no wig. My friends and acquaintances here have finally helped me answer my parentsi question with a resounding iNo.i I do wish that someone had bothered to tell me about the footnote though, iThey may still like you, but they probably wonit recognize you at first.i
My friends have been key in helping me realize that my iunveilingi was a good thing. True to form, when I e-mailed some unsuspecting buddies the night before registration, they responded with sensitivity, support and some really good jokes. After a few days without my wig, I realized that removing it had not changed anyoneis opinion of me. I had expected complications and awkward moments, but the process had been relatively simple.
In fourth grade, a classmate had approached me by the water-fountain after my hair had begun to disappear and said, iI heard what happened; Iid hate to be you.i But, people are a lot nicer at 20 than they are at 10. Iive never seen so much politeness and subtlety before in my life. iUmmmmm...[long pause]. Wow! I like your haircut,i a friend greeted at Moral Reasoning 62. iOh, you changed your hair...it looks, um, nice,i another friend commented over savory baked tofu. In the halls of the Science Center, a befuddled sophomore mused, iGee, didnit you used to have darker hair? Ok, then thatis what looks different.i Some people laugh when I tell these stories, but I think each reaction to my new look has been sweet in its own way. When people neglect to mention anything at all, it makes for one fewer explanation. When I hear the observant yet complimentary quotes of above, I appreciate the sensitivity. I even appreciate the candor of a simple iWow! What happened?i
One of the most heartfelt questions that my roommates have had to field concerns my health and whether Iim going to be ok. Many people with thin or absent hair are facing painful treatment for serious illness. I am fortunate that Alopecia Areata is neither painful nor debilitating, let alone life-threatening. Knowing that there are people out there who deal with much more serious problems has always put things into perspective. Friends and family have also provided comfort and support. Just the other day, my roommate traveled with me all the way to Brookline so that I would have company at my first haircut in ten years.
People have always commented on how trying this condition must be for me, but of all the things a person can isufferi from, this really isnit that bad. I can tell you my biggest regret about going wigless without hesitation: itis damn cold!
Susanna M. Flug i02, a Crimson executive, is a sophomore Social Studies concentrator in Currier House. She invites anyone with or interested in Alopecia Areata to contact her or visit the National Alopecia Areata Foundation website at http://www.naaf.org/.