I love a good spy thriller. You get to be someone else in a chrysalis-shedding moment, complete with new passports and a secret cache of money. You might even get to be several someones, sloughing off cities and identities like a seal sheds water. A good spy thriller requires the protagonist be comfortable with a blinding pace of change, to submit to the idea that everything and nothing is within one’s control. I think that’s what appeals so much about the genre. A good spy is the master of not just disguises, but reinvention, as each new circumstance requires a set of emotional and physical tools to solve a new challenge.
For someone who has lived in only a half dozen places in my life, I crave change. Travel soothes my savage need to reinvent myself (along with a string of self-improvement books and a fondness for regular goal setting.) More recently, though, I’ve discovered my autoimmune disease is giving me a power to reinvent in a way that is both scary and powerful. Alopecia areata stole my hair. It stole my identity, my definition of my own beauty, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and, well, my sense of self. But it’s given me something powerful in return – the ability to see my beauty in transcendence. Separate, apart from my physical appearance.
More practically, it’s given me the chance to reinvent myself. For many years, my long hair was my armor against the world. My mother felt my childhood long hair was difficult for me to care for, and had my hair cropped short like her own. I grew out my hair in high school, and even longer following college with brief bouts of a stark six or eight inch cut for some drama in my life. For nearly thirty years, I had long locks. Several months following the birth of my second son (when I was 41), I sported long dark tresses, shiny and beautiful. When he was two, it shed, as it often does for women postpartum. And deep in a very stressful time in my work life, it began falling out again.
All of it.
I bought two wigs, a “work” wig, similar to a hairstyle I’d had recently, so as to not jar any clients, and a ‘weekend’ wig. I spent a grand total of $500 on both wigs (this is a very inexpensive sum of money for wigs.) These were meant to be (to me) temporary. I would regrow hair and it would never happen again. Only it did, a year and a half after it grew back in. By this time, I sprung for a really expensive human hair wig, similar to a very cropped pixie cut I’d had in between alopecia flares. I knew nothing about having a wig cut to fit my face and head shape, and stylists who don’t have wig experience are understandably nervous. It’s not going to grow back if you screw it up. Neither of my inexpensive wigs were cut to perfectly match me.
I dropped off my old – and well worn – synthetic wigs at my new stylist who specializes in wigs. She owns a salon called A Wig and A Prayer (aptly fitting, I think.) She worked some amazing magic with a steamer, a good cut and both wigs – the short spiky bob and the long layered – ended up refreshed as these gorgeous creatures. The dark long wig resembled my long locks after the birth of my son.
I was inspired to refresh my old wigs by a young woman’s video on the support website for alopecia patients. She records herself in 28 different wigs (three of them long human hair ones) in her bedroom,dancing to music. I loved the idea that I could put on an entirely new look as easily as a tee shirt. While I haven’t been brave enough to do this for work clients – it’s somewhat difficult to explain a red pixie on Monday and a long, sleek brunette on Tuesday – I am brave enough to try it on the weekends.
What alopecia has given me is the chance to be that heroine in the spy film. I can sport a leather jacket and jeans and a short pixie wig. I can don a long wig with a chic dress and statement jewelry. I can run errands sporty in a cropped spiky bob and yoga pants. I can be all of these women, even on the very same day. It’s rare that we can try on a different personality or look as quickly as this. If you cut your hair, it’s your hair for a while, not until next Tuesday. And it’s different than just putting on a costume. These wigs become part of me, for that day. I act different in a short pixie than I do in a long layered wig.
I’m grateful for all that I have in my life – my family, my talents that have offered me a prosperous life of hard work and energetic play. I’m grateful for the many lessons of challenge and difficulty my life has given me. I’m not quite ready to be grateful for alopecia, yet. But I do love a good spy thriller. And I love the chance to become someone new.