The first time the words fell from my lips, they were spoken to a man I'd only just met. I was seated in a bustling salon, and he was my stylist. I didn't care who heard me.
I just wanted help.
I needed to be honest about what was happening. I needed this man to help me.
"My hair is thinning at the top. I'd like to camouflage it as much as possible."
He didn't laugh.
He didn't flinch.
He didn't recoil.
When I spoke my truth — the ugly, embarrassing truth that made me feel less female — he listened and then took a serious look at my hair. In that moment, I felt like the crushing weight of the thing I had been afraid to say vanished.
He validated what I was seeing and spoke favorably about the style I'd chosen for my cut. It would camouflage the thinness. But he said something else, with honesty and earnestness that lit up the room around me. He said that usually when women come to him and say that, they've lost far more hair than I have. I still have a head full of hair — even if it's not as thick or supple as it once was.
The rest of the appointment was a blur.
He snipped tentatively at first, taking away the bulk of my length. Then the snips became more focused, certain, as he transformed my long hair into a shoulder-length cut that framed my face and had … style. It was a vast change but so welcome.
When I walked out, I felt light and free. My hair swung easily, with greater confidence.
Talking to him had been like the opening of a rusted gate: A rough push made it swing wide open with a squeal. In the days that followed, I talked about my hair thinning to my mother, who encouraged me to take biotin — a supplement I gave her when her hair was returning after cancer. It promotes healthy hair and nail growth. When I mentioned it to my colleagues, we talked about family members who dealt with hair loss, too. My boyfriend assured me that I was still beautiful.
And I told a dear friend. She said, “Oh, Sarah, that’s just part of aging!”
And maybe it is. Studies show that over 40 percent of women will experience hair loss or thinning at some point in their lives. I remember my own mother’s hair thinning in her 30s. But back then, I was a teenager with hair so thick I could barely contain it in a ponytail. These days, my entire ponytail is one stand of a pigtail when I was in high school. To have this much less hair is a shock, to say the least. But I also know it could just be my body aging.
Or maybe it’s stress. I am a single mother who has had many budget challenges in the last few years. I am a journalist in an industry that, for some time, has seen falling revenue — and, thus, job security isn’t certain at all. I am someone who feels stress deeply, so maybe my hair follicles are bearing the brunt of it?
Ultimately, the cause isn’t important. Owning it is important. So is living honestly with who I am and what I look like. And I am not afraid anymore to speak about what’s happening with my head.
While the new haircut does, in fact, make my hair look much fuller, I still know that my hair has thinned. But speaking about it has deflated the importance of that fact. It doesn’t scare me so much anymore. And perhaps that’s really more important than camouflaging my head with a haircut.
Sarah Walker Caron is a writer, editor and author based in Bangor, Maine, where she lives with her two kids and a cat named Bippity. She’s the editor of Bangor Metro Magazine and HelloHomestead.com and writes about quick and easy from-scratch recipes on Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Her recent cookbooks, including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, are available where books are sold.