“Just do it,” I mumbled through choked sobs.
I watched the hair stylist reluctantly reach for the trimmers. As chunks of my hair fell to the floor, I felt waves of emotions roll over me. I felt a little ashamed, nervous, but mostly, I felt empowered. I had no idea, at the time, how sick I was.
The decision to shave my head was not one from a good place.
I wish I could say it was a big middle finger against society’s definition of beauty or perhaps something I had always wanted to try. But it wasn’t. It was a cry for help.
It’s been months since those trimmers first touched my skull. I’m healthier now, walking down a path of self-discovery and enlightenment. And in doing so, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and what I am capable of. But as I have uncovered the good, I’ve also brought many dark parts of myself to light.
I now understand that I suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. It’s a mental illness involving an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. My disorder’s focus has continuously shifted throughout my life, from my face to various body parts and most recently, my hair.
People who have body dysmorphic disorder think about their real or perceived flaws for hours on end each day. They can’t control their negative thoughts and don’t believe people who tell them that they look fine. Their thoughts may cause severe emotional distress and interfere with their daily routines. They may miss work or school, avoid social situations and isolate themselves, even from family and friends, because they fear others will notice their flaws.
During the height of paranoia from my BDD, I convinced myself I had alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes someone to lose their hair. When in reality, I just have thin hair. I always have.
My negative self-talk was crippling. I could hardly leave my house without fear of what someone would say about my non-existent issue. I belittled myself every time I saw my reflection. And although I truly believed I was balding at age 25, I felt guilty for how self-centered my thinking was. I felt completely trapped. My world drained of color. Everything went black.
Convinced that hair pieces were my only option, I shaved my head and I purchased a short blonde wig with bangs. I started wearing it every day and finally felt like I could go out in public again. I didn’t care what people thought and really, no one questioned it. Which unfortunately, only reaffirmed the conceived notion that I needed a wig in the first place.
For six months, I experimented with different styles and colors. I started loving life again. I started relaxing. I even agreed to a photo shoot with a talented friend – something I never would have done before.
Slowly but surely though, the confidence the wigs initially provided wore off. Once again, I became consumed with thoughts revolving around my hair. I constantly worried if people could tell I was wearing a wig or if they thought I was pretty. Much like the disguise on my head, I started to feel like a fake. It was exhausting.
I was tired of my all-consuming negative thoughts. I was tired of wearing wigs and yet I couldn’t see a way out. For whatever reason, I took to the trimmers one last time. I shaved my head, alone, in my apartment bathroom. I don’t know why but it felt right. I took it all off. I was officially bald.
I remember staring at my reflection wondering how I had gotten to this point.
And I cried.
I still wonder how I arrived at such a low point in my life while simultaneously achieving such highs – I had just moved to Philadelphia to start a new career. I was succeeding on my own, making friends, freelancing and had just purchased a new car. To the outside world, I looked like I had it all together. But internally, I was drowning.
It took months of inspiring podcasts, (Confidence on the Go with Trish Blackwell specifically), unconditional love from my family and friends, support from my coworkers and early morning runs that allowed me to find clarity.
My hair surprisingly grew back in a little thicker, thick enough to give me the confidence to finally go without a wig. And much to my surprise, my buzz cut was embraced – even by strangers. In fact, my buzz cut has garnered more compliments than any other haircut of mine has.
People think I’m edgy and cool and that I have the “perfect face for it.” I politely thank them but wonder what they’d say if they knew the whole story. At first, the compliments were hard to accept. I still look at photos for justification or validity of my dark twisted thoughts. But I can no longer find them.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss my hair. Immensely. And for that, I do blame our society. We’re told that a woman isn’t a woman without her hair. Which is bullshit. I am still very much a feminine being even though I can’t tuck a strand of hair behind my ear or pull long locks into a ponytail.
I miss my hair almost every time I look at myself but I am not longer regretful. I have this haircut for a reason. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come. It’s stripped me down to nothing and has rebuilt me at the same time. It’s my new artistic accessory and my greatest lesson yet.
It’s only hair after all.
About The Author
Article submitted by Hannah Rachel Carroll. Her work has appeared in numerous publications across the country including USA Today, Global Glam Magazine, Edible Delmarva, The Washington Times and more. She currently works as a publicist in Philadelphia and is the managing editor for Femme & Fortune, a digital platform and creative marketing agency for the modern, ambitious woman.