(Off the Cuff brings you opinion and essays on current events in the appearance universe)
I was playing with my hair at work when I felt a smooth patch on my scalp, in the back of my head. Since I couldn’t look in the mirror, I lifted up my hair and asked my colleague Lauren to look at it. Lauren gasped. “There’s a bald spot there.”
I had just been promoted at work and was feeling utterly unprepared. The responsibility I was given was crushing me. I had to supervise a larger team of people and prepare reports. My lunch hour was given over to meetings and I had begun to take work home with me. I kept telling myself that this was what I wanted. I refused to acknowledge the stress. But while I was able to suppress my anxieties intellectually and emotionally, the wisdom of the body was beyond my control.
The size of a golf ball, the bald spot on my head was diagnosed as alopecia. My immune system had begun to perceive hair follicles as foreign agents and was attacking them. My body was under assault from within. The hair loss was my stress made physical.
My hair has always told me the truth. When I am unhappy or stressed, my hair picks up the hints and insists that I take care of myself. The alopecia diagnosis was a warning bell that I had to heed. I slowed down. I delegated. I took the vacation I needed. I started meditating. My hair grew back.
Then a few years ago, I decided to cut off my long locks completely. The last time I had had such a drastic change of hairstyle was when my father took the scissors to my hair. I was five and traumatized when I saw the choppy results in the mirror. There were a lot of tears that day! Even decades later, I felt a great deal of trepidation giving my stylist the license for a pixie cut. What would my face look like? Who would I be at the end of this haircut?
I didn’t realize it then, but what I was summoning up was the courage to live outside my usual limits. After I gave my stylist the green light for a pixie cut, I was able to quit my job, take a break from work, and return to a new, more fulfilling workplace.
My hair grew back. I went back to work. I bought an apartment. I dated. My meditation practice deepened. I started studying yoga. Life was good. Then I started thinking of blue hair. In fact, I had been thinking of blue hair for a long time. But as you can imagine, there had never seemed to be a right time for blue hair. But I now had a stylist I loved, Autumn Whisman at Parlor Salon in Brooklyn. Autumn took her job and my hair seriously. I brought it up during an appointment and Autumn was encouraging. It was February and after watching the Oscars, I emailed Autumn. “Did you see Liza Minelli at the Oscars?”
At our next consultation, I told Autumn I was worried about the permanency of it all. I wanted to dye my grays and the ends of my hair. That way I had an exit strategy, if it turned out horribly. Autumn experimented with a demi-permanent color to oblige my request for temporary color, but when we tried a test strip, there was no sign of blue anywhere. It was either permanent or nothing.
I made the appointment for two weeks later, silently debating with myself if this was a good idea. “Are you worried about how people will perceive you?” A colleague asked me, since my role at work was outward facing. That’s when I realized that I didn’t care. My hair was my palette and I wanted to express myself. I emailed Autumn my favorite stone, lapis luzuli, to give her a sense of the color.
I walked into the salon, smiling nervously. Autumn had gone through several test samples on human hair to give me a sense of the range of color that was possible. Four and half hours and several bottles of blue and bleach later, I emerged with exactly what I wanted—a deep blue that was not only vibrant but also sophisticated.
A few months later, I would quit my job again. I would travel to a small Mediterranean town in France to learn French. Meditating in the 5th century cathedral in the heart of this town of terracotta roofs, I would begin to understand that yoga was not just a hobby but a way of life for me. But that day when I left the salon with my blue hair swinging freely in the Brooklyn breeze, I didn’t know all that. My hair knew it but I didn’t.
(Jess Geevarghese is a meditation and yoga instructor in New York City who focuses on stress management. She holds a BSBA, an MBA and an MSW from Washington University. Jess has fully accepted her gray hair and loves to get blowouts. Her website is www.thelongtimesun.org.)