From a customer e-mail:
A personal question for you. How do you bring up to a new person you’re interested in that you wear wigs? I’m sure it’s easier for you because it’s your livelihood, but I’ve heard some horror stories about people freaking out when you tell them. I’m just worried when I meet someone I really dig that it’ll be hard to tell them. Anyway, sorry for all the angst, just wanting some advice. Have a great day!
This is an AMAZING question and one to which there is no one bulletproof, sure-fire answer, unfortunately.
I am going to discuss this in two very different ways. First, I am going to go through my philosophical stance on the matter. Secondly, towards the bottom of this article, I will dole out some concrete, practical advice for how I handle this. I think are both are important, though, so I will address both as thoroughly as possible.
PART ONE: My philosophy on this
The truth: Dating is BRUTAL. People can be a-holes. There is always the possibility that someone, somewhere, will be super-immature and get freaked out by the fact that you wear helper hair.
You can't control other people or how they respond to this information. You can’t help how they react to your reality. STRANGERS CANNOT BE EXPECTED TO BE AS STRONG AS YOU ARE. It is in moments like this that you see what they’re made of...and it’s their weakness and intolerance that shows, not yours.
I’m not going to say something trite like, “Well, it’s their loss.” (Even though it’s true.)
What I will say, however, is that you need to focus on the one thing you do have control over in this situation: YOU.
You can either let their weakness and insecurity leave a mark on you and define how you feel about yourself . . . or you can choose not to let it mar your spirit or damage your heart. YOU are in control of this. Never forget that you always have the choice. Don’t get me wrong, here! I am a sensitive person. I know that the initial sting happens subconsciously, whether or not you intend it to. This is a process and it takes practice. The more you build up your own confidence, the harder it is for other people to tear it down without your permission. It won’t happen overnight. Give yourself permission to be hurt when someone hurts your feelings . . . but also know when it’s time to face that insecurity head on. ;)
One of my favorite quotes about this (to put in your pocket for a rainy day) comes from Eleanor Roosevelt:
Give yourself time and space to experience the emotion, and then ask WHY that person’s opinion matters so much to you. A lot of us run away from the answer and place all the blame on the other person for being a douchecanoe when in fact it was our own inner mean voice that was doing most of the abuse on our behalf. We give away all of our power when we do this!
Most of the time, you’ll find it’s not because the person who said something about your hair really mattered at all. The only real crime they committed, aside from being an insensitive jackass, was that they gave voice to an insecurity that we hold secret deep down inside ourselves, a tiny, hidden voice that we are desperately afraid other people will hear:
“I am ugly because I have no hair . . . and because I am ugly, I am a lesser person.”
You are soooo wrong.
First of all, if this is something you wrestle with, I just want to say I love you and I send you EPIC internet love. <3 <3 <3
This is a very common thing. Most women with alopecia struggle with this flavor of Hell at one time or another. You are in excellent company . . . and almost ALL of us are beautiful with or without the hair, for the record!
This insecurity is normal and makes complete sense. It crops up because of the social stigma surrounding hair loss, especially in women. Hair is our “crowning glory” (I freaking hate that term!) and is a secondary sexual characteristic that helps people separate the masculine from the feminine in social situations, even in the progressive 21st Century. Frankly, it would be weird if you DIDN’T occasionally feel the pressure to conform to this social norm! The fact that this makes you insecure just means you have eyeballs. You are a normal, thinking, feeling, observant member of Western society.
For just a casual, strictly non-scientific example of this, look at the picture I just took (below). (I am at a Panera Bread, writing this article for you and drinking some delicious hazelnut coffee.) The people with their backs turned to me all have long hair, except for the older one at the end. This signals to us socially that these people are 1) women, 2) young-ish, and 3) relatively healthy . . . all without them turning around to show me their faces. The woman on the end, on the other hand, has short grey hair, which signals that she’s 1) probably female based her build, 2) mature-ish, and 3) you can’t draw as many conclusions about health from short hair as you can long hair.
So, like I said above, when it’s ALL AROUND YOU, it is very difficult to avoid feeling the pressure to conform and a lot of insecurity when you CAN’T.
Have you ever heard of the term cognitive dissonance? This is a term social psychologists use to describe the discomfort associated with being confronted with an opinion or fact that deviates from our own inner narrative or world-view. The discomfort is the result of us having to adjust our own interpretation of reality in the face of this new information.
For a lot of us, especially during the initial stages of our hair loss, we construct a careful inner narrative where, if we hide everything perfectly, no one will ever know. We clutch onto this belief like a security blanket: our newly-purchased hair is our life preserver, our gateway to normalcy; as long as we keep everything locked down and spend oodles of cash on high end hair, no one will ever know. The truth is SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE will always know that you’re wearing helper hair, whether that’s a significant other, your mom, a best friend, or just some little old lady you run into in the frozen foods section of the grocery store who just beat breast cancer and, having been a wig wearer herself, can spot even a good lace front from 40 paces away.
Cognitive dissonance can also result when we try to force our world view into existence when it is clearly impossible. In this case, I am referring to the wishful thinking that people will universally be kind and accepting of our hair loss simply because it would be hurtful to us to think otherwise (as I outlined above). I would love to think people have the capacity to grow and become this fabulously open-minded . . . but I am a realist and know that the people around me can be kind of ignorant sometimes and, for better or worse, have limitations.
We must be prepared to cope with life in the world we actually live in, which is not the same as the world we wish it were.
Much of the discomfort we experience in these initial transitional stages is the result of this cognitive dissonance. Our world view is a fantasy. We can never hide enough to shield ourselves from occasional bitter moments 100% of the time. We must be prepared to talk to people about it when they “out” us – and we must also have an internal, emotional strategy in place to deal with these incidents when they occur . . . because they will.
PART TWO: My personal rules for handling this
NOTE: These are my strategies. I definitely advise you to experiment a little to come up with a solution that you are comfortable with. Everyone’s different and what works for me may not be a comfortable solution for you. :)
- Come up with a game plan in ADVANCE. This involves asking yourself some pretty tough personal questions about where your boundaries are in terms of how far you are willing to discuss things and how much curiosity you are willing to indulge. You will also have to determine what kind of negative reactions you are willing to accept, if any. I, personally, will not date anyone who is judgmental of wig wear in any negative way whatsoever. It’s just too big of a part of my life! I will literally drop a $20 bill on the table (or however much pays for my meal + tip) and GTFO because as a very wise woman once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
- Because of my strong stance, I tell potential partners right away. For a lot of people – especially heterosexual men – profound hair loss can be an absolute deal breaker. (Again, go back to my point above about cognitive dissonance. I wish this weren’t the case, but it absolutely is.) By putting it out there right away, you can weed out all the people who would make a big deal out of this right away before you would end up in a situation where you would have to tell them face-to-face. If on an online dating site, you can post this right in your profile. This can be done relatively discretely by posting pictures of yourself in various wigs and waiting for people to ask you directly about why your hair changes so much. This can also be done overtly by putting a statement about it directly in the text of the picture captions or body of your profile.
- If you make this public knowledge up-front on your dating profiles, be aware that you DO NOT have to pay attention to every question people ask you about your hair. You can (and probably should) ignore people who want to reduce you to a sideshow attraction. Those trolls can just as easily google wigs, so let them and save your energy. (Hell, send them a link to my blog or this article and maybe that’ll sort them out! LOL)
- When on dates, try asking fun questions to the other person about their opinions about hair. This can be about specific hair cuts, colors, social views about hair, women who change their hair a lot, etc. All of these can make fun topical segues to help you break the ice about your wig wear.
- Frame the situation as something that plays to their advantage. (Appeal to their fantasies.) I have historically always framed it as the opportunity to “look however I want, whenever I want.” Your partner wants to date a blonde for a day? PRESTO! You’ve got the hair for that. How about a redhead? No worries, you can accommodate that too! Make them a part of the process. It becomes much more fun for both of you that way and then they are much more likely to embrace your wig wear . . . and they may even become part of the purchasing process! (We have husbands buy wigs for their wives in this store all the time, for example.)
- If someone makes a rude comment, try your best not to take it personally. It’s difficult. I know that. However, you’re better off knowing they’re a knuckle-dragging troglodyte sooner rather than later. Internally thank them for saving you the guess work and cut your losses. ;)
- Do NOT try to convince someone to change their mind if they are opposed to dating someone with hair loss. People have extremely specific and individualized notions of what they consider attractive. Honestly, I don’t get down with the PC police. I think that telling people they’re wrong for liking what they like is misguided. Instead, we should focus on not barking up the wrong tree to begin with to avoid the headache. (IMHO)
- Likewise, do NOT feel obligated to “educate” someone who is rude or overly curious about it if you are not comfortable talking about it. You get to dictate the boundaries about your own hair loss and how you talk about it. (Remember, you’re She-Ra: YOU have the power.) You don’t OWE it to anyone – particularly a total stranger in the beginning of the dating process – to disclose more or less information than you are comfortable discussing. Once you establish your boundaries in step #1, stick to them!
Hopefully this article is helpful to some of you! :)