The downside of all the Zoom conferences I’ve been on lately is my renewed focus on my hair. I’ve been self-conscious about my hair loss for years now. I have friends who think bald men are sexy but no one I know thinks balding women are. Yes, I’m sure there are guys who are into follically-challenged women but that was not an issue for me when I was single and merely graying. I am lucky to be married to a man who found me attractive when I was in a flannel nightgown and my aunt’s lumpy home-knit booties during the cold NY winters. When my hair started showing vacancies, he claimed he didn’t notice it. But he’s not the one pushing it around in front of a mirror trying to make it look fuller. It would be weird if he was.
I once started a story about my mother’s side of the family by saying: “The Chanin women look good in hats. This is fortunate because we have very sparse hair.” This is not true of all of us, by the way. But it was true in my immediate family.
The bulk of my mother’s hair was on a Styrofoam head. She teased it out with a rattail comb and stuck it to her remaining strands with bobby pins. It was dyed mousy brown to match. Last year when I decided I was ready to get some false hair, I wanted something with more flair than my mother’s had.
So I turned to The Crones of Anarchy, a Facebook women’s group I had joined. These people talk about everything. I know things about some of them that I don’t want to know about anybody but they do have a wealth of information. I asked the Crones if they knew of a good place to get a wig or a hairpiece. Despite the fact that I barely have any pictures of myself, I took some of my head and posted them for the Crones to see. My hair was a shade of eggplant at the time, since I was tired of my own mousy brown. Many told me my dark hair made my thinning spots look even thinner. This was the only time I did not welcome the words “look thinner” in regards to my appearance. They advised me to stop coloring my hair and to use oils and supplements.
I have been dying my hair ever since my grays became the topic of public conversation over thirty years ago. Over the years, I’ve joked that I had no idea anymore what my natural color is. The only time I eschewed hair dye was when I was pregnant. And don’t think I haven’t thrown that fact up in my daughter’s face a couple of billion times.
I took the Crones’ advice and grew my hair out. I put castor oil on my head and covered it with a shmatta at least one night a week. I took Biotin supplements. I stirred collagen powder into my soup. I researched thickening shampoos and massaged them into my scalp.
And an amazing thing happened. My hair got curly. It started looking thicker. Unfortunately, my white hair aged me to the point where an old man at the Orlando airport helpfully told me that “we” didn’t have to take our shoes off for security – “we” being those who are seventy-five and older. I was fifty-nine.
After that, I dyed my hair blonde. I don’t think of myself as blonde. I am a terrible blonde. I don’t have the coloring for it. I was thinking of putting some “fun” pink and purple streaks in. And then isolation hit and the third thing that disappeared from the market after Purell and toilet paper was hair dye. I resigned myself to growing older-looking again. It’s a small thing in such a big time. I did finally find some temporary dye but it washed out quickly.
Towards the beginning of the pandemic, I had a Zoom with a writer I’d met at a publishing conference. As soon as our meeting began, I was dismayed to behold her long pre-Raphaelite locks. She has hair you could lose a navel orange in, if it were your habit to lose fruit in people’s hair.
I had just gotten out of my backyard pool before the conference and my hair had yet to dry. I’ve fished small furry creatures out of that pool who looked better than I did. I spent most of the early minutes of the session as I do all my Zooms, trying to position the top of my head out of the frame. I listened to the woman’s words but I could not help but to fixate on her head. I identified the feeling I had right away: hair envy. If Freud had paid more attention, he might have realized that this is the real affliction we women face. And I can tell you that no amount of castor oil and collagen will fix this. I can only hope that there are attractive hats online.