Not to be confused with Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, or even the rhythm-and-blues inspired Hairspray musical, this event was more of a spoken-word performance similar to the Vagina Monologues. Donations for the American Cancer Society were collected at the beginning and end of the show, to help get wigs for chemotherapy patients.
My friend at the Intercultural Center, shout out to Michael Piña, created this event after a conversation in the office pertaining to hair’s relation to ethnicity. He was inspired to dive deeper into this topic and called for people all over campus to share their hair stories. I submitted one myself. Everyone had their own, unique experience: the stigma for having snarls or naps, not looking Latina for having naturally straight hair, black women becoming addicted to using hair relaxers or “creamy crack,” and even deeper topics.
One story was told over the microphone anonymously by a female vocalist. She told about one traumatic experience of rape and how afterwards, the victim suffered from depression and a lack of identity. They felt dirty, gross, ugly. They hated their hair above all else. It used to be their pride and joy, their symbol of cleanliness and attractiveness. By the end of the story, a man appeared on stage and proclaimed: “If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought this story was about a girl.” The moment was shocking to the audience, first because it is more-likely that we assume a victim of sexual assault is female (since college-aged women have a 1-in-4 chance of being assaulted, compared to college-aged men who have a 1-in-33 chance). Statistics aside, we would have thought the victim was female because we stereotypically believe that the admiration and upkeep of hair is a womanly trait. The author of this story, however, was a young man who cared so much about his hair, it became a huge factor in his identity. Yet after the assault, it was his source of self-loathing. So that was certainly a story with a twist, and one that made me rethink about the role gender plays in hair.
One story that really pulled at my emotions was one about breast cancer, chemotherapy, and hair loss. This choked me up the most, having lost my grandmother to cancer. This story was about a woman who considered her hair as her most attractive feature. She felt like a walking billboard for her hair dresser and always received compliments. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was to undergo rigorous treatment and faced the reality that a breast had to be removed. In preparation for her chemotherapy, she allowed her fiance to shave her head. She wept. She was losing her most loved feature, the reason she got compliments from strangers, a part of her identity. Time went on, her hair grew back (though not to its full strength and appearance), and all seemed right with the world. Until the cancer came back. She found out her second breast had to be removed. Her now husband shaved her head again, she went through chemotherapy, and went through surgery. Afterward, her hair never substantially grew back again. The most emotional part of the story came when she said she could accept losing her boobs, but it was losing her hair that devastated her above all else. Such a statement overwhelmed me. I never would have thought just how important hair could be to someone.
And with that, I leave you to think about your own experiences with hair. Feel free to share it in the comments section. I’ll be sharing my hair poem/story in another post soon.