What it feels like to be a bald woman

Meshel Laurie

When I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, the first words that came to mind were “Uncle” and “Fester”.  My friend, and one of the World’s great inspirational boofhead-heads, Kate Langbroek had warned me about this.  She shaved her head years ago, and said that the first glance in the morning mirror was by far the hardest bit.  “There is no hair curtain to hide behind,” she said.  So true.  I saw my puffy, blotchy face in all its glory, and although I certainly didn’t dig it, even then I didn’t really feel anything about the fact that I shaved my head two days ago.  Is that weird?

“Are you nervous?” people asked in the lead-up, their faces contorted in a combination of sympathy and you-go-girl encouragement.  “Not really,” I’d tell them truthfully, although I could tell they didn’t believe me.  “Ummm, maybe I’m in denial.”

I wasn’t in denial, I genuinely don’t care.  I think a big part of it is that I have never, and this will shock you, never relied upon my looks to get by.  I genuinely think that a woman with noteworthy beauty might find it a bit harder.  I had a beautiful friend who lost her hair during a breast cancer fight and cried many tears over it.  Of course she was a very beautiful bald lady, but she just couldn’t feel like her without her hair.

I also have in my favour of course, the knowledge that I chose to shave my head.  My hair isn’t falling out in chunks in the shower.  Nor am I waking to find it strewn across my pillow.   I’m not sick or scared.  My family aren’t freaked out.  My children aren’t being drip-fed a terrible truth.  I did it it for The World’s Greatest Shave, in the name of cash, not chemo.

I saw a lady at Coles the other day who wore the unmistakeable accoutrements of cancer.  A scarf over her bald head, her pale, pillowy face devoid of brows.  I thought as I stole another pitying glance, about what cancer-related hair loss takes from a person.  It can take their beauty, their femininity, their pride and joy into which many dollars and hours have been sunk, but more insidiously, it takes their identity.  I looked at that lady and I saw cancer.  I was repelled by her because I was scared I’d catch her cancer.  I was compelled by her because she had the monster inside.  I took pity on her because it had chosen her.  She was choosing tomatoes.


What a lot of baggage I attached to that stranger, who undoubtedly has so much more to her.   It was there, in the fruit and veggie section at Coles that I realised what the shave is really all about.

Yes it’s about raising money for research, and yes it’s about reminding myself of how lucky I am today, but more than that it’s about relating to people with cancer, feeling some solidarity with them, perhaps even shielding them from one of the many things they have on their plates.  If we all shaved our heads, then no one would notice that lady with the tomatoes, she’d just be another face in the crowd which I can only imagine she must long to be again.  Of course “normal” is nothing but the most common thing so if we all looked like her, no one would look at her with pity, or not look at her with dread.  She’d at least have some privacy in her battle, and some choices as to who knew about it.  Her every interaction need not take place in it’s shadow.

Of course if we all shaved our heads and donated 10 bucks, we might even be able to beat the bastard thing!

Meshel Laurie is a comedian and broadcaster. You can catch up with her on Nova’s Drive Show with Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold 4-6pm on weekdays. You can also follow Meshel on Twitter here.

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