I have grieved me and sometimes I still grieve me. I began to come to grips with the loss about two years ago, after I finished all of my treatments for cancer and my doctors were starting to break it to me that if my period and my hair had not come back by then it probably wasn’t ever gonna…I began to feel as if someone had died, someone intimate, a lover, a twin. She was all I had ever known and she was the compass for who I thought I needed to get back to. The loss of her was something that made me brutally aware that I would have to grieve her and let her go to move on. And survived cancer I had, but I wasn’t sure that I could survive the loss of her.
Who was I? I was 33. I was self conscious. But outwardly confident. I was very fidgety about my looks and how others might perceive me. I spent a lot of time and effort working how I would present myself to the world. I had a look down that I felt pretty comfortable with. It was kind of a boho hippie rocker hipster combo, somewhat borrowed from the 70s and 90s and always inspired by some combination of Patti Smith and someone else more femme fatale than Patti Smith. The art of cultivating a look is something that I have done since I was a child. Its probably why I probably remember the outfit you were wearing when we met. It is absolutely why I ended up doing other peoples hair for a living, and essentially getting to play dress up every day when I go to work. Confident in my sassy way of presenting myself, take away the make up and clothes and most importantly the hair and you would have found a vastly different creature. With those things went my attitude of dominance over my grasp over the subject of aesthetic. Those things gave me power and without them I could feel ugly and silly and small. Without those things I could feel really really bad.
Who am I now? I just turned 37. I have a morbidly thinned head of hair, what they are calling “chemotherapy induced alopecia-permanent”. I keep my head shaved. When I try to let it grow it bums me out so I just feel prettier and more confident if I shave it bald. I draw in my eyebrows to go out, or else I wear nerdy glasses to give some definition to my face. I have recently started getting lashes put on and it makes me feel less like a ghost, more like a pretty lady. And pretty makes me feel pretty good. I am a bit softer and less toned although I work out more than I did before. I have lymphedema so my arm and one breast swells randomly. It can make me puffy and uncomfortable but I have learned to roll with it, and I have tools to manage it. I have hot flashes all day, especially at night. These can be embarrassing and uncomfortable because my face might turn red and sweat might start pouring down my face and other body parts at inconvenient times. But I have enough people I can commiserate with on this and its usually just laughed off or ignored altogether. I’m a runner. I’m a reader. I’m a writer. I’m a friend. Confidant. I’m a wife. I’m a stylist and sometimes by default a counselor. I’m a homemaker. I’m this, I’m that. I am so many things. I am so many things beyond my appearance, and while I think about my appearance every day and I very much still care deeply about it, (and I still get sad about this and that) I am less defined by it in a wonky way. I feel celebratory when I move about in my body. I rejoice in the fact that I am still here, living this life. I see myself when I look in the mirror, and I mostly see her without the deep pain and sorrow that I had been carrying around.
So what am I trying to say? I think it’s this: We all experience loss and changes in our bodies as we grow, some happen organically with natural aging, some happen drastically as with an illness or an accident that marks us physically. What I had believed to be the essential tools to present ME as ME to the world have been stripped away. My brutal process through loss has broken me open to be candid about what I have come to see as a very special and beautiful journey of self discovery. I can only speak from the experience of being a woman on this one. That experience grants me with an innate understanding that our outward image is how we are perceived in the world, and can determine how easily we move about it. We are all mixed up about preserving an appearance of youth but also trying to cultivate a respect and celebrate our bodies as they age. I am still figuring out how my story can be effective, and I write it down because I can. And I write it down because somewhere between who I was and who I am there was someone that felt very very lost, very very sad, very very lonely, very very ugly and very very bad.