Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Losing my head

Long time no post-y. This is due to a lack of inspiration all round, coupled with moving house and obtaining a new job has left me with little time or energy for the more temporal of my pastimes.

And, I have had a rather big distraction lately.

My hair has been falling out.

Well, I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and all that, as I now have some material to write about, so I suppose that’s something…

My hair started falling out almost three months ago, almost imperceptibly. I played dumb for a bit and pretended it wasn’t happening but now its still happening and its certainly obvious to me. The hair loss has been even, from right across my head, so I don’t have a visible bald patch or anything, but the general volume of my hair has decreased.

The reason, most likely, is due to a series of deeply stressful events over the last year, including; ending a long term relationship, financial struggles and moving house, amongst other things. Apparently this is known as ‘Telogen Effluvium’ – where a big shock causes lots of your hair to die at once and all fall out. Sexy. I have been told that there is little chance of me going bald, which is nice, but that how long it will last for and how bad it will be is harder to pin down.

On the plus side, there have been times when my friends have informed me that ‘you always looked a bit bald around the sides anyway’, so I suppose that I should take comfort from the fact that I have always appeared as if I was suffering from hair loss, even when I wasn’t.

As someone who has fine hair, which I dye black, it has been an interesting journey for me over the last few months. What does hair loss mean to me, to women generally and what impact does it have on your life?

The thing that has surprised me most of all about the hair loss is the way I have adopted various coping mechanisms, which I didn’t even notice at first. For example, I rarely have showers with my contact lenses in now, because my short sightedness means I can’t see how much hair is coming out in the shower. I use my darkest coloured bed linen so you can’t see the amount of hair in the bed. I no longer blow dry my hair, or brush it every day, and my default style is to clip it all back with Kirby grips. It’s not so much the elephant in the room, as the elephant on my head. Completely ignoring my hair has been my main course of action.
Up until about 18 months ago, I had short hair and was never interested in having it long. Then, I decided to grow it and had got it to just above shoulder length before it started coming out. Talk about unfair.

Another surprising consequence of hair loss has been the effect on my emotions. I have felt really bloody angry that this is happening just when my hair was long enough to be styled and worn down. I have also felt incredibly jealous of women with good hair and find myself staring at people on the tube. Don’t even get me started on how it feels to watch shampoo adverts! Herbal Essences makes me feel apoplectic.

The knock on affect of hating my hair is that I have apportioned blame to it. Quite how a bunch of skin cells could knowingly sabotage my life is hard to determine but it has felt like that many times.

What I hadn’t expected, and this might be na├»ve, is the general impact on how I feel about my appearance. I find it hard to feel like getting glammed up for a night out and deciding what to wear has taken on a new significance. What’s the point in wearing make up? Or wearing an interesting outfit? I often feel like I would rather stay in be more homely. I certainly don’t like having photos taken of me at the moment.

Because everyone says you can’t tell, it’s hard to say all of this without sounding like you’re being over sensitive or a bit melodramatic. And they’re probably right. I think there are many, many people suffering a lot worse than me. But it’s the fact that it has impacted on so many parts of my life that I wanted to write a bit about how it feels.

Women’s hair is a big deal; we dye it, cut it, flick it and spray it. Having shiny and big hair a la Cheryl Cole on X Factor is the style many women aspire to, so to see it going down the plughole makes you feel like you’ve failed on some level. I have also felt like I’ve failed because of how much it has bothered me, it’s not like I’m unwell or living with a disease. There has only been one time when I have broken down about it, on my own, because I feel guilty for caring about it.

A rather bitterly ironic twist to my experience has been the work I’ve done with Racoon International (a hair extensions company) and their ‘Hair in recovery’ programme, which offers women suffering from medical hair loss a way to get feminine-looking hair back as soon as possible. It’s amazing as it costs less than NHS wigs and is ethically sourced real hair, a real life line for women coming out of a cancer experience, for example. I hope I don’t sound like an advert!

My point is, during meetings with these guys I was confronted with how people perceive hair loss in a very direct way, at the time when I was just coming to terms with mine. Some of the key things I picked up were:

1. You’re a victim and you will feel isolated and sad.
2. Hair loss should be concealed as quickly as possible, with extensions, wigs or scarves.
3. Your hair is the epitome of femininity and sexuality. The way people talked about it, you
would have thought there was some sort of Samson-like power in female hair to draw in sexual partners.
4. It is the ‘last taboo’ for women to talk about this with their friends and family.

I think it was a low point to be sitting around a table of people who had no idea about my hair loss, talking about this stuff. I don’t think they’re wrong, or that it was unfair, but I hadn’t been prepared for the impact this would have. It was the first time I felt genuinely worried about how other people would see me and what might happen if I lost all my hair. On the plus side, I’ve got contacts with the right people should the worst happen so I suppose I shouldn’t whinge too much… it would be quite cool to get massive page three model hair extensions and see the look on people’s faces.

So what am I doing about it? I have been for blood tests, results not back yet, and seen a doctor. The doctor was…. Adequate. He seemed to think the whole thing wasn’t a big deal and I found it hard not to be upset or angry in the surgery. There was certainly no talk of how we might deal with the emotional impact of it and his first suggestion was that it was a scalp infection. So I walked out of the surgery no clearer on my plan of action and with a prescription for some anti-fungal shampoo. The whole experience was a little odd to say the least.

I have told most of my friends and family, who are supportive and reassuring. I have overcome much of the stress in my life and have started taking more time to relax.


Now all I need is for my follicles to catch up with my lifestyle and I’m on to a winner.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sardinia in Summary

This time last year, ish, my bestie and I went on a 5 day trip to the lovely Sardinia. We had a whale of a time and it wasn't until I came across an old email that I remembered quite how much. This is what we managed to acheive on just a couple of the days we were away:

On the first night:
My boyfriend at the time was stupid enough to lend his camera to us. We lost it on the first night.

We were drunk and asked for the bill in this cocktail bar about 10 times but they were just ignoring us and so we were like 'so lets just leave' and kept saying it and being all 'yeah, let's just do it, yeah' and then eventually did.

On the way out, sian walked into a chair and they STILL didn't notice. As soon as we were outside the restaurant we were so embarrassed and didn't know what to do and wanted to go back, but couldn't.

So we went back to the campsite and worried about being apprehended by the polizie all night. It wasn't until we ordered a beer and a coffee and we went to take a photo of sian's teeny coffee we realized the camera was gone. What made it worse was that we had taken photos of ourselves drinking cocktails on the camera, so they also knew who we were.


On the last night:

We got hammered on the prosecco we had stored in the boot of the Twingo and passed out in our tent.

Sian wandered off sleep walking and only woke up when she landed on her face after falling down a rock garden. She came back to the tent talking rubbish about losing a shoe and not finding it and the people in the tents nearby laughing at her for falling over and so on, so I ignored her and went back to sleep. The next morning she woke up and found both her shoes and we realized that there was no way anyone would be laughing at her at 3am for falling over since they were INSIDE their tent and couldn't have seen!

Also, the next morning she was still concussed because she said to me "did you just hear that couple say 'did you ever find out who that shoe belonged too?'" just before we realised both her shoes were still there, so she was talking cack. Then I passed out holding on to a tree and had to lie down for half an hour.

The final day:

We sunbathed for 4 hours in 30+ degrees heat wearing onlt factor 15 from poundland. I got so burned I had to sleep on my front for three days when I home and couldn't sit down without involuntarily crying out. The people in Sian's office asked if she had been in a car accident.

She told them the truth, but didn't have the heart to say that on the second day we had managed to accidently 'nudge' an old man whilst driving along the coast. Thankfully he wasn't hurt, just very angry.

Monday, 3 August 2009

I need to stop half rhyming my poems!

I'm coming down with something-
I don't feel so well.

Work is out of the question,
you've made me feel too ill.

I think I have that swine flu-
or something pretty bad.

My hands just keep on shaking,
I think I need my bed.

I’m tired all of the time,
The symptoms must be rare.

Because whatever you have given me,
Isn’t going anywhere.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Another article on female muslim dress

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6721729.ece

OK, so I'm not going to dissect this article because time is rather short, but regarding the first point in which the author says (of the women who wear the niqab): "They dress in everyday clothing; they get their hair done, go on holiday and even buy lingerie!"... Well, gosh! How lovely. For me, that really isn't the point. There are many academic points about and around which it is possible to build an argument against the wearing of religious dress. For me, this is not about religion, or culture. It is about equality, as I have said numerous times.

The whole problem with expecting women to cover up, dress 'modestly' and all the rest of it is that is something that has been developed by men to subjugate women. To separate them and declare them different from men. If all Muslim people, male or female wandered around with family relative chaperones, wearing the niqab, then I would be far more accepting. But this just isn't the case. As for the part about 'going on holiday'. Well, perhaps they do, but they don't go swimming, that's for sure. Unless it’s at a female only pool session of course.

So the myth that the author is trying to dispel here, in point one, that 'The niqab is a symbol of female subjugation' falls down at the first hurdle.

Because of course it fucking is. It only applies to ONE GENDER.

If people are going to maintain that the niqab has a place in society, could they at least stop pretending that it isn't hugely humiliating and derogatory, and come up with some other reasons for wearing it? Like 'because I have been indoctrinated by my religion to think this', or, 'because I gave it some thought and even though there are valid arguments against it, I decided to wear it anyway', or more likely, 'because I was told to'?

Because whilst I believe everyone has a free choice to believe what they want, and dress how they like, pretending that there are 'good' and religious and fair reasons for it is absolutely not a requirement and simply makes an out-moded point of view an offensive one.



Monday, 27 July 2009

It's not mother's day, but nevermind....

What I want to be
When I grow up,
Is just like you.

Not exactly the same,
That’s just daft,
Of course.

But to be
funny and silly,
and to talk to the animals.

I wonder if I'll ever be
A proper adult like you.

You do get cross
Too easily.
And sometimes, you
have the funniest views.

But what I really want,
When I grow up
Is to be just like you.

Do you think,
One day
Ill drive a tractor too?

To believe in fairies and spirits,
And witches, pixies
And magic.

And have an eye
like a magpie.

I hope when I am an adult
Ill understand people
In the way that you do.

To care for others
Without getting cross,
But still want to work in a morgue.

Im not sure
if this makes any sense
to anyone else.

But what I really want
When I grow up,
Mum,
Is to be just like you.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Advertising Cancer

I was watching TV the other night (I have to admit that it was the new show on LivingTV called 'Four Weddings' where four brides get to attend each others' weddings and then slag them off afterwards. It was HILARIOUS, mostly because of the narcissistic gay 'bride' who was the biggest bitch I've ever seen making snobbish value judgements about the other contestants)... I digress... and an advert came on for Cancer Research UK, or CRUK as we call them in the trade.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUQo3m3tGB0

And I had few thoughts about it. Firstly, due to the seriousness of cancer and the impact it has on peoples' lives, I feel I should mention again that I work for a cancer charity and that my thoughts aren't a reflection of the devastating impact cancer has on people but how we should talk about and view people living with cancer.

The start of this advert is pretty good. I think it reflects the fact that cancer really can affect anyone - and it’s pretty positive too. My issue lies with the last 15 seconds when the whole tone of the advert changes and we're reminding that it’s not a battle everyone wins. Now, I am not suggesting we gloss over the fact that more people are diagnosed and that many, many people still die of cancer or its knock on effects, but there was a clear distinction between 'those who live' and 'those who die'. Those who live look healthy and empowered and hirsute. The two women at the end with bald heads or scarves were clearly meant to represent those people who die as a result of their cancer.

I did find it frustrating that the 'non survivors' were represented by the stereotypical bald cancer victim. No one else in the footage had hair loss, only those telling the audience that many people still die from cancer - with the clear message that this might apply to them. Of course this is harrowing and very likely true for these women - and I was deeply moved for them - but I felt almost patronised at the sharp contrast drawn between the two groups represented within the advert.

There are a number of issues with the way this is represented. Firstly, many people diagnosed with cancer do not suffer hair loss, including many who receive chemo as part of their treatment. Secondly, for me it equates hair loss with terminal illness, which hardly seems fair on those in remission and perpetuates the confusion that it's cancer which causes hair loss and not the treatment. Why are none of the 'survivors' depicted with hair loss? Thirdly, does it really 'do' these days to show a bald teenage girl representing the masses of people diagnosed with cancer, who may indeed not survive, but who are far more likely to be older and not necessarily bald?

Having a hard hitting message is necessary in direct marketing campaigns, but playing on the emotive nature of the young 'victim' is not something which I think does the battle for cancer equality (and fundraising) any favours. It is perfectly possible to hit home the significance of cancer and the need to research into it without resorting to this.

Perhaps I wouldn't have minded if one of the 'survivors' had been bald? Perhaps I wouldn't. It would make the whole thing seem less calculated somehow. I feel that we can't talk about empowering people living with cancer whilst continuing to represent them in this narrow minded and rather old fashioned way.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Highbury Fields

We sat down in
Highbury Fields,

about 7pm
on a Wednesday.

I watched the dogs,
you poured the wine

and we both wondered
what to say.