Hair, Confidence & The Slap Heard Around the World: An Open Letter to Women Struggling w/ Confidence
On the night of Sunday, March 27, 2022, the Oscars began trending all over the internet for a reason that shocked the world. In case you happened to miss it, here’s a super quick recap:
2022 Oscar co-host and comedian, Chris Rock, delivered a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith referencing her shaved head to the likes of G.I. Jane (a 1997 movie with a bald soldier depicted by Demi Moore). The joke did not land well because Pinkett-Smith suffers from alopecia (a non-curable, autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss). She was visibly upset. Once the moment sunk in after initially laughing, Oscar nominated Will Smith (her husband) walked on stage, slapped Rock in the face, and returned to his seat before repeatedly yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out of your motherf*cking mouth!”
I’m not here to debate whether it was staged or real.
I’m not here to debate whether Rock was aware of Pinkett-Smith’s condition prior to the joke or not.
I’m not here to debate whether Rock was wrong or whether Smith was wrong.
I’m not here to debate any mental health or breaking point conversations.
I’m not here to debate the protection of women (and more specifically black women).
I’m not here to debate Team Will or Team Chris or Team Jada.
Instead, we need to discuss what NO ONE is talking about – the invisible elephant in the room. Pinkett-Smith’s face during that moment was representative of the struggle that many women unfortunately are familiar with. As I reflected on my own experience and shared vulnerable conversations with numerous women about their experiences, I recognized that we’re all in pain, and we’re all exhausted.
So, consider this an open letter to the 46 million women in the world who are bald by force and are likely lacking confidence as a direct result. Studies have shown that one’s hair can be directly tied to one’s confidence and self-esteem. Studies have shown that confidence and self-esteem can be directly tied to depression and anxiety.
For the record, I am not a hair loss specialist nor do I suffer from alopecia.
But I am a woman…
A woman who has tied her hair to her womanhood and her confidence.
A Black woman who understands the discriminations, implications, and societal pressures of “good hair” versus unkempt hair (but that’s another topic for another day).
A woman who has labored through the emotional journey of losing her hair by force (rather than a willing hairstyle change) and experienced a drastic drop in confidence.
In May 2007, I woke up in a dark room unable to see, speak, or move. I had no clue where I was, and I began to panic until I passed out from exhaustion. The next time I woke up, I was informed that I had been in a “fatal” car wreck. I had been on life support and brain dead for the past week. Amongst a long list of injuries, I was also paralyzed. However, strangely, I didn’t shed a single tear until the realization that the full head of hair I remembered was now gone instantly without notice.
During the wreck, my head was pinned between the ground and the car on top of me. During emergency surgeries, surgeons shaved two thirds of my hair to relieve pressure from my brain and piece my skull back together (while leaving the remaining one third bloody, dirty, and eventually matted towards the nape of my neck). To add to my baldness, I had a roadmap of wounds and staples from ear to ear. My first look in a mirror put my confidence on its own life support, and I had no clue how to revive it. Although my physical recovery was nothing short of miraculous, the emotional recovery gave me a run for my money!
Whether from alopecia, injury, cancer, medication, or any other reason, forced hair loss is often an unbecoming experience for women. Although experiences are unique to each individual woman, we still have an eerily shared, similar experience.
Statements from full haired friends and freshly shampooed strangers like:
“At least you’re alive”
“It’s only hair. It’ll grow back”
“At least you’ll save a lot of time and money.”
…are NOT comforting by any means. We know its well-meaning, but it only intensifies the pain that we feel.
Because although hair may seem trivial, we are deeply grieving the loss of our crown and glory. And we’re grieving the loss of who we’ve known ourselves to be. There’s embarrassment. There’s shame. There’s a loss of identity. There’s a loss of our femininity.
We feel the stares and snide expressions. We feel the trauma. We feel helpless. We feel unattractive. We feel unlovable. We feel judged. We feel inadequate and insecure as a woman. We feel lonely (even if surrounded by others). We feel angry. We feel stressed and frustrated. We feel heartbroken and depressed. We feel horrified and fearful of what’s to come. And although we shouldn’t be, sometimes we even feel guilty.
Our confidence takes a hit, and we show up a little less powerfully (if we still show up at all). We do our best to be strong despite feeling weak. We do our best to ignore the whispers of people trying to figure out why we’re bald (or thinning). We do our best not to shatter to pieces when we’re the butt of insensitive jokes. We do our best to stand tall when all we really want to do is hide in a corner until it’s over.
But we can’t hide. So, we try to hide our feelings instead. We keep it to ourselves. We try to hide our tears. We try to hide our thinning tresses and bare baldness with makeup and weaves and wigs and scarves.
So, to every woman that’s still in hiding…
To every woman that has become bald by force…
To every woman that has suffered from hair loss…
To every woman struggling to be confident in her appearance…
I want you to know that I see you! Whether you refuse to leave the house or you’ve fully embraced being bald, I know that you’re tired regardless. But I also see your beauty! I see your grace! I see your power! You are not vain for caring so much about the loss of your hair.
But you ARE worthy! You are lovable! You are phenomenal! Let this serve as a reminder that you are not your hair! And I know, I know! It’s easier said than done! But your hair does not define who you are, and it does not define your greatness! Only YOU define you – not your clothes, your titles, your education, your money, and especially not your hair!
Know that you are not alone in your journey. Find the support you need, and if you can’t find it, create it! (That may actually be connected to your purpose, but again…that’s another topic for another day.) Positively affirm yourself every single day! Make sure you are prioritizing your self-care by any means necessary. Don’t hesitate to cut off anyone that makes you feel less than the amazing woman that I know you are! Protect your peace however you see fit.
And again, I SEE YOU! I admire you! I applaud you. I’m here for you in spirit, and I’m praying for you.
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!
Save this as a reminder, share this with a friend, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
With all the love and all the blessings, Lindsey Vertner
To download a complimentary set of Affirmations for Self-Worth, click here.
To find out more information about alopecia, visit The National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
P.S. If you’re a man reading this or a woman without any hair loss, please show empathy. Take this to heart the next time you begin to comment on someone’s hair (or lack thereof). If you must comment, make it a genuine compliment and nothing else. Don’t try to be funny. If you want to be supportive, simply ask, “How can I best support you right now?” Nothing more, nothing less.
Lindsey Vertner is an award-winning Mindset Expert & Transformational Speaker. She coaches high-achieving women who struggle with perfectionism, over-thinking, and doubt to increase their clarity, confidence, connections, and cash-flow. Her brand, First Class Life®, helps women to create a life full of purpose, fulfillment, and happiness. www.FirstClassLifeShop.com