'Simply put, I think bald women are beautiful': author Laura Price on what losing her hair to breast cancer taught her about beauty
Laura Price, author of life-affirming story of love and friendship, Single Bald Female, shares what losing her hair following chemotherapy at the age of 29 taught her about her ideas of beauty.
Growing up, I was never a ‘girlie’ girl. I favoured Transformers over Barbies and I hated dolls. I didn’t wear a skirt until I was 12, and even now I’m happiest in a cosy jumper and bottoms. I bought a pair of straighteners once, mostly because every woman seems to own them, but I’ve never used them. I’m simply not that bothered about hair.
So when I lost my long hair during chemotherapy after I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, it didn’t feel like the end of the world. In some ways, it was an opportunity.
Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I’d never had anything shorter than a bob. I’d lived for several years in Brazil, where beauty standards are high and long hair is the norm. Whereas in the UK it’s derogatory to call someone vain, in Brazil it’s a compliment. I’ll never forget the way women would look me up and down when I lived in São Paulo because I was often in jeans and flip-flops when they would be tottering about in high heels. I think they thought I was scruffy when in fact I just wanted to be comfortable, and heels weren’t me.
Right before I was diagnosed with cancer, I’d been admiring a colleague’s pixie cut. Her face was a similar shape to mine, and I found myself wondering what I’d look like if I ever had the guts to cut my hair like that. But I didn’t have the guts, partly because of the beauty standards I’d been held to in Brazil and by the glossy magazines I’d grown up reading. I was also influenced by what men thought of me – when I cut my hair into a Lily Allen-inspired bob circa 2010, my girlfriends loved it, but a male friend said he preferred it long. I was single and naively figured I might not find a boyfriend if I kept my hair short.
‘I found myself wondering what I’d look like if I ever had the guts to cut my hair like that. But I didn’t have the guts, partly because of the beauty standards I’d been held to . . .’
So when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I was only too happy to go for it. I cut my hair into a pixie crop to lessen the blow when it started to fall out, and I wished I’d done it sooner. When all my hair fell out three weeks after my first round of chemo, part of me loved the bald look. With big, bold earrings and a leather jacket, I looked vaguely cool.
Simply put, I think bald women are beautiful. Jada Pinkett-Smith at the Oscars? Stunning. Megan Fox and Natalie Portman with shaved heads? Gorgeous.
But there’s a difference between a shaved head for fashion, and hair loss from cancer. With the former, you have a thin layer of hair and you often have your eyebrows and lashes. With the latter, you lose your sideburns, your brows, your lashes and even the thin layer of downy hair on your face. For me, it was the loss of my sideburns, brows and lashes that really hit me. I felt naked and vulnerable. Without those things to frame my face, I looked like a cancer patient, and sadly no amount of make-up could make me look normal.
‘Hair loss is never like it is in the films. ’
Hair loss is never like it is in the films. My friends didn’t offer to shave their hair off in solidarity, and to be honest I didn’t expect them to. Quite a few of them took me wig shopping though, and it was fun trying on different hair shapes and colours.
I relished the process of growing my hair back after chemo. I even took a daily selfie for the first 18 months, turning it into a timelapse video to track its growth. I loved having a buzz cut, but I hated the bit before the bob, which seemed to take forever.
Almost a decade later, my hair has started to go grey. When I found the first silver strand on the top of my head, I was tempted to moan and groan, but I quickly realised it was a blessing. Because yes, my hair is thin and lacklustre and yes, I envy my friends with luscious long locks, but at the end of the day, I’m still here. I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I’m grateful to have hair at all.