“Tumhare baal kaafi halke hain, na (Your hair is really thin, isn’t it)?” My first realization of my hair density not being the standard for women came almost two decades back in the form of a casual remark from a classmate in school. I didn’t make much of it — we were teenagers with bigger issues at hand (read literal blue-eyed boys we crushed on and boring biology lectures we could make no sense of) and as a fat, short and dark teenager, there were greater physical “inadequacies” to deal with.
As school made way for college, comments on my hair, or the lack of them, became more regular. No parlor visit went by without the stylist, their voice dripping with part horror and part concern, pointing out the void on my head like I was not aware of it already, no family gathering was complete without someone casually remarking about my hair.
Finally, I decided to do something about it in my mid-20s when a well-meaning aunt pointed out that my hair had gotten thinner than before. I decided to visit a famous Homeopathy clinic where the doctor asked who in my family suffered from the same condition. Now being raised by a single parent has many advantages, one of which is that the number of relatives you have to remember is reduced by half. I scratched my hair, pun intended, and thought of my brother’s perfect hair, so dense that you can’t find a scalp even if you went looking. My mom’s beautiful hair, which aging along with all of her life’s struggles couldn’t touch with a barge pole. My aunt’s thick, black, long hair that she tied into a beautiful plait for her Tamil wedding. Even my maternal grandparents—both with a perfectly full head of hair. My biological father’s hair, from what I could deduce from pictures, looked fine too. What about you dadaji (paternal grandfather), the doctor asked. I quickly called up my mom knew and heard what the doctor already knew: Yes, my mom’s former father-in-law had a balding problem.
I could see a slight smirk on the doctor’s face, like Sherlock Holmes who has solved a crime without having to think much about it. “Deepika, you have alopecia. A condition you have inherited from your grandad. And though we can’t give you any more hair, we can try and save what you already have,” she said, before proceeding to list a care plan that was near unaffordable for a small-town print journalist like me. I asked my mom to pitch in and she readily agreed and what began was almost two years of what I call an absolute waste of time and money with zero results before I decided to cut my losses and abandon the exercise completely.
Next, I visited a “German Homeopathy” practitioner in my hometown who promised to “fix” me. He wrote a bunch of expensive tests, all that my mother paid for, before declaring that nothing could be done really. All this was interspersed with my experiments with various Ayurvedic hair oils, which did no favors to my already oily scalp, and shampoos.
In the meantime, unsolicited advice and remarks continued. I would often find myself looking at the heads of various women on the Metro and other places to find one, just one, who had a condition that mirrored mine. And I seldom met any success. I wondered why God had been this unkind to me. Was it not enough that I was fat and not conventionally pretty?
A few years back, I tried PRP treatment, which requires drawing blood from a body part and injecting it into the head to stimulate hair growth. I signed a standard document in which I consented to risk getting partial paralysis during my treatment. I duly signed; what can be more important to a woman than her hair, I thought and proceeded to get multiple injections jabbed into my head. I remember heading to the office with a head smeared in my blood. A few weeks later, I went for another session before abandoning it altogether — too painful and expensive.
Explained: How Will Smith’s altercation with Chris Rock on Oscars stage was six years in the making
And that is when I came across Jada Pinkett Smith. As someone with zero interest in movies, I had never heard of her. But she stole my heart with just one interview clip. Donning a resplendent yellow turban, she talked openly about hair loss and how she has learned to not just accept it but also rock it with beautiful headgears. And then she said a line that moved something deep within me: “Every day, I see the higher power take so much away from people. And if for me it’s my hair, then so be it.” I was moved. Here was a woman for whom her appearance is her fortune and look how she has embraced such a huge blow to it with aplomb. So, why can’t I? And I decided to embrace my condition with all my heart.
It’s really okay, you know. So what if I don’t have a head full of hair? I still have a life that is so full. My hair condition has not stopped me from having the career I wanted, the wonderful friends who root for me at every turn, the family that dotes on me completely, the hobbies that never fail to reward me, the lover (s) who gently tuck a few strands behind my ear as they lean over for a kiss…
So, when I see the same woman who has unwittingly given me so much in terms of self-acceptance being a subject of a joke that is not even funny, I find myself triggered. One may say that Will Smith, Jada’s husband, smacking Chris Rock right across the face is an act steeped in patriarchy, which maybe it is, but is picking on a bald woman in a room that has no dearth of bald men not patriarchy too? I one hundred per cent agree that violence is not the answer, but I find something unsettling about the huge gap between the number of people jumping on Will Smith for his “uncalled behavior” and those expressing disapproval over the fact that a woman was insulted for her medical condition in one of the most respected ceremonies in the world. I also wonder if the reactions would be the same if Will had punched a man in the face for physically trying to disrespect his wife. As if verbal abuse is any less damaging to women.
At the end of the day, though I still wish the issue was addressed in a less dramatic manner, and that women occupy center stage in a problem that they face firsthand, instead of men hogging the limelight as always, I am glad that this has brought an issue really close to my heart to the forefront. I am glad that once the dust settles down on which of the two men were right, at least some people will talk of the problem that started it all — hair loss in women. I hope it will deter at least a few people from abruptly commenting on women’s body parts, the scalp in this case. I hope it will make some read up about the condition and develop sensitivity which they are able to pass on to a few others too. And finally, I hope it will give rise to a world where women would nonchalantly talk about hair loss and say: yes, I have alopecia and you know what, I really don’t give a damn.
– Deepika is a Senior Copy Editor with The Indian Express