So here’s a thing I never thought I’d say: I’m blonde.
At least, for the next week or so.
Here’s how it happened.
Flashback to August. I was finally, finally on my way to see my stylist, for the first time in over six months. I couldn’t wait for her to cut my hair properly, and I wanted to ask her why my hair felt thin and especially coarse.
But when I was settled in the chair, she said something that surprised me.
“Whatever’s going on here,” she said, as she picked through my thinning hair, “it’s starting in your scalp. You need to see a dermatologist.”
I mean, all women have postpartum hair loss, right? And sure, mine had gone on for what felt like an especially long time, but it’s normal, right?
“Of course,” my stylist reassured me. “It could be a lot of things, like a vitamin deficiency. Or your thyroid. Go see a dermatologist.”
So I did.
And the dermatologist apparently did not go to the same medical school as my stylist, because she didn’t think it was my thyroid or a vitamin deficiency AT ALL.
She thought it was a condition called lichen planopolaris — but she stressed that she wasn’t completely sure, and she sent me to get a second opinion with a specialist at Columbia.
Now, if you, like me, have never heard of lichen planopolaris, let me tell you about it. Your hair falls out, and then your follicles scar over, so the hair doesn’t grow back.
Translation: YOUR HAIR LOSS IS PERMANENT.
Oh, and also? Want to know what makes it worse? Coloring your hair, something I’d been doing since I started going gray in my late 20s.
Which, HI, that was not what I wanted or expected to hear.
I freaked out.
I mean, my hair is a huge part of my identity. I joked to my team that I can’t lose my hair, it’s basically my entire personality. People comment on my hair on the street.
And now, not only was I going bald, but I had to go gray in the meantime.
When I say I freaked out, I mean, I freaked. The F. Out. You’ll notice that even though this whole thing started in August, this is the first you’re hearing about it — I was too embarrassed to talk about it.
I was terrified. Would my wife still love me if I went gray? Would it weird her out to stand next to someone who looked so much older than she does? (Yes, obviously, and no, it wouldn’t, because Emily is AWESOME.)
I texted a close friend who’s a personal branding specialist, and I asked her: WILL MY BRAND SURVIVE THIS?
She replied: OMG your brand will not die a quick death. You will be OK if you can just be yourself.
I wanted to believe her, but it was hard.
I’m not blind to how women are seen. We’re not allowed to age. I’m 40, but with my well-tended roots that hid my gray, I assumed my clients like me because I’m young and fresh! Wouldn’t they think I’m too old to be taken seriously?
These are all questions and thoughts that I voiced aloud, many times, to the people around me. I was what the kids call a hot mess.
But after a few weeks of sitting with this information, I made the decision recommended by my dermatologist, and the decision I knew was right: to go gray. Publicly. Out loud.
Cut to October, when I saw the dermatologist who’s a hair loss specialist, for a second opinion.
Four seconds after she entered the room, she took one look and said the magic words:
You don’t have lichen planopolaris.
But before I could burst into tears of relief, she said, “You have telogen effluvium.”
She went on to explain that telogen effluvium is a hair shedding event in response to a stress event, like giving birth. Postpartum hair loss is a type of telogen effluvium.
But my postpartum hair loss ran right into this global pandemic you might have heard of, in which my wife and I fled our home in hotspot Brooklyn, and my stress level was THROUGH THE ROOF. So I was lucky enough to have a SECOND stress event ON TOP OF the first one, and my body basically went into STRESS REACTION OVERDRIVE.
(I’m not alone – people are experiencing pandemic-related telogen effluvium in DROVES. The specialist said before the pandemic, she used to get 2-3 cases like this a week. Now she sees 14-15 per day.)
Anyway, the important takeaways from this visit were:
My hair will grow back.
I could keep coloring it if I wanted to.
Except that… I’d already decided to go gray. Not only that, I’d come to terms with it.
Which leads us back to the beginning of this, where I’m BACK in the chair at the stylist for the first of two appointments which will take me from brown to gray.
She strips all the color from my hair, a process which takes — I shit you not — TWELVE HOURS.
And at the end of it, we try putting a silver rinse to hold me until the next visit, but it doesn’t take, so I walk out…
Until my hair recovers enough for the next visit, in which we’ll add the gray.
And with my new color comes a new perspective.
A SIGNED student asked me a few days ago, “If I share my views on Black Lives Matter, will I still have clients?”
I rephrased her question back to her: “Are you worried about losing the ability to land racist clients?”
Another student worried that by moving to an island and working remotely, she wouldn’t be taken seriously.
I asked her, “Do you really want clients who aren’t on board with anything but in-person work?”
Yes, both of these women will encounter people who don’t want to work with them.
But those people are not your clients.
Clients hire you for who you are. They’re on board with your rules, your beliefs, your location, your hair.
For years, you played by the rules in corporate. Now, you’re the boss, and you make the rules.
Everything we do in Pack Your Pipeline and SIGNED is about bringing your style and your way to your business.
And the moment you know how to get clients, you will never fear being yourself again.
In another week or so, I’ll go from blonde to gray. And I’ll let you know when I do.
Because, as Bernardine Evaristo writes in “Girl, Woman, Other,”:
“Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially when the entire human race is in it together”
To your success,