In the first workshop during my MFA experience, I was terrified. I didn’t think I knew enough. Didn’t think I’d read enough. Didn’t believe I deserved to be in my program. But we talked about writing what we obsess about, and my hair, or increasing lack of it, came to mind. It was something I tried to ignore, but it confronted me each morning in the mirror. So the idea for this essay started with that moment in class, and the words first appeared in a notebook with the single metaphor of a globe becoming increasingly bare and grew from there. I hadn’t realized how much I had to say about my hair.
“Inheritance of Loss” was the first piece I submitted in my MFA workshop, and in the hours before class, I came close to throwing up. I felt like a fraud. Everyone would know I didn’t belong in the program, and that my being there was a mistake. But luckily, I was wrong. My classmates—even the men— enjoyed my essay. And though the piece still needed revision, my professor, whose critiques were usually more blunt than kind, called it “publishable.” And like that, I had people who believed in me, and in my story.
Because I am a woman who writes nonfiction, I’ve often felt silenced by the fear that my writing would be called “navel gazing” or “therapeutic.” And to be honest, writing this piece was therapeutic. Confronting my fear helped me move toward accepting my hair loss. It made me look more seriously at my options. Since writing this piece, I’ve worked up the nerve to get a haircut at a salon again. I even gotten a dye job—something I’d been too terrified of before. I’ve decided to have fun with my hair while I still can.
I’ve read lots of amazing essays and stories that I’m sure were also therapeutic to the writer. And just because this piece was therapeutic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit—that my story doesn’t have value. I didn’t write this piece just for me. I wrote this because I know there are millions of other women who feel like less of a person because they have thinning hair. Or because they are too big. Or because they’re too skinny. Or because their faces are acne-scarred. And we shouldn’t be ashamed of the fact that we care about these so-called superficial things. These are our lives, and our bodies, and admitting that we’re vain doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us real people.
Read Laura Kendall’s essay in our current issue.