October 29, 2013

When Being Naked Requires More Than Taking Off Clothes. ~ Eshe Raki Armah

I’ve pulled my hair out since I was 10.

It began with my eyebrows and lashes and eventually in college I noticed a dime-sized spot that was smooth as silk near the crown of my head. I cried that day.

I stood naked in front of the mirror five years later; where the spotlight above my bathroom sink would reflect back a baldness I was unprepared for. I placed my hand on my head and my palm became warm under the pulse of pulled flesh. Not a single hair grazed its surface. I didn’t know the young woman looking back at me. She was fragile where I had been strong. She was vulnerable and weepy and wanted to be held and told that she was beautiful, even if I felt nothing of the sort.

I recently learned that October first through October seventh is “Trichotillomania and Skin Picking Awareness” week. No such week existed when I was 20 and near suicidal from the shame of being different. No one stood in awareness with me when I lived with my beautiful best friend who had long and flowing locks. I didn’t have a support team when I would find her hair on the floor and marvel at it with tears in my eyes, or when I would wonder why she didn’t have the urge to pull the dark straight fibers from her own Ethiopian and Irish roots.

She would collect the hair from her brush and wipe it on the shower walls so not to clog the drain. The collective wet heap of darkness thatched art-like along the shiny porcelain.It lay differently than the hairs on the desk where I sat or on the ceramic bathroom sink where I would lean into the mirror and search.
Her loose hair bound together, and though twisted and dirty, amassed in a heap, it had gotten there through effort no more than a brush or gently combing fingertips.

Mine seemed to scoff at me.

It fell sadly and limp—dry and unwilling they lay there strand by strand without a sacred burial ground.

Today, I think about Ms. North Carolina, a courageous beauty pageant winner; a girl that would stand hundreds of times behind women with thick lashes and full, defined brows and choose to love her own—love the places that would grow hair no more, love the places where extensions and hair pieces would look like eye pencil and fake lashes to fill in the gaps. Love the nakedness that would reveal itself at her disclosure, or at least bravely fake it with a smile while the world is looking on.

When you live with trichotillomania the mirror lies. It tells you you’ve done something wrong. It repeats to you the voices which have asked, “What have you done to yourself,” and the ones who urge, “Whatever it is, stop it!”

We, the ones with no eyelashes, scattered brows and hairless patches are still beautiful, still loveable, and still whole even when the mirror doesn’t say so.

The nakedness is in the transparency, the willingness to not hide any longer, even if the only one we reveal our beauty to is ourselves.

But when we do find the strength to tell someone, to share our story and reveal ourselves behind the hats and head wraps, behind the drawn-in eyebrows and sewn-in hair, the exposure is like salvation. There is hope in unveiling the hidden. There is protection outside the privacy.

Letting others be a part of my own harrowing journey was hard at first—being naked in front of any reflection always is. But when others are made privy to our own personal place of pain and plight with our own perfection, they are left unfettered. They may find the courage to examine their own places of challenge and reveal themselves to their own truths and stand naked and wildly beautiful as the wounded healer.

I am a woman who is bald and who is not. I am a woman, like so many others, who has to look at a mirror and take off what I don’t need to be fully me. Sometimes it means I have to let my hair out of its ponytail holder. Sometimes it means no make-up and unshaven legs. Other times I have to take off the stories about my worth that do not serve and let go of the lies I have made up about myself.

Loving ourselves naked means more than just taking off our clothes. It means you loving you, and me loving me.

Perfect and flawed and set free.


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Assistant Ed: Bronwyn Petry/Ed: Sara Crolick

{image: courtesy of Flickr/D. Sharon Pruitt} 

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