On Hair

My hair defined me the minute I began to lose it


On Hair
by Maryam Manteghi

All my life I’d had long hair. While the rest of me didn’t look distinctively Iranian, I had the long, thick, wavy hair Persian girls are known for. Little did I know while I had a full head of it, that my hair was an integral part of me, as superficial as that sounds, but it was. I played with it in certain ways depending on whether I was angry, sad or embarrassed and I flipped it back and forth with pride while flirting or attempting to draw attention to myself.

A few weeks after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my nurse Tammy talked to me about the eight rounds of chemo that I was set to receive before surgery. I saw a look of trepidation cross her face as she started to talk about me losing my hair as if I somehow didn’t know. I was surprised. I mean I thought everyone knew that during chemo your hair falls out. This was not news to me. I’d seen all the movies and commercials with people undergoing cancer treatment who had gone bald. Not just any bald but that very particular look of baldness I like to call Coif Chemo. Bald with a bloated, doughy face.

It never occurred to me, however, not in a million years, that I would be losing my hair during chemo. That I would be one of those people sporting Coif Chemo. That not only would I lose the hair on my head, but my eyebrows, my eyelashes and every tiny last hair on every part of my body. This was news to me.

I later found out that Tammy’s look of trepidation came from the fact that some people, mostly women I suspect, had actually refused chemotherapy because they couldn’t deal with losing their hair. She was worried that I, with my long almost waist length hair, would be one of them. I wasn’t. Not because I was less vain or somehow stronger than those people but really only because a) I was still in complete shock about the very awry direction my life had taken literally overnight and b) I really had no idea how much meaning hair had for me as a woman until I had none.

I mean, I was a lawyer for God’s sake, I was a woman of substance and hair was incidental to my feelings of self-worth. Had I been more in touch with my feelings and less in denial, Tammy’s trepidation may have actually been justified.

Of course intellectually I knew I would lose my hair. But on the ground, in my body, in my heart, when, after my second chemo, in the shower just as Tammy had predicted, I ran my hands through my hair and big, thick clumps washed right out with the shampoo, I was totally shocked. I felt completely, utterly devastated. Suddenly my hair was me. Little parts of me, my memories, my feelings, my spirit, my quirks and habits, running down my body and clogging the drain. My life with my hair flashed before me; as if it was a relative or a trusted friend I was losing.

Moments with my hair, sitting at this café or dancing at that party or on this date. How I had done it for this wedding or that event and how it looked in this or that picture. For some reason that I still cannot truly explain, my hair defined me the minute I began to lose it.

I suddenly remembered a documentary I had seen about how French civilians, after the Allied victory in the Second World War, shaved the heads of French women who had been with Nazi soldiers. Their bald heads were a symbol of their shame and treason but also a way of suspending their womanhood in punishment for having spent their womanliness on the enemy. A hairless woman was, it seemed, somehow less of a woman.

I now have a new relationship with my hair, one in which my hair has all the leverage. While before it was here to serve me, now I am here to serve it. If it needs me to drink silicea, a strange white substance with the same texture as mashed up jellyfish twice a day at 60 bucks a bottle, yes ma’am, I drink it. If it demands that I hang upside down on the inversion machine at the gym and massage my scalp while subjected to the very polite stares of fellow gym goers, so be it. It’s not a healthy relationship by any means. It’s slightly obsessive and maybe just a tiny bit superficial, but according to Dr. Wayne Dyer, whatever you focus on grows, so grow baby grow.


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Moe Maleki

My off-the-cuff remark to a

by Moe Maleki on

My off-the-cuff remark to a loved one who was similarly losing hair, that it will hopefully grow back, garnered the following knee-jerk retort from her: "hopefully? it's not 'if' but 'when'... it's your hair that is no hope for it!"

Rightfully deserved. Her fighting spirit and humor never let up.


My prayers are with you.

by shb on

Hi Maryam

I am a breast cancer survivor and I went through chemo last year. I know what you are going through, just keep your head up and fight back. You will get through this , my prayers are with you.



Ali Najafi

Thank you

by Ali Najafi on

Hi Maryam, wonderful piece. Agree with the sentiments of others. Your article has both depth and humor in talking about your experience with cancer.

I was just reading some of your other articles. You are a truly talented writer. Please write more.

Since my hair is falling out, hair regrowth depresses me a bit... there is no "grow baby grow".  Would love to hear more of your thoughts, your global adventures, experiences in Bosnia. You write and I will read... even if it has to do with hair follicle development (which is not happening on my head).



You will be in our thoughts and prayers

by Doctor X on

You are already showing too much stamina and strenght in being able to handle the situation through your writing. As serious as your condition is or might be (pardon my conjecture here) you seem to have incorporated element of humor in your attitude in dealing with this. I am sure you will conquer this mother of all battles in your life... Don't give up hope.


Is this a mugshot of you at the police station?:)


hanging upside down

by i_support_khamenie on

during gym time and massaging your scalp is meant to stimulate blood circulation to that part of the body and enhance hair regrowth.

the only problem is that it is temporary and gains in hair growth will only be maintained so long as the exercises are done frequently.

the idea behind minoxidel or rogaine is also to stimulate blood circulation to scalp and help regrowth. But as soon as the cream is halted, all gains and even more may be lost.

Yes, even areas that previously were not affected might start losing hair.

I think that other alternatives if available to Females may have more long lasting effect.

The idea of serving your hair or this or that is something most people have gone through at some point. Some people at some point get worked up about their skin and before you know it, they have over 8 different creams next to their faucet.

The best method in any type of health rejuvenation is consistency. So if a certain act or a certain food seems a bit too difficult or too expensive, it would be best to instead stick with simple things that you can easily and routinely incorporate in your daily life. To go all out to help your hair regrowth would prove exhausting and with time you might get tired and discouraged.

So just try the easy way of doing things. I would suggest the following:

Schedule a one on one consult with a top hair specialist/cosmetologist. Let them assist you in masking the areas you want masked and see what other suggestions they might have. Meanwhile start a steady program that you can definitely stick to. This way, you will not find yourself counting the days for your hair to regrow. Rather, you can go about your life and one morning in about 6-9 months, you will notice wow, I don't need to mask anything anymore.


Thank you

by jalaledin99 on

That was a touching piece.  God bless you.


Chemo, my schemo...

by comrade on

My mother survived a breast cancer in Iran, for more than 25 years, before dying of another ailment. Some day in distant future you will look back, and laugh about your cosmetic obsession.

A beautiful pen of yours. 


Jahanshah Javid


by Jahanshah Javid on

Your love for life shines through. Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions on such a private matter.