We all have power outfits. Clothes that, when they slip onto our bodies, breathe force into our footsteps and make the day a little bit brighter. First day of school socks. Lucky t-shirts. Magical headbands. I decided earlier this week, as soon as the requisite four-day chemo exhaustion passed, that I needed some power outfits to propel me through the next ten days, into which I must squeeze the activities, to-do lists, and writing of the chemo day and four exhaustion days.
Sitting down to write, I needed something more. The yellow cowgirl boots in the hall closet beckoned. And lingerie. Lacy and red, or a playful black tuxedo bra? Favorite jeans, new Christmas sweater. Dangley earrings and a fun hat topped it off. Now I was ready to sit down and write. It’s amazing what a little costuming can do! Evidently, it can convince me I’m ready to rock and roll.
And then I added a little something I thought I’d never add. That long red wig, sitting on a styrofoam head. I fit it to my head, tossed the curls. Huh. I was only planning on wearing a wig for job interviews (who wants to hire a bald assistant professor?!!?!) but what the hell, after all, I’m writing this dissertation conclusion so I can get a job, right? But really, I thought to myself, this is kind of silly. I already had decided how I felt about wigs: fake. Also, I hate the word wig: it sounds so nasty and so dirty, like flakey heads and horrendous baldness, and like grease behind the ears. Why would I ever associate myself? I already decided I didn’t need a wig to make me “feel normal” or disguise my baldness: after all, shouldn’t people have to confront the reality that cancer is invading our bodies? Shouldn’t they be made uncomfortable by my bald head, by the mundane nature of cancer in the everyday? Before her death from breast cancer, Audre Lourde wrote of her decision not to have breast reconstruction or wear a synthetic breast after mastectomy, deciding instead to bear the scars and show her body as a marker, an embodied political statement about cancer, and obvious sign that she was a warrior. Wasn’t being bald kind of the same, my bald head symbolizing the toxins and plastics that have invaded my body, destroying my bodies’ own knowledge about how to make cells? Besides, so many of the young women I know, just slightly ahead of me on this journey, have shared with me their own stories of rejecting the wig, rocking the bald head, being what one called “authentically bald.” Katie writes beautifully about this decision.
When I sent my brother the pictures of me in my now rapidly expanding wig collection, he responded by telling me which wig looked “most believable.” Of course, he picked the long red one, as most of the people who have known me the longest have. I had long red hair, for a long time, and so naturally, that particular gorgeous wig looks the most like what they know to be me. And isn’t that the point? Isn’t a wig to cover up something embarrassing, to make me feel like a “woman” again (uh-oh, now we’re back to gender….), to hide what’s underneath, which invariably is all that is dirty, ugly, ear-greasy, so no one knows? Oh, the stigma of a woman without hair, a woman with a wig. So isn’t a wig to cover it up, whatever “it” may be?
Well, no, no it isn’t.
It’s not really about believability. In fact, it’s not about believability at all. Nor is it about trying to recreate some image of me such that I forget I’m bald. I’m not trying to fool anyone here, and folks will definitely notice one day I’ve got long curly red locks and the next I’ve got a short blue & platinum ‘do. It will be especially confusing when I intersperse the wigs with my ever growing awesome hat collection (thanks, friends!) and then, sometime when I’m feeling brave, a henna-tattooed bald head day here and there.
When I donned that long red wig yesterday, suprise of all suprises. It was so fun! The curls were like, real curls. It was long, and flip-able. Full of body. Great for twirling. Next thing I knew, I was picking out a second wig from the Cancer Agency free wig bank. Mostly, the Cancer Agency wig bank is full of wigs that made me look like I was trying way too hard to be a middle-aged real estate agent, but I got lucky. My second wig is for those days I need to feel like Brittney Spears. It’s platinum and has dark roots and has sweap-ish bangs, and it’s long and straight. And best of all, it was free!
This morning it happened again. I woke up and bam, I needed to go to this wig store people have told me about. Immediately, I was on my way, head clad in a red cap, to Vancouver’s famed wig store, Abantu. There were wild, long, sweepy wigs. And purple wigs. I could go for inches and inches of tightly wound curls or a mohawk. And the price, the price! Affordable! I walked out with the two shorter wigs, one tinged with blue. I am itching to go back. I cannot wait. I want them all. I want color and spikes and curls and highlights and bangs and dreads and bobs.
So no, believability is not high on the list. I can say f*ck you, cancer and f*ck you, companies releasing toxins and f*ck you, systems that rely on plastic with anything on my head. It’s all about the performance. It’s about the guts to wear different hair everyday, and the playfulness in having too many wigs, the silliness in going from dark to platinum and bobs to waist-length. Can you engage my hair drag? An endless parade of head-decorations- be they scarves, wigs, henna tattoos, or hats (and i will wear them all)– is to parody the absurdity of cancer. That is to say, to laugh in cancers’ face. To be careless with death. To dress up politics with morbid sparkle.
It’s a charade. A performance. A pantomime. A make-believe. An improvisation. A theatre. An experiment.
It’s grounded in the now, the present, the moment. That’s all we got. It’s not about hoping for a cure in the future. It’s about now.
It’s an assertion that something isn’t right in the world, and it’s way past time to notice.
It’s an insistence that we imagine something new. That cancer dis ease explode and shock. That we notice. That you notice. That something be done with morbid sparkle.
So engage my wig drag. My hair drama. My hats and my henna. We’ll see where it goes. Right now, it’s powerful, and there’s cowgirl boots and lacey bras, too. So f*ck you, cancer. F*ck you, plastic. F*ck you, toxins.
Wigs, though, love you.