Health 01 June 2019
Growing up, I had anxiety—and as a result I started pulling out my hair. It began around the age of 11. I have learning disabilities so school was always a challenge for me. I went to a very competitive private school in New York and was surrounded by students who had exceptional grades.
With my learning disabilities, I felt like an outcast. My grades never reflected the amount of hard work I put in and all that work would just stress me out. The times I'd pull my hair were the times I was the most anxious about it. I thought I just had a tic, like nail-biting. I didn't know it was a behavioral disorder with a name: trichotillomania. The danger in it is that constant pulling over time can cause permanent hair loss because the follicle becomes smaller and smaller until it no longer grows hair at all.
By the time I was in middle school, I started getting bald spots and patches on the top of my head. I was mortified. I couldn't bring myself to go to a salon because I'd always get questioned about why I was missing so much hair. My hair grew long but the top was thin and patchy. It was humiliating. At school we weren't allowed us to wear hats indoors but any other time I could wear one, I would. Otherwise I'd put a headband on or try to part my hair differently so the patches didn't show. I even tried using root spray to cover up the paleness of the bald spots, so if you were looking at me from a distance it wouldn't be glaringly obvious.
My hair problems deeply affected my self-esteem. I would always sit in the back of the classroom—not because I wanted to be far away from the teacher—because I didn't want people to see the back of my head. It was the same in church; I would make my mother sit in the very back pew with me. Always worrying about this in public settings was draining. And to look in the mirror and see the damage I was doing to myself really tore me up inside.
My senior year of high school, with all the pressure of applying to college, I was having a very, very hard time managing my pulling. But I never sought help or therapy. I was trying to handle it all on my own. But by that point, I knew I had to do something. My mom and I began doing research and we discovered Unique Hair Concepts. I called Flora for a consultation and have been with her team ever since. She has saved me in ways that she'll never know.
The first thing they did was create a small clip-in piece for the top of my head. It was such an emotional moment: I cried, my mom cried and I think even the stylist cried. I felt so much better, immediately. Not only did it hide my bald spot, but it also kept it covered so I couldn't pull. After a few months, the hair in that area started growing back. It made me realize that, wow, I can really turn this around.
While that helped take care of the cosmetic issue, I still had to address the psychological ones. I started seeing a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in body-focused repetitive disorders and who actually had a background in treating trichotillomania. In the beginning, we talked about what my triggers are, the things that make me really want to pull. We did Reiki healing and hypnosis; she also introduced me to the use of essential oils. I would put oil on the hand I used to pull with so that when that I would go to pull, I would smell the oil and feel calmer. She also introduced me to fidget toys to keep my hands occupied, which helped so much that I ended up getting my own set.
These days, I still see the healer from time to time and I wear custom-made CNC-XT hair prosthetics (which stay on for 4-5 weeks even through exercise, showering and styling) over the areas that need them. And I keep fidget toys in my bag all the time. It feels so good to have the support to manage it both cosmetically and therapeutically. I've been so inspired by the help I received that I am now studying to be a therapist myself.
The one thing I would tell other people suffering with trich is this: you are not alone. There's no need to suffer in silence or try to manage it by yourself. There's no need to be embarrassed about it. It's not your fault; it's a medical condition. And more than anything else, help is available. I've found a way to live with it and, believe me, you can too.
It's the question on everyone's tongues. It's what motivates every conversation about whether or not Liz Warren is "electable," every bit of hand-wringing that a woman just "can't win this year," and every joke about menstrual cycles and nuclear missiles. Is America ready for a woman president?
It's a question that would be laughable if it wasn't indicative of deeper problems and wielded like a weapon against our ambitions. Whether thinly-veiled misogyny or not (I'm not going to issue a blanket condemnation of everybody who's ever asked), it certainly has the same effect: to tell us "someday, but not yet." It's cold comfort when "someday" never seems to come.
What are the arguments? That a woman can't win? That the country would reject her authority? That the troops would refuse to take her orders? That congress would neuter the office? Just the other day, The New York Times ran yet another in a long series of op-eds from every major newspaper in America addressing this question. However, this one made a fascinating point, referencing yet another article on the topic in The Atlantic (examining the question during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid), which cited a study by two Yale researchers who found that people were either the same or more likely to vote for a fictional male senator when told that he was ambitious; and yet, both men and women alike were less likely to vote for a woman when told that she was ambitious, even reacting with "feelings of moral outrage" including "contempt, anger, and disgust."
The question isn't whether a woman could be president, or whether a woman can be elected president – let's not forget that Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than the wildly unqualified man currently sitting in the oval office – it's whether or not it's appropriate for a woman to run for president, in a pre-conscious, visceral, gut-check way. In short, it's about misogyny. Not your neighbors' misogyny, that oft-cited imaginary scapegoat, but yours. Ours. Mine. The misogyny we've got embedded deeply in our brains from living in a society that doesn't value women, the overcoming of which is key for our own growth, well-being, and emotional health.
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?
That misogyny, too, is reinforced by every question asking people to validate a woman even seeking the position. Upfront, eo ipso, before considering anything of their merit or experience or thought, whether a woman should be president, that, if given the choice between a qualified woman and an unqualified man, the man wins (which, let's not forget, is what happened four years ago). To ask the question at all is to recognize the legitimacy of the difference in opinion, that this is a question about which reasonable people might disagree. In reality, it's a question that reason doesn't factor into at all. It's an emotional question provoking an emotional response: to whom belong the levers of power? It's also one we seem eager to dodge.
"Sure, I'd vote for a woman, but I don't think my neighbor would. I'd vote for a woman, but will South Carolina? Or Nebraska? Or the Dakotas?" At worst, it's a way to sort through the cognitive dissonance the question provokes in us – it's an obviously remarkable idea, seeing as we've never had a woman president – and at best, it's sincere surrender to our lesser angels, allowing misogyny to win by default. It starts with the assumption that a woman can't be president, and therefore we shouldn't nominate one, because she can't win. It's a utilitarian argument for excluding half of the country's population from eligibility for its highest office not even by virtue of some essential deficiency, but in submission to the will of a presumed minority of voters before a single vote has ever been cast. I don't know what else to call that but misogyny by other means.
We can, and must, do better than that. We can't call a woman's viability into question solely because she's a woman. To do so isn't to "think strategically," but to give ground before the race even starts. It's to hobble a candidate. It's to make sure voters see her, first and foremost, as a gendered object instead of a potential leader. I have immense respect for the refusal of women like Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and pioneers like Carol Mosley-Braun, going as far back as Victoria Woodhull, to accede to this narrative and stick to their arguments over the course of their respective campaigns, regardless of any policy differences with them. It's by women standing up and forcing the world to see us as people that we push through, not by letting them tell us where they think we belong.
One of the themes I come back to over and over again in my writing is women asserting independence from control and dignity in our lives. It's the dominant note in feminist writing going back decades, that plea for recognition not only of our political and civil rights, but our existence as moral agents as capable as any man in the same position, as deserving of respect, as deserving of being heard and taking our shot. What then do we make of the question "is America ready for a woman president?" Is America ready? Perhaps not. But perhaps "ready" isn't something that exists. Perhaps, in the truest fashion of human politics, it's impossible until it, suddenly, isn't, and thereafter seems inevitable.
I think, for example, of the powerful witness Barack Obama brought to the office of president, not simply by occupying it but by trying to be a voice speaking to America's cruel and racist history and its ongoing effects. By extension, then, I think there is very real, radical benefit to electing a chief executive who has herself been subject to patriarchal control in the way only women (and those who others identify as women) can experience.
I look at reproductive rights like abortion and birth control, and that is what I see: patriarchal control over bodies, something no single president has ever experienced. I think about wage equality; no US president has ever been penalized for their sex in their ability to provide for themselves and their families. I look at climate change, and I remember that wealth and power are inextricably bound to privilege, and that the rapacious hunger to extract value from the earth maps onto the exploitation women have been subject to for millennia.
That's the challenge of our day. We've watched, over the last decade, the radicalized right go from the fringes of ridicule to the halls of power. We've watched them spit at the truth and invent their own reality. All while some of our best leaders were told to wait their turn. Why, then, all this question of whether we're ready for something far simpler?
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?