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Is image really everything?

Date Added: January 06, 2010 01:56:33 AM
     What do Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley, and Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery or Samuel L. Jackson all have in common?  They are famous fallen follicle ambassadors or bald male role models in today’s world.  One qualifying name not on that list, a name very popular in the news recently, is that of Andre Agassi, the tennis world’s former bad boy of the 90’s - the face (and hair) associated with the “Image is Everything” ad campaign by Cannon Camera.

      In his recent autobiography “Open”, Agassi ‘opens up’ about his hair issues.  Apparently Agassi began to lose his hair when he was just 17, however, he chose to hide it with hair weaves and hair systems. This is understandable as Madison Avenue had carved out his image and sponsorships were riding on his talent as well as the look of his a blond, highlighted, feathered, shoulder-length mullet hair style with color-coordinated headband.  In his book, Agassi describes  the terror he felt when he experienced problems with his hair weave on the night before the 1990 French Open Final.  His fear of being exposed as wearing a hair piece contributed to his sporadic performance in that match. He was afraid to move for fear of losing his hair!  

     Those of us who have worn a wig can surely relate to that fear of being exposed in a public arena!  I’ve attempted to play tennis in a wig and it’s quite uncomfortable, definitely not conducive to movement.   Agassi was paid for his long-haired bad boy image, was paid well, which is one of the reasons why he didn’t just shave it off when male pattern baldness hit him early on.  Finally, he chose to shed his artificial image and rid himself of the cumbersome hair pieces with a head shave!  After this bold move, Agassi is quoted as saying “a stranger stood before me in the mirror and I smiled”   When my hair fell out, I too stood before the mirror curiously gazing at the stranger,  but I cried.

     Agassi quickly joined the ranks of bald athletic role models such as Michael Jordan, Duncan Goodhew, Olympic gold medalists for swimming, Charlie Villanueva, NBA basketball player for the Detroit Pistons  - it didn’t affect his career, his performance or his ratings.  Wasn’t it fortunate for him that men with bald heads are viewed as hip and sexy?  Wasn’t it fortunate for him that he had options!

      Women don’t!   We’ve all seem pictures of female celebrities going bald for a short moment, Demi  Moore, Sigourney Weaver, and Natalie Portman have all ventured outside their comfort zone and made a bald statement.  Except these women all had something in common - the were being paid for their head shaving.  No matter how you look at it, bald women are NOT viewed the same in our society.  Such fleeting moments of celebrity baldness only prove this point further - when Demi and Natalie went bald, they stood out, big time, which is all find and good for celebrities.  It I was being handsomely paid to sheer off my locks (or what is left of my locks), I’d gladly ask for a razor.  Yet, I’m not and neither are any of us who are experiencing medical hair loss.  Society looks at bald women and thinks one of a few things:  sick, different, unfeminine.

      A woman’s hair is so full of complex and irrevocable personal feelings, social implications, as well as protective functionality.  It’s not “just hair”!  Often referred to as a woman’s “crowning glory,” much of our female identity is defined by our hair.  Without hair, we feel stripped of our identity, stripped of ourselves.   What is important to remember during such emotional upheaval, is that those feelings are completely valid, and normal.  Women have every right to want to feel good about themselves, inside AND out.  At no time is such love of self more important than when dealing with a major life event such as a serious medical condition.

      Despite the fact that women may feel they don’t have the freedom to just shave their head and bare all, it is so important that women with any kind of hair loss find what does work best for them, whether that option is a beautiful headscarf, a wig, a hat or to wear nothing at all.

      As an avid tennis fan, I’ve always respected Agassi as a great sportsman and still do.  I certainly have much sympathy for a his follically challenged situation.  It is my hope though that maybe one day a strong and famous woman will step forward with her bald head and make a statement to the world - Freedom to choose - Freedom to be accepted - freedom to be herself!  Until then, we can all be our own role models, strong, bald, and always beautiful, inside and out!

Susan Beausang
4women.com