Of all the questions I'm asked about the 50-for-50 Project, the one that comes up most frequently is definitely "Why the hair?"

Sometimes it comes up in the context of context—i.e., What the hell does shaving your head have to do with raising money for WriteGirl?—which I can understand. More on that in a bit, although since we've officially begun bean-spilling time, I may as well confess that the desire to shave (or at least, the desire to see what the hell was under all that hair) pre-dated the desire to do anything remotely selfless by a good eight years. I mean, what woman hasn't sweated through a grow-out summer or written that check for single-process color AGAIN or, hey, seen another bald chick and wondered to herself what it would be like?

But far more frequently, Why the hair? might be loosely translated as What are you, crazy? So few choose baldness (and let's face it, even the "bald by choice" crowd is more accurately described as "balder by choice") that opting out of hair is seen as extreme. Why would you do voluntarily what sick people are dragged into kicking and screaming? (And I'm speaking of our friends in chemo, not casting aspersions on military recruits, religious orders, or even right-wing extremists. Although, well, you know.)

* * * * *

The party line for "Why the hair?" vis-à-vis a fundraiser for Girl Empowerment came from my friend Daniel Will-Harris, another writer/performer/marketing hybrid-freak like me. Figures, right?

I was still casting about for a way to quickly sum up a logical "why" when I threw out the problem to him in an email exchange we had way back in mid-July, just two weeks shy of Launch Day. What he wrote back was so logical, so obvious, that if I'd had time to do it between the eleventy-seven constant items on my to-do list, I'd have kicked myself.

Because it's about what's inside a girl's head, not what's outside.

Duh. I mean, DUH.

Delighted, I tucked away this nugget in my filthy miner's pockets to satisfy curiosity in the metaphorical saloons of tomorrow, and did not think much more about the email—except, of course, to credit Daniel whenever I used the line, because I'm not an ass—until I pulled it up to check the date on it for this piece. And as I scanned it for the money phrase, I finally saw an equally important line below it:

How many men can you recognize just by their haircuts?

Sure there are thejoke haircuts. And, ironically, the very serious "Kojak."But really, how many?

Whereas I'll bet that with absolutely no help from Google Image Search, you could come up with five or ten examples of women identifiable by haircut on the spot. Hell, I think Jennifer Aniston and Madonna might be responsible for five or ten iconic styles between them. Every day on Pinterest, I find yet another worshipful gallery of wish-list hair styled created by yet another woman. And so we're clear on this, I'm not immune.

The more you think about it, the worse it gets: How many hours do we spend on our hair? And how many dollars? Even worse, how much emotion do we have tied up in it? How often do we judge—ourselves, our friends, complete strangers—on something as evanescent and arbitrary as hair? This person is [old/hip/stylish/frumpy]. To be [pitied/admired/envied].

Just how attached are we to our hair? Or, by extension (you'll pardon the pun), to any of our other external markers?

Like most things I write on my blog, when I say "we," I'm most definitely saying "me." When she did my chart, my first-shrink-slash-astrologer warned me that with Venus in Leo, my obsession with my hair wasn't going to end anytime soon. "You'll always need to be happy with your hair," she said.

Which is why I thought of her when I woke up last Wednesday morning and really looked at myself in the mirror for the first time. Could I be happy with my hair, I wondered, if my hair was no-hair?

Because unless I had completely lost my head along with the stuff on top of it, I was actually digging my no-hair, and was thinking of not-keeping it.

* * * * *

Trust me when I say that I have thought through the angles on this baby. I know that my no-hair could easily become as much of a "thing" as my hair ever was, if not more. Already, it's my new toy: I have endless fun in the store, trying on this or that, seeing what works with the not-hair.1 While I have no hair, I have no less vanity. Indeed, I may have more: I actually like how I look! And I am not at all embarrassed that I like it!

So (a), it's clear that I have not exactly evolved to a higher plane and, (b) it's bizarre as hell, but there it is. Me, bald equals me, pretty. Go figger.

But it's not all vanity. I've jokingly referred to the effect the shave has had on me as a "reverse Samson", and I wasn't kidding—I feel almost shockingly more powerful than I did pre-shave. Part of all this feeling good is doubtless a residual effect of accomplishment: raising more than $50,000 is a not-insubstantial achievement, and overcoming my fear of doing something I considered impossible is arguably a bigger one. (It's the lesson I hope anyone looking through all this for one will find, anyway.)

The thing is, I am not sure what the thing is just yet. There's so much to unpack about this experience that it could take me some time. More time than nature allows: hair grows fast. In a week, I've already gone from razor-smooth to sandpaper to velcro to enjoyable fuzz. Seriously—I'd be the hit of the rave these days, if they still had raves, and if I could be talked into going to one. My friend The Other Colleen, who was also bald for a time, warns me of weeks to come that will be filled with people wanting to rub my head like it was a Buddha belly or an especially soft cat.

For now, then—until I can figure this out, and until I can get some mileage from my surprisingly feminine new wardrobe—I'm sticking with not-hair. And when I find I have some answers, or perhaps that I've become a wee bit overly attached to turning heads (albeit for reasons of freakiness), or I'm through The Change, or I'm assured that it will grow in the luxurious shade of silver I'm longing for, then I'll probably grow it out again.

Maybe. Possibly.

Unless, of course, I don't.

xxx c

Photo by the amazing Josh Ross. Full gallery of his "photobooth" shots of the head-shaving is here. There's also a terrific series of "event" photos by the equally amazing Barry Schwartz. 

1Slim, clingy, simple, and dark, for starters; "patterned," "structured," and "outré," my former go-to looks, now make me look like a tiny lesbian court jester. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Live by the cha-cha, die by the cha-cha

keeping it real The BF and I went to dinner tonight with the Happy Couple, an impromptu sort of a thing, as we all worked up a mighty hunger looking at yet another example of moderately-priced Los Angeles real estate. So many abound!

Anyway, we went to a neighborhood joint, The BF's neighborhood, which ain't the 'hood, but ain't fancy, neither. And it's Sunday, right? A day of (putative, anyway) rest. Low-key is the operative word. And the place is hummin', albeit in a decidedly non-partying, non-alcoholic, school-night-y way, because (remember?) it's Sunday! We're eating our beet salad and high-end ribs in our jeans, the people next to us are eating their pistachio-crusted salmon in their jeans, the people next to them are eating their high-end meatloaf & mash in their jeans.

And as we're mopping up the last of the delicious broth from the grilled calamari, in walks Sister Satiddy Night, rocking the cha-cha like she's there four days early for a big Valentine's Day out. Tight, shoulderless dress with boobage. Four-inch heels. Hair. Makeup. The whole, uncomfortable works, including her slightly homely fella in slightly less fancy fella-garb, whom I'm guessing, and I know, I know...I'm totally guessing, was picking up the check.

Now, of course they could have been coming from a wedding. Lots of people have them on Sunday because it's cheaper and hey, if you're being frugal, maybe you're saving by not having a meal, either. Maybe they work regular nights out and this is their big, do-it-up night. Maybe a million things. But on top of it all, that dress is not comfortable. No, I've never worn it, but I've worn plenty of uncomfortable dresses and heels and I know. I know.

The last time I wore a serious cha-cha outfit without getting paid for it was on a particularly pathetic birthday, my 26th, maybe, or my 27th. Between when I dated the Republican and married the Chief Atheist. I had no date, not a lot of friends, and one good, fun, funny, kind male friend agreed to go out with me on my birthday. I'm not certain, but I'm fairly sure we split it down the middle. Outside of a regular relationship, that's how I roll, as my feminist mother drilled into me that to do otherwise was tantamount to selling cooch for steak. Plus he was a kind friend, but a cheap one.

So I was in the cab, which again, I'm fairly sure we split, and I got attacked. Full-on mauled by my good, fun, funny, kind male friend: the whole gimme-baby, Radio Tokyo thing. My umbrage, shock and dismay were at least equalled by his. Why, if I didn't want to act like a ho, was I dressing like one?

A very good question.

Because my boyfriend had dumped me.

Because I was turning 26 or 27 and I honestly thought my stock was falling.

Because that cursed Robert Palmer video came out with the impossibly hot chicks in the impossibly tight black spandex dresses.

Because I was sad. Because I was angry.

Because I hated myself.

Because I wanted people to love me.

Because I could. Because they sold them in stores so regular ladies (okay, girls) could buy them and turn themselves from good-looking people to good-looking objects.

Because I wanted to be pretty. Because I wasn't pretty enough.

Because I wasn't enough.

That's really it, isn't it? Because there are ways to look good without the cha-cha, just as there are ways to be in relationships without compromising your integral self. Good luck finding them in this world, though, without a lot of trial and error and a lot of looking. It is almost impossible to raise a girl in this world with enough self-esteem to say no to the cha-cha, to believe in herself enough to not compromise herself, to know that she can look great without putting the goods on display. I know; my mom tried. "Don't get too attached to your looks," this breathtaking natural beauty would say. "One run-in with a bus, and it's all over."

And then she would put on a little lipstick, because that made anyone feel better.

I'm not advocating the burkha any more than I'm advocating dumping on sisters who, for whatever reason, choose the cha-cha. I know a few for whom it really seems to be an outgrowth of their personality. But I see a lot more of us putting it on, trying to be someone else, someone else who's really, really slutty-looking, because of some bullshit notion we picked up from a million signals around us suggesting that it's a logical, desirable way for all of us to be. That to not choose it is to choose invisibility or un-sexiness or some other undesirable state. And I'm calling bullshit.

If it's in your stars, go ahead, go for the cha-cha. But for god's sake, have a Plan B. Your tits and ass are not a retirement plan. Your pretty face is not job security. Do not get wrapped up in some crazy notion that by putting on the cha-cha, you are investing in yourself.

If nothing else, have a sense of humor about it. Know that it's drag, and own it. Know who you are underneath and own that. I had a dentist once whom I called Dr. Cha-Cha. She was a good dentist and hey, if she felt like pouring herself into a porn-a-licious dentist outfit and fuck-me pumps to scrape my teeth, more power to her. But that is the natural order of things, ladies: work first, cha-cha second. Not cha-cha for cash. Not cha-cha so a dude will buy you dinner and maybe later, a ring and a car and a house.

And for the love of all that is holy, if you do opt for the cha-cha, do it on your own damned terms. To squeeze or push or starve yourself to become someone else's idea of fabulous, for love or money, is a fool's game.

Of course, all this from someone who's not even sure what color her hair is under all that dye. But hey, I never said I was consistent.

Just comfortably dressed on a Sunday night...

Image by edward olive via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Can you lead an authentic life with fake hair?

pink hair I make no secret of my age. (46, and if you haven't wished me a "happy" yet, feel free to!)

I'm up front about my struggles to get organized, to get happy, to get my bowels in working order.

So why, oh, why am I having such a problem letting my hair go gray?

A little backstory: unlike many of the women on my mother's side, while I had a few stray grays pop up as early as my 20s, I didn't need to start actively coloring to cover them until my late 30s. And I was earning a nice living via acting at that point (with good health insurance...sigh...), so it made sense to make sure my hair matched my face, which for some reason insisted on looking 5 - 10 years younger than the rat's nest on top of it.

But if I'm honest, and dammit, if I'm not, there's little point to anything anymore, I wanted to look chronologically younger for me, too. In the late 90s, I'd just left my marriage of 8 1/2 years for a man 12 years younger than I, who looked 5 - 7 years younger than he really was. And who was also, shall we say, empirically good looking. It was frustrating enough for me and my fragile self-esteem to flit about with The Youngster in public; add to that the subtle and ongoing pressure from him to "look my best" (what is it with these empirically good looking people?) and you have a perfect storm for public deceit.

Well, I'm not acting anymore. And dye, in addition to being not inexpensive, is toxic and time-consuming. What could I do with those extra two hours per month? Those extra 1000 or so cancer-free years days of my life? Or, while we're at it, the extra 750 bucks a year? (A steal in L.A., but still.)

I find myself obsessing over gray hair. It seems to be a trend, or a meme, the ladies lettin' it go, perhaps kicked off by Meryl Streep in the otherwise forgettable Devil Wears Prada. Someone wrote a book about it. There's a Yahoo! group devoted to it, a graying Botticelli's Venus as their icon. (I joined.) There's that idiotic Dove campaign.

I think it comes down to this: vanity.

Not vanity about looking my age, but about looking good for my age. Or maybe just looking good, period. I quit wearing makeup long ago, and I've let myself get woefully squishy around the middle; strictly from a design/style perspective, hair dye saves my beauty bacon. It's the lazy gal's way to look good (at least, until your face and skin tone stop coordinating well with dark hair. I am going to look like a raggedy-ass schlub growing out my gray if I don't work a little harder to look good in other departments, like clothes and fitness.

Maybe that's the thing: put "Pilates body" on the to-do list. Make it a big goal for...say...2010, and get crackin'. Then, once I'm leading the yoga class, shave my damned globey-head bald and wear all black or something.

It's an option I've discussed with my patient, generous colorist. He's amazing, really, basically helping me figure out how and when to fire him.

There are no easy answers to this. I would like to think I'm "there", but clearly, it ain't so. Whether I like it or not, going gray is a political statement in a patriarchal society where a woman's currency is tied to her looks and reproductive status. As is toeing the party line with a box of dye.

I do not like the lies I am telling, and yet, here I am.

Now, where's the way out, I wonder...

xxx c

UPDATE 9/19: I wrote another blog post about aging (and lying about aging) here that may help illuminate some of this thinking.

Image by s.o.f.t. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Age Thing, or "It Only Hurts When I Lie"

your body is a battleground After my recent stumping for the sisterhood, this is going to sound like a reversalist smackdown, but a story in this Sunday's LA Times (I know, I know, but I like the ritual of fresh comics in bed) set me off. Big time. And I tried to ignore it, really, I did, but here I am, a day later, still cheesed off.

It was more than a story: the Times devoted their entire Sunday magazine to the issue of aging and its attendant hoo-hah in modern society, how we try to stop it, how we try to look like we're stopping it, how we succeed (or fail) at both. Not a lot of insight or exploration into why we chase the dragon, but hey, this is L.A., it's the Times, and that's probably a given, right? Because it's better to be young, dumbass!

Is it really, though? Maybe for hot chicks, briefly, anyway. After that, it's my understanding that things get a hell of a lot worse, and faster, and geometrically so. Farther to fall and frequently, less to fall back on. And I understand about the age bias permeating all aspects of Hollywood culture: there are male TV director friends of mine and hotshot screenwriter friends of mine that lie about their age as much as women.

But it is worse for women, by an order of magnitude; it must be, for all women lie about their age, everywhere. I did it myself for several years while trying to get into bars, albeit the other way around. I routinely do it commercially, by passing for a full decade younger than I am chronologically: as long as they want to hire me to play a 35-year-old mom, (neither of which I am, by the way) I'll play one on TV.

Here's the thing, though: I never actually lie. Two examples. First, when some bonehead in the casting room asks me if I have kids, because you know, as an actor, it is necessary to actually have the condition to play like you do, I say "no." Not "no, but I loooooove them!" Not "no, but my boyfriend does and I looooove them!" Just "no". I mean, you're hiring me to play a mom for thirty seconds; do you really think I'm such a fucking idiot that, during a big, important take, I'll forget how to pass a kid a bowl of Cheerios or something?

Second, in actor-land, there's a little checkbox on the sign-in sheet that says "40+". I check it, and have been for almost five years now. Yes, yes, I wavered in the beginning. After all, I didn't look 40; why should I check 40?

I knew why, which is why I didn't want to check it at first: because it's a lie. Which is exactly why I do check it now. Because if lie, I buy into everything that goes into that lie: that aging is a liability instead of a point of fact; that women have a shelf life with accompanying expiration date; and that a woman becomes somehow less-than instead of greater-than with time.

Which brings me back to why I'm so cheesed off. Now, despite what those commercial auditioners might think, I'm really not an asshole. I have some understanding of the world we live in and the necessity of learning to get along in it. I understand that sometimes, sharing certain truths, like your age or your sexual orientation or your political affiliation, if you're liberal and trying to live in Indiana, might be unadvisable. Sadly, the truth is still an unaffordable luxury for many people in this great country of ourn.

But for the love of all that's holy, when you are trying to pass, do it quietly, and for your own reasons, don't scream it from the rooftops, and definitely don't do it in the context of a magazine story about aging. Irony aside, it's just fucking rude. Insulting, even. And stupid, let's not forget stupid. Do you really think all those kids you were in the third and fourth and fifth grade with are dead now? Or that it's that hard to locate a copy of your birth certificate online?

Bottom line: if you want to stay in the closet, fine. It's your business, frankly. Me, I think the air and light is much finer on the outside, but I don't know how comfortably your closet is furnished or how inclement the weather where your closet is located.

And really, what are you doing save staving off the inevitable? Isn't it better to plant the flag in the ground now and have people say, No! How old? Damn, you look good, girl!

For the record, you do look good, girl, and not for manmade reasons. You've got it going on, and in more ways than one. There's one way, though, that I've got you beat: I'm almost 45, and you're not. You're afraid to say it and I'm not. Well, sometimes I am, but I do, anyway. For the greater good, but mostly, for my own sanity. Let's face it: I have no audience; I could 'out' you right now and only 75 people would know. And most of them wouldn't care. Your secret stays safe regardless of whether I choose to spill it.

But that's exactly why you should spill it yourself, because you doing it would make the difference. It's kind of like during the SAG commercial strike: no one cared if the rank & file turned down the shit jobs; it's when the high-profile members of the community stood up and told the producers where they could stick it that things turned around. You can use your powers for good, or you can use them to serve The Man.

Here: we'll even go first. In the comments. Come on, everyone, I'll go first:

Forty-five. 45. XLV!!!

Who's with me?

xxx c


Photo by Esther G via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Wherein our heroine learns to avoid the damned street entirely

Leaf with holes My friend, Mary Ellen, and I go way back to my advertising days; she was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Chicago from New York, and I still make fun of how relentlessly and Midwesternly cheerful she was when she poked her head into my office for the first time to invite me to lunch.

She is still way too nice to remind me of what a dark and twisted troll I was, but 20 or so years later, she's simmered down, I've cheered up and we've met in a new middle ground. Our semi-/annual conversations have become important to both of us because we serve as touchstones for one another, showing how we've changed and where we might still need to. And, since Mary Ellen forsook advertising for psychotherapy instead of something idiotic like acting, it's basically like I get a 90-minute session free, or for the price of a phone call, which, since I switched to Vonage, is almost free. Ha, ha, Mary Ellen, I win!

Anyway, after the brief-but-requisite foray into the piteous state of national affairs, we launched into the more important topic of boys boys boys. Specifically, what we were doing with ours and how it all was going. (Mary Ellen and her husband have been together 15* years, during which timeI've divorced one guy and slagged around with a bunch of others, so there's always lots of touchstoning action there.)

I'm happy to report that things are tip-top back in Illinois; I'm guessing that by the way I natter on like a schoolgirl about The BF, everyone reading this knows things are hunky-dory here in sunny California. But it was not ever thus. Which got us to talking about two things: whether mileage logged**, solo or in tandem, is responsible for things going more smoothly or whether there really is a more-right-for-you type than those hilariously inappropriate jackasses you couldn't get enough of as a girl of 30 winters.

Here we sharply diverged, with Mary Ellen taking the highly uncharacteristic "life is short, life is shit/soon it will be over" viewpoint (i.e., there is no one type of person more right for us and relationships are, at their best, "a crucible, or cauldron, depending on the day" for personal development) and me staking out the cute boy – debilitating mental illness = reasonable shot at happiness position.

However, we both agreed on one thing: time do make the difference, both in knowing what is and is not tenable and speeding up the loosening of one's monkey-like grip on the latter. This is why I'm happy to be a craggy old crone of 44 rather than the juicy scoop of 20-something I once was. Also, I have excellent genes.

Mary Ellen even supplied the poem of the day: a lovely offering by one Portia Nelson, whom you may know better as Sister Berthe in the film version of The Sound of Music (or, for you 70's hipsters, the Law Office Receptionist in the only version Can't Stop the Music). I'm being glib, but I'm actually rather moved by Portia's story, having read up on her via her lovingly crafted website and read her poem, "Autobiography in Five (Short) Chapters" on the INS (yes, the INS) website. I guess self-actualization is a hot topic of discussion among potential immigrants to the U.S.

The poem is contained in There's A Hole In My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery, and is, apparently, quite as famous as any Von Trapp in its own right. The book (and contents) are copyrighted, so I can't but excerpt a bit here, but it resonated deeply with me, and I must needs share a stanza here, the one I got stuck in for a good 15 years:

2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place.

But it isn't my fault.

Yeah, right.

On the one hand, where else could you be from ages 18 - 40?

On the other hand, let's hear it for 44.

xxx c

*Mary Ellen says it's actually closer to 11, but my position is if you make it past 10 years together in this farkakte world, you might as well call it 20.

**Intelligent, aware and awake mileage, that is. Just making it to age 170 is no guarantee that you will be any smarter than the average 12-year-old, and probably less smart if that 12-year-old has learned things like "don't stick your hand in there unless you're sure that thing is unplugged".

Photo by novon, used under a Creative Commons License