Growing up, I invariably went to the same hairdresser in Chichester, an incredibly shy but sweet man called Stephen. He didn’t do anything special, but cut my hair in the same inoffensive style, to the same length all over. I was very happy with this. At boarding school a hairdresser visited on certain days at certain times who was equally adept at ensuring my hair would attract as little attention as possible. It’s always been very fine, so there’s a limit to what could be done with it, but above all, I just didn’t want to take the risk of looking silly – and would never have had the confidence to pull off a ‘fashionable’ haircut.
When I was in Rome for my year abroad as part of my Modern Languages degree, however, there was no obvious hairdresser on whom I could rely for a bog-standard cut – and Chichester was a bit far to visit out of vanity. With butterflies in my stomach, I therefore reluctantly decided to risk the closest option to my flat, took a deep breath and went in to ask for a basic cut.
I’d foreseen some issues, so had brought along a small photo of myself with hair the sort of length I was hoping he would be able to match, particularly as my haircutting-related vocabulary was not the strongest part of my Italian language skills. At that time, the fashion in Rome was for short back and sides, but a longer fringe sweeping across the forehead, as modelled by my fellow English assistant and fashion diva Steven. The barber was therefore clearly not very happy with my suggestion that he cut my hair to the same length all over, including the ‘frangetta’ (fringe) – but he eventually seemed to agree.
As he cut, it all seemed to be going pretty well, although I noticed that he was leaving the fringe until last. Sure enough, with back and sides cut, he stopped, picked up the photo, looked at it, sighed, put it down, looked at my hair, picked up the photo again, shook his head and asked me: ‘Are you sure?’ I reassured him that I wanted to look like I did in the photo, but he took a lot of persuading. Fortunately, he agreed, reluctantly and eventually, although he continued to show his disapproval by making it clear he almost had to look away while cutting it.
I’ve always been faintly terrified by the prospect of going to a new, untried hairdresser/barber, both because I’m never quite sure how to describe what I want, and because I’ve had some terrible haircuts over the years. Among the worst was an effort by a young Harriet after she’d successfully cut a couple of her female friends’ hair – my Dad, who is no experienced hairdresser himself, had to attempt a rescue job. Years later I gave her a chance to redeem herself, and she took it so so successfully that she’s high on my ‘approved’ list and has cut my hair a few times since.
So given that I’m not that excited about my hair, and that it has caused me all sorts of fuss over the years, it’s almost a relief to be bald. Having had it shaved the other day when it started falling out, the short hair left then has now pretty much completely fallen out. My blonde baby beard is on its way, too.
A lot of young men in Italy, including Mariacristina’s brother, go for the hairless look as soon it shows any sign of receding, so I’ve now finally got a relatively fashionable haircut by their standards. I’m lucky in this sense to be a male cancer patient, as I know it can be a lot more distressing for a woman, for whom a bare head is very unlikely to be a style choice. I’m also probably lucky not to have any particular love for my hair – I know some men who would find it difficult to lose theirs.
Although technically my baldness could have been my decision, it still makes me look more likely to be a cancer patient, but that doesn’t bother me either. I certainly won’t feel the need to hide it, as in a way it is a badge of pride – it shows I’ve been through a pretty tough experience. After all, if chemotherapy did that to my hair, imagine what it did to my insides! It’s a fairly good physical alternative to the cancer card, and gives people a first warning that my lack of strength or the like may be due to something a bit more complex than a failure to make the most of my gym membership. It also saves on shampoo.
So arise, cancer baldies, and be proud of our shiny pates!