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by Orli Wildman Halpern as told to Sarah Wildman

I’m Eleven and I’ve Lost My Hair

 

For the last five years I have worn my hair long, thick and wavy, half-way down my back. I put it in ponytails, or I wear it down, or I bundle it in a bun. I just turned 11. 

But, I recently discovered I have liver cancer. Which was a real pain for me, because I have never had anything like that before. I knew I would lose my hair. A couple weeks after starting chemo, it began: first a little bit, mostly in the shower; then losing big, big chunks of hair. 

Quickly, it got to be just too much. So I ended up going to a barber in my town. (My parents called in advance, and they told us we could come after closing time, without others in the shop.) 

The barber was a woman named Rosa. When I got there she said she would cut off my ponytail, which was big for me because I haven’t had my hair that short in a very long time. But I let her do it without a second thought. Soon enough, I had hair as short as I had when I was 5, when I had a bob. I hated that bob. 

Then she began buzzing my head. I thought, “Would I look the same? Would I look different? Would I recognize myself ?” 

I was turned away from the mirror so I didn’t see what was going on. But my mom did. She kept taking pictures. And she looked very happy, so that was encouraging. When the barber was done, 

I looked at myself. It was very strange. I couldn’t get used to it.

When she was finished, she washed my head, like I had always done at all my hair cuts, just like it was a trim, or a little cut.

But it wasn’t. It was full on bald. With a little bit of buzz.

In the morning when I woke up I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I took a picture and I thought, “Will I ever get used to it?” My friends said it was cool. My friends said I was brave. (My dad had said that too, but he was already bald.)

Most girls at school have long hair and put it back in ponytails like I always did. Of course, I haven’t gone to school for awhile. My sister, Hana, who is 6, still has long hair. Long curly hair. As I feel her hair, I can still feel my own. But it was very exciting for Hana to brush the tiny hairs on my head back and forth because she thought it was like a big fuzz ball. Which it is.

Once I went back to the hospital for chemotherapy, I noticed all the other people with cancer, who had let their hair thin out or shaved it like I had. And I knew I didn’t look that different from them. But I didn’t feel the same as them. I didn’t want to go through the same thing. I didn’t think it was fair.

What wasn’t fair? I don’t know. Everything. Losing my hair. Cancer.

But I’m comfortable now with the bald head. Today I posted myself on TikTok. And I danced. On screen. 

Orli Wildman Halpern is in the 5th grade, her mother Sarah Wildman is author of Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind.

Jewish Hair Now.

The articles in this special section:

I’m Eleven and I’ve Lost My Hair

by Orli Wildman Halpern as told to Sarah Wildman

 

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 8.53.45 PM

Hair as a Jewish Art Form: A Parasha Haircut Project

May Ye

Loss, Identity, beauty, anger, love.

Waxing Nostalgic

Raina Lipsitz

My Mother’s Unshaved Legs

Talia Liben Yarmush

At the Beauty Parlor

Marianne Rogoff

Combing My Mother’s Hair

Ruth Knafo Setton

Hair-Pulling

Jamie Zabinsky

The Weight of Shiva

Sharrona Pearl

The Social Context of Hair: Hairstyles, Race and Status

Sarah Seltzer

HAIR IS PERSONAL. Hair is political. To make sense of
the social context of hair for Jews of color today, SARAH
SELTZER talked to CHAVA SHERVINGTON, a longtime
diversity activist in the Jewish community, as well as an attorney and mom,
who by her own admission has become “obsessed with hair issues” as she
helps her kids navigate the complex politics of their Black hair.