Please stop asking me about my hair.
I get it: It's short, it's thin, it's patchy, and I'm a woman. It confuses you.
I have alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which my hair falls out periodically in unpredictable patterns. It started out of nowhere, unprompted (read: I wasn't particularly stressed out), when I was in seventh grade, at first with a dime-sized patch, and then a couple more. I was so scared to look at my hairbrush after brushing, or the drain after showering.
And then my hair grew back — it was long and full for another year or so, and then some more fell out. The pattern continued like that through high school and college, but it went relatively unnoticed by those around me. I was lucky that it tended to fall out near the nape of my neck, and I could cover it up with my hair.
But then, sometime in the past couple of years, it's fallen out more than it ever has before — including my eyelashes and eyebrows (which I got microbladed) — and it hasn't grown back (again, not because of stress). I tried steroid treatments, Rogaine, you name it, and some things have worked better than others, but nothing's proven to be a sustainable treatment — let alone a cure.
So, to keep it looking and feeling as full as possible, I cut it shorter and shorter, until now, where I'm at some sparse version of a pixie cut. I tried wigs for a period of time, but it was far too hot under there, and in a moment of sweaty frustration while preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I tossed it in the garbage with the vegetable scraps, and asked my mom to chop it all off. Immediately I felt exposed, as I no longer had any hair to hide behind, but also liberated, as my worst fear came true but it ended up not being so bad.
My hair has kind of plateaued since. It's not really falling out but it's also not growing back in. And, at this point, I'm kind of OK with it, so honestly, I don’t really feel like talking to you about it.
That goes for you, random man on the subway who stared at me for a good five minutes before sitting down next to me and asking me, “Did you do that to your hair on purpose?” (Which? Cut it short? Or decide to shave random bald spots into my head? Well, neither one concerns you.)
That goes for you, balding man at the bar who took one look at me and said, “And I thought I had the worst haircut in this place!” (You do.)
That goes for you, drunk man at another bar who thought a good pickup line would be, “Excuse me. Do you have trichotillomania?” Trichotillomania is the impulse control disorder that causes the irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other parts of your body. (No, I don’t have that, but if I did, I probably wouldn’t want you to be asking me about it.)
That goes for you, middle school crush, who pointed to my bald spot, laughed and asked me, audibly enough for the whole gym class to hear, “What is that?!” (*Cue the heat to my cheeks.*)
That goes for you, Uber driver who stared at me for a while in the rearview mirror, then asked me if I had tried natural supplements. (No.) “What about propecia?” (Yes.) “Coconut oil?” (What?) “That worked for my dog.” (WHAT?!)
That goes for you, ex-boyfriend who told me he liked my hair better longer when I hadn’t asked him for his input on the matter. (Large emphasis on the “ex.”)
That goes for you, former high school history teacher who I ran into recently, who actually asked me, “Are you well?” (Yes, why?) “You don’t look well,” she said. “Is it … cancer?” (Seriously?)
That goes for you, childhood friend I was recently reminiscing with, who asked me, “Do you remember how beautiful your hair was?” (Is that rhetorical?)
But maybe I don’t care that much anymore about growing it back. Maybe, to some extent, I’ve accepted it. Would I rather have my hair back? Sure, but I also feel pretty good about the fact that I’m not super attached to it anymore.
You might be thinking, “What would you rather me do? Just stare?!” Actually, yes. I mean, I’d rather you didn’t stare, but if I had the choice between you coming up to me, insisting that I tell you what’s wrong with my hair, and you just staring, then yeah, I’d rather you stare.
You don’t need you to remind me I have alopecia. I think about it every time I look in the mirror. And a lot of the time when I’m not looking in the mirror and wondering how my hair looks. I don’t need to know you’re thinking about it, too.
Emi Boscamp is the senior food editor at TODAY. Follow her (mostly food) adventures on Instagram.