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I lost my hair when I was 18 years old, and I cried like a baby. Hair is important, more important than people realize. It’s almost like eyebrows – we are not aware of how vital eyebrows are to our physical appearance until we accidentally shave them off or over pluck them in a last-ditch effort to get rid of that pesky unibrow. We often take our hair for granted, not realizing that we tend to connect it with our identity, femininity, or masculinity. For some context, I was diagnosed with T-cell Leukemia the summer before I was supposed to start my freshman year at CU. The loss of my hair not only made me the perfect look-alike to Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, but it was the first time in my life where I felt truly ugly.

By the time I was able to start attending CU (August 2019) I jumped at the chance, of course, dreaming of the fun college experiences I had seen in movies and TV shows growing up. There were just a couple of minor things standing in my way: I had no energy, no strength, the body of an 11-year-old girl still waiting to go through puberty, and had absolutely no hair. It was certainly not how I pictured going into college, but the prospect of staying home for another year to two years was not totally appealing (can you blame me?).  

One of my biggest fears was that people were going to take one look at me and know something was wrong, that they would know I was different in some way… and to be honest, that was the last thing I wanted. I had spent the last year being treated as “different” and all I wanted was to blend into the college crowd. I was content with the idea of just being like everyone else – no better or worse than anyone… just average. And while being bald or having a shaved head is fairly common in today’s society, all I could think when I looked in the mirror was “No one is going to want to be friends with you, Ariana. You’re a 19-year-old woman who looks like a prepubescent boy”. Now, even more importantly, what guy was going to fall in love with me when I looked like this? (Yes, I said fall in love… I’m a romantic).  I had never seen any movie or TV show where guys fell in love with the weird, too-tired-to-party, looks-like-she-just-got-initiated-into-the-army girl. And if it hasn’t happened in any romantic comedy (not the romanticized cancer movies), I knew it wasn’t realistic.

It’s been quite a long road, and even though I have finished treatment, I have so much more work to do on myself. All I can say is, I am beyond happy to have my hair and health again… and if I end up losing my hair in the future, I have a fabulous long-haired wig waiting for me in my closet.

It pains me to admit that freshman year was full of punches to my self-esteem and jabs to my confidence (I was involuntarily abstinent that entire year), but I truly believe it was for the best. I was looking for anyone who would give me validation that I was still the pretty girl from before treatment without even realizing none of it would matter unless I truly believed I was worthy of it, which I didn’t. By the time COVID struck and I was forced to pack up my dorm room I had a full head of hair, but it was quite short – think long, messy, curly, Tik-Tok boy hair – and I still didn’t feel pretty. My femininity was attached to my long hair and without it I felt bare (literally and figuratively) and stripped of my beauty. I couldn’t truly appreciate myself until my hair grew back more (it’s a little past my shoulders now), and there are still some days where I look the mirror and see the 12-year-old boy, but I NEVER want to look in the mirror and see a girl who can’t appreciate herself and how far she has come. 

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Ariana Barton

CU Boulder '24

Junior at CU Boulder studying Sociology and Education.
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