Once upon a follicle.
The following piece is written by us - Emily and Sybille and it's all about hair. About both losing and gaining hair. From cancer.
I lost my hair.
Syb gains hair.
Syb then transforms the hair into extraordinary jewellery pieces that supports the journey of chemo patients. I have known her for 10 years, she lives in Berlin, her project is called "Tangible Truths" and she's rather great.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HAIR?
Hair means health. Something to wear proudly and not take for granted. Ever.
On the desk in my studio stands a black cardboard box. The inside is layered with a special moth repellant paper in green. Hand labeled paper bags, sorted by name, hair colour, and length, are stacked above each other. Each bag contains around 1000 strands of hair from a friend or leftover hair from a previous commission. It's my hair archive. Weird, creepy, disgusting? Not really if you keep in mind that hair is my material of choice to work with. It sparks my creativity and inspires my jewellery pieces and artworks.
HAIR. LOST AND FOUND.
The lead up to losing your hair is like waiting for the creep to pounce in a scary movie. It’s riddled with sickening suspense and anxiety. The whole soundtrack to your life switches from Smooth FM to that stabby music from psycho - on repeat. And you’ve lost the remote.
I remember waking up every morning and the first thing I’d do was check my pillow to see how much had fallen out the night before. Showers and high winds became my enemies. My heart would be in knots as I’d watch the strands sail down the drain. And outside I became paranoid I was leaving a visible trail of follicles.
The constant state of dread doesn’t so much stem from the fact you’re about to lose your hair, it’s about losing your normality. There’s a ticking time bomb on how much longer you can bluff your way through this illness. Because when your hair falls out, the cancer becomes blatantly obvious and shit gets real. You’re then official a cancer patient.
They always arrive differently. Either wrapped in architectural sketching paper or stuffed in a transparent plastic bag. Elegantly kept in a sophisticated black envelope or in a bright blue box. No matter how different the outside cover, there is always the same item inside: a lock of hair. It is the hair of mothers, sisters, siblings, parents, lovers or friends. Cut off locks, ponytails and braids related and personal in one way or another to my customers. And sometimes these customers are chemo patients and what they bring is their own hair, neatly braided into two braids. They cut them off just after the first hairs start falling out and the last bit of hope to be one of the rare exceptions who is not losing her hair during chemo, ceased. This is how hair finds me.
LESSONS LEARNT FROM LOCKS.
Hair is a big deal. We interpret so much of a person from it. Everything from fashion style, music taste, spirituality, sexual orientation, economic status, and of course health. I never realised how big it’s role was in our society until I lost mine.
All of a sudden, leaving the house became something I needed courage and an eyebrow pencil to do. Even if it was just to take the rubbish out 5 meters past the door. Strangers would try to figure out whether I was sick or just a full blown hipster. Some days I’d roll with it and loved this sense of mystery. I’d wear huge turbans with bling earrings. However, on my bad days, my lack of hair would shrink me into someone I didn’t know. I’d become super self-conscious and defeated by this weird new exterior. I simply didn’t have the energy or sass to deal with anyone’s questioning or pity filled looks.
Hair used to be a very normal thing to me. Growing on my head - very happy about that - and on my body - not always so happy about that. Well integrated into my everyday life and totally taken for granted. It wasn't until I started to work with it in the context of an art project that I began to see hair in a different light. The most striking realisation only crept into my awareness slowly: Most of us like hair, as long as it is rooted on our head. Once it falls out and is stuck in our brush, lying on our floor, in our soup or clogging a shower drain it is, mildly put, disgusting. Almost as if there is a magic spell that breaks as soon as the hair is disconnected from our body.
We also seem to forget how much hair we actually wear daily: Wool, cashmere, angora, it's all animal hair, spun into a thread, knitted into sweaters, socks or hats. I've had people come up to me and tell me how using human hair for jewellery was crude, all while wearing a jacket made of animal skin. Oh the irony!
MY BAD HAIR DAY.
More than often it would be the tiny human beings of this world that would pipe up and question my appearance. Even with my best makeup job and my most stylish turban, their curious little eyes would see right through my disguise.
I remember waiting to escape a packed plane when a kid screamed across the cabin– ‘Muuuuuuuum, Is this a boy or a girl?’ Finger point straight at me.
Plane falls silent.
Bad thoughts cross mind regarding small human being.
Ah…. I don’t miss moments like that.
My straight, blonde hair and I live in peace ever since I stopped working against it. I will never have luscious, black locks that playfully bounce down to my hip. Even if I try to get there, and believe me, I did, it will not happen. Other than a funky fringe style after sleep, we are a great team. Though I can tell you about the worst hair day I had so far*. It was when I was in grade 8 or 9. Those vulnerable teenage years when your hormones run high, your body changes in a rapid pace and insecurities start to be a constant companion. I went to my hairdresser at the time to refresh my cut. My nice, mid length bob had grown too long and a touch up was needed. An hour later I stared into the mirror and could not believe what I saw: he had cut my hair into the shortest bob possible, ending just at the tip of my earlobe. Instead of a soft round transition the ends were a straight, harsh cut. And there was no way I could hide this in a ponytail. Nooo! It might have been teenage drama but I felt so uncomfortable with this new hairstyle, this new appearance of me, I needed to stay home for a day to let it sink in and accept it. My sister Isabella, who back in the day claimed it wasn't that bad, told me years later that it indeed was the most unfortunate haircut ever to crown my head.
NEW HAIR - YEAH, YEAH!
And I mean huge big round Shirley Temple curls. You know how girls always want the hair they don’t have. Well, I got what I wanted. It was the best. That, and of course a second chance at life. Winning.
Transforming what is lost into a piece of highest personal value is a great act and I love being a part of it. The cutoff braids given to me "grow" into a separate adornment while the individual who is in treatment also undergoes a profound transformation. Zsuzsa, one of my customers who underwent chemo, told me that wearing her hair as a piece of jewelry is empowering. This kind of feedback on a final piece is what matters most to me after all the hours of labor that go into it, the process with its repetitive movements, its fun tasks and not so fun tasks, its lucky accidents.
Check Syb's work out here.
And check out some rad scarves here at Bravery Co. 10% of profits will go to ending this silly cancer nonsense if you buy one. Go on - you know you want to!