What Happens When You Chop All Your Hair Off

Warning/Promise: This post is totally off-topic of the creative career stuff I usually talk about, but in my promise to get a bit more personal – and after having gone through such a big change – I wanted to share this story with you. Feel free to skip it if ain’t your bag.Β 

My Mom had me brainwashed all these years. She would tell me that if she had my hair she would “rule the world”, and every time I pulled my hair back before I went to school she’d say, “Are you having a bad hair day?” When I responded that I wasn’t and just wanted to do something different, she’d say, “Why are you pulling your hair back?! If I had your hair…I would rule the world!” Needless to say, I wore my hair down almost every day.

Thankfully, my Mom’s the world’s bestest Mom (sorry, your Mom), so I didn’t ever have to send her a bill for therapy.

That’s why I never cut my hair above my shoulders – well, that, and the fact that my Jew-fro (my hair is thick and wavy-ish, and would get super frizzy with the slightest hint of rain or humidity) wouldn’t allow it. Also, the fact that “my face it too long” (my thoughts, not anyone else’s). Also also, guys don’t like long hair (right, Cosmo?).

I grew my hair for my wedding in 2008 (it was shoulder-length-ish prior) & keep it long ever since. Photo by Kate Leigh.

So, when I was about to start schmemo (yes, I refused to call it chemo) for my boob cancer and was told I could take part in a trial that’ll save about 70% of my hair, I jumped at it. Not only did it cost some major bucks out of pocket (insurance doesn’t cover it since it’s not yet approved in the US – although Europe has been using ’em for 20-ish years), but I had to extend my schmemo time by 4 hours (it was already 2-2.5) to keep a -35 degree Celsius “cap” on my head. The theory is that the cap freezes the follicles so the poison that’s in the IV won’t kill ’em, making you lose your hair. Made sense to me.

Me in the schmemo chair, with -35 degree Celsius cold cap on my head, acting tough.

My hair started falling out, as expected, 2-3 weeks after my first treatment. I was good for the first few weeks – it was definitely thinning, but I didn’t have any bald spots or need a head covering.

Until I did.

One week prior to my last schmemo, I had to put a schmata on to cover up two big bald spots at the top of my head – and, eventually, more that came through. That schmata – which we snatched from my Nana as she was about to use it as a scarf – stayed on my head day and night (yes, even when I was alone) for about 3 weeks. It was better than the alternative – shaving my head and being bald – but I knew what I had to do:

Chop it all off.

Sure, I only had a handful of long strands left, and I promised that as soon as the bald spots grew in, I’d head to my stylistΒ and see if she could work some kind of magic. I made the appointment about a month in advance (something to look forward to!) and, in the meantime, I got a $500 wig thanks to my insurance (yup, they reimbursed a head covering up to $500, so why the heck not?) and brought it to my appointment. I figured I’d need it to feel comfortable going outside.

And then something strange happened. My miracle stylist, Ruthie, reassured me that she could do more than just take a razor to it, and as the last long pieces fell to the floor, I noticed some things then (and since):

I felt free.


I was prettier than I ever gave myself credit for.

About 5 minutes post-hair chop

Now, when I walk around and talk to people, I feel seen. I have no place to hide, so my eyes lead the way.

I’m also getting compliments as to how “put together” I look. I’m wearing the same things, but they look chic-er. More stylish. More grown-up.

And as far as boys go, my husband tells me he loves it, because he can see my face now. {When I asked if boys liked long hair, he said “Boys like boobs and butts and vaginas. Everything else is icing.” I love him.}Β He’s a real bad liar, so I’d know if he thought otherwise.

I don’t know if I’m gonna keep my hair short-short. I still feel like this wasn’t my choice, but at the same time, I feel like I was given a dare, a chance, an opportunity. I also feel like I’m gonna spend my life growing my hair and then chopping it for Locks of Love, and now I won’t be scared.

And yes, I’m donating that wig to charity. I certainly don’t need it.

Pic by Jen Wojcik




  1. Rite Here Now says

    Stories of a changed mind, changed heart and changed hair are so beautiful and womanly! You are, too! Yay!

  2. Jen says

    I read this story with great interest. I, too, long for the freedom of having short hair just like yours, but now that I am 52, I have sort of an undefined neck, or jawline or whatever. I am afraid if I cut my hair way short, I will look like a man. And not an attractive "man," like Rachel Maddow, but more like some sort of invisible person that's neither male, female, nor attractive. Or worse yet, old. I wonder how I can get past this? I agree with what you say about the hair being sort of a hiding place….and that you are now seen. I would be ready to be seen if my neck weren't so large. Something to keep working on, I guess….

    By the way, I happen to think you look GREAT with the short hair and though I don't envy you the "boob cancer," I envy your courage and taking that step, even though you were sort of forced into it.

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Y'know, I had a ton of reasons as to why I'd look terrible too – mostly, my long face and my hair texture (it tends to grow out instead of down). But really, I was shocked to find out that I could carry this off, and I have a feeling, Jen, that your "large neck" is just in your mind. I'd say if you have a stylist you love and trust, talk it through with him/her. Without Ruthie I *never* would have felt comfortable doing this and making it my new style!

  3. says

    Oh how I love this so very much. I am one of those who has ALWAYS had long hair. Its my security blanket. And yes, like you, one whose Mom told her every day of her life how important (and lovely) her hair was. Now you have me pondering the possibilities…what if I did shed my security blanket. Even just a little…hmmm…

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Do it do it do it do it (I'm such a bad influence, ain't I?)…and don't forget that it can go to a good cause!

  4. says

    This is not rah-rah cancer pity talk: you look awesome with short hair. But I tend to think you will rock whatever comes your way. Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. says

    I was curious about your path on all of this, of course, but also knowing my mum's struggle (after her DX, she died her hair back to her natural brown because she just did not want to see the beautiful blonde hair she loved so much falling out), I also was smart enough to know it was None Of My Beeswax and so didn't ask. Thanks for sharing and so glad you appreciate what short hair is teaching you about how people perceive you! I joked after I shaved my head that the free time it gave me from "doin' my hair" meant I could finally learn how to do my own make up πŸ˜‰

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Ha! Seriously, I save at least 30 minutes every day…that crap adds up!

      And you're sweet for being sensitive to all this, but as you can tell, I'm pretty much an open book :)

  6. Click. The Good News says

    Love this- it's amazing how much of our identity or self-worth or feelings of beauty we tie up to things (hair, body, boobs, clothes). I love that chopping off your hear let your inner beauty shine even brighter!

  7. says

    I love this Michelle! Sometimes it really is an amazing feeling to seize the risk that life gives you even though you likely wouldn't have chosen it on your own. Your long hair was gorgeous but your short hair is also super chic and sophisticated and fun and sexy. You definitely are rocking the new look.

    Not the same thing at all, I know, but your story made me think about my own hair. I have spent my life having my hair's color praised – red hair always gets attention! I always had a sneaky desire to dye it, but was afraid I'd mess up my natural color. Plus, I was afraid it would mess up my opportunity to get the kinds of jobs I wanted. Now that I work for myself the latter part's no longer an issue and so I decided to let go of my fear of "messing up" my hair and I had my stylist bleach some hair and dye it teal. The streaks are already fading but I have really loved it – I feel like I have mermaid hair! And I love that my inner freak shows a bit more when I am walking in the world, and that I am deeply okay with that. I am committed to some level of streaks (even if white ones) now until the bleached section grows out which will be a while. And I'm happy I took a bit of a risk and let go some of my attachment to how I thought I should look. It's amazing how we become attached to other people's compliments. Compliments are lovely but they can cause us to become so attached to aspects of our self-identity, as if by changing what we do or how we look we might lose something. It reminds me of some things I've read about how we should praise our children for effort rather than traits or results, because apparently the wrong kind of praise can make children so risk-averse – they are afraid of trying harder things because then if they don't get them right they might risk a chunk of their self-identity as smart, creative, etc.

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Ohmygosh I need a picture! The red and the teal…swoon. I want some pink or blue in here, too, and have never done that either. Maybe my next hair appointment?

      "Compliments are lovely but they can cause us to become so attached to aspects of our self-identity, as if by changing what we do or how we look we might lose something." I think we need to remember it's always our choice.

  8. says

    You had me choking back tears as I read this Michelle. You are a messager of hope and inspiration not only for those going through cancer and losing their hair but your message resonates much further than that. I love all that your short hair has done for you… feel free… feel prettier than you gave yourself credit for… you feel seen… I love how you felt you were given a dare, a chance… an opportunity to cut your hair. How incredibly liberating when choosing to get such a haircut can help one feel. I love how you dared yourself to try it and to not look back but instead to discover all the wonderful things about that it gave you. You look beautiful with any length of hair and always will. Thank you for sharing.

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Thanks Suzanne. And this is a beautiful response, which has *me* teary-eyed! Aw. I so appreciate you.

  9. says

    It was clear from the first time you posted that picture of yourself with that haircut that you were blossoming into this [even more] amazeballs being. That photo screams: "I'm confident, I'm free, I'm healthy and I'm going to conquer the world!" I swear. I felt it in my bones that you were going to fly from now on, and that's all I see you do. Your smile is wider than ever, and your eyes dance. I'm sure that if I were to touch you, I"d feel an electric shock. You're just that lit up! Love this post.

    Many blessings, lady!

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      OK, now I'm really crying. Thanks for the kind compliments, Gabriella!

      More than just a haircut for sure…

  10. Barb Raudonis says

    Thank you Michelle, for being so open and vulnerable! I think you sooo underestimated who your life's story could affect by saying "feel free to skip it if it ain't your bag", because to me the story has so much more to do with just plain ol' LIFE and the challenges that come out of nowhere, throw us off track, and then leave us either floundering or flourishing!!!! EVERYONE can relate to that! So I encourage you to not minimize the positive impact you can have on peoples' lives. We ALL need to hear this! It actually gets "tiring" (sp?) hearing only the positive & exciting things that are going on in other peoples' lives………don't get me wrong. I DO enjoy hearing those things…….but lets get REAL with one another and share the challenges – the "ickey-but-super-growth-building-stuff in our lives as well! And lets also not wait to share our stories until "we have it all figured out."

    And by the way, you're one of those women that looks beautiful with short OR long hair!

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Thanks for pointing that out, Barb…I think you're right that it "just plain ol' LIFE" – I promise to write more about it, and own it, too!

  11. says

    Wow, I love this. When you shared your first photo post-cut my first thought was how gorgeous it looked — and how much I wished I could do that. This post makes me realize — of course I can! I'm not sure if I have your bravery and courage, but I HAVE been thinking more often lately how freeing it'd be to just chop it all off….. πŸ˜‰

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Ooh, do it do it! I want more of us in the Short Hair Girls Club! And don't forget your hair can go to a worthy "home"…

  12. says

    You never cease to amaze me lady! And you hit the nail on the head about short hair – "there's no place to hide, so my eyes lead the way."

    As a fellow pixie-haired gal, I'll always be biased…I hope you keep letting your gorgeous face be front and center with a chic and short 'do. Regardless, thanks for a beautiful post about fearlessly embracing the unexpected changes that sometimes come into our lives. As women, we tend to get caught up in conventional ideas of femininity and what clearly ID's us as such…there is SO much more to us then merely the length of our hair. Short or long, it's how we choose to carry ourselves and rock whatever look resonates with the truest part of ourselves.

    Thanks for a great post that I hope a LOT of gals see…

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Thanks for being a Short Haired Girls Club "mentor", Lauren! I've always loved your look and am thrilled I can join your club :)

  13. says

    Michelle, you made my heart swell! You are bursting with inspiration and a sense of freeness, of possibility, of opportunity and hope! Thank you for sharing your story with us — you have and will touch the lives of so many.

    When we experience loss, change or tough stuff of any kind we are given this incredible gift (not that it's easy) to let stuff go – making room for new, f'n amazing stuff to bloom, move in, take root. You are doing this in technicolour – and it's bursting out of you for all the world to see!!

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    Love love love, xo

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Aw, this has me tearing up, Kate! Thanks for articulating what I haven't really recognized – the letting go to make bloom. Love that analogy.

      Thank *you* x3! :)

  14. says

    I told you once before in a Tweet how much I liked your short new hair and I have to confess after reading this post I love it even more!

    You have such a beautiful bright light about you MIchelle. With the short hair I can see your large lovely eyes and that gorgeous smile….so much more YOU shines right through!

    Here's to your continued journey through Boob Cancer Banishment. I'm so happy to see you not just surviving but soaring even stronger.

    P.s.- I enjoy your more personal posts, it creates such a connection!

  15. says

    Gorgeous Dah-ling….ans AS my mom has always said…it's just hair… (she and my bro and dad all shaved their hair after her first schemo treatment they said I didn't have to since my hair was already only an inch long at the time. It's my favorite picture I have of my baldheaded family) And I think you're right you somehow look More you…or at least the you, you are becoming (that was a lot of you's)

  16. Amanda says

    My sister has always had a conservative soccer mom hairstyle. While going through an extreme health experience her hair started falling out at the hair line mostly, and thinning everywhere else. She too purchased the wig her insurance covered, the soccer mom wig edition, but found it very itchy and hot.
    Her stylist also gave her the pixie short cut and while my sister would NEVER have cut her hair that way herself we all loved the change on her and thought she should keep it for a while once she began to heel. She even started dressing hipper and that has carried into her most recent years of better health.
    Bravo to you, and best wishes with your treatments!

    • WhenIGroUpCoach says

      Aw, so fantastic for your sister! Well, not the extreme health experience part, but the owning-her-style part. Brava!

  17. kellee says

    It looks so amazing! Congrats to you for facing a fear and turning it into something positive and fantastic!


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