We recently sat down with Chani Lisbon, a Brooklyn-based comic, to hear about her experience with hair loss and how it’s shaped her story. Lisbon talks openly about losing her hair and scatters her sets with humor on the topic. We spoke about what it’s been like to lose her hair and how it’s affected her life and work. Read on to hear more of this inspiring story and learn what Lisbon hopes to accomplish by publicly sharing her story both onstage and off:
Hair Stories: Chani Lisbon
Can you tell me a bit about your hair story?
There were many years when I had long blonde hair and I used to dye it every six weeks. I was attached to my hair and it was my thing. The first time that it fell out – this is the fourth time – I didn’t tell anyone. I wore a hat and I just stayed with it by myself because I was so ashamed about it and it was so lonely. And I stopped making plans with people because I was so ashamed about what was happening underneath that I couldn’t even talk about it.
I remember the first time I fully shaved my head, I was one hundred percent in acceptance of not having hair…and then it grew back. But I’m still me [without hair]. I felt sexy and I was so excited to finally shed the thing I thought I needed.
I’m not sick. I have been to the doctor and it has nothing to do with my health. It’s all childhood trauma that is sort of still being processed.
Has it gotten any easier each time it falls out?
Each time my hair falls out, I’m like let me be a little bit more open because it’s freeing for me. It takes away so much of the shame when I don’t have a secret that I’m keeping from people. Right now, there’s a bald spot on the top of my head and I don’t want you to know about that. But it’s important for me to talk about it because it takes away the pain and the thought that no one understands what I’m going through. It takes me out of my head. And maybe I can help somebody.
This time, when I realized my hair was falling out, I cried for a week straight and I didn’t talk about it on Instagram. I went through the majority of the pain and suffering by myself with close friends and then I was like now I’m ready to tell people. That first week I was just sobbing. It’s just so painful to be powerless over your body. You think “this is the thing that defines me” and it’s not true and I know that now.
I don’t feel as weighed down by it as I did three weeks ago. I’m getting ready to shave my head – I’m doing it very slowly – so I went, and I got haircut this weekend and I got it cut pretty short. I’m holding onto this moment of ‘today I have hair and in six weeks I might not.’
How has hair loss affected your life in other ways?
I think it has helped me to get through other things. For me, it has a lot to do with letting go of the thing that I think that I need. So, whatever it is that I’m holding onto. For instance, I was at a job for fifteen years that I did not enjoy. But I thought I needed that job because it supported me, and I thought no one else would pay me as much…I stayed for so many years and when I finally let go and went to another job…I couldn’t believe that I believed that lie that I had to stay there. And now it’s been a year and a half, and I can’t believe that I ever worked there. The letting go is a big part of this for me.
How has this journey affected your career as a comedian?
I think that for many years I was scared to step into that role. I would say, “Oh, it’s just a hobby.” Because I was scared to actually commit and own the space that it takes to be on stage and command attention in that way. In the last year, I’m like, “I’m a comedian with or without my hair and it’s not going to define me. This is who I am.” So, I think it has helped me to step into who I am more because it fell out and because it made me stand out.
When it started falling out a few weeks ago, I was like I can’t do comedy. My first instinct is that I have to hide. It’s very automatic – I can’t be seen, no one can know. Five days later, I forced myself to go to an open mic and did a set where I talked about my hair falling out. Talking about it in a public way made it feel more okay. It’s a choice that I make every time I leave the house: am I going to hide or am I going to take up space in the world?
I think it’s made me more vulnerable because I really try to bring who I am on stage. I try to really be as authentic as possible. And I think it helps me to stand out from most people. There is a part of me that wishes I could have long flowy hair because there’s something pretty about that. But that’s not my path and I’ve come to accept that. I used to think that was one of the only ways to feel feminine. And now that I don’t have that option, femininity is something that comes from the inside.
What advice would you give to someone going through this?
When you’re going through hair loss, I think the only thing that’s helpful is time and getting to a place of acceptance. I think connecting with other people who have gone through it is very helpful. Someone connected me with their friend who had lost her hair to cancer. She said that losing her hair was more traumatic than the actual cancer. And so even fifteen years later, she stays bald and she started a movement called ‘Bald is Beautiful’ to empower women who are losing their hair. I talked to her and that conversation meant so much to me because she understood what I was going through.
If you’ve never gone through it, you can’t understand the pain. You can’t understand what it’s like to watch your hair fall out in the shower. You feel powerless. And you feel ugly and you know you’re on a deadline for when it’s going to be gone and it’s hard.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
A shift in perspective happened for me a couple of weeks ago where I thought, “What if this is happening for me and not to me?” As a comedian, you need something that makes you different and maybe for me that’s not having hair. And I felt excited and thought that this could be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Hair Stories is an ongoing series on All Things Hair that explores the personal human experiences men and women have involving their crowning glories. Have one to share? Tweet us or send us an Instagram direct message at @AllThingsHairUS.