Why I Decided To Go Bald feat. Preetha Balagi


You would definitely have recognised this girl from the Gooday Television advertisement. On a completely unrelated note, I really hated that ad. It was shallow and absolutely doltish.

The person starring in the ad, on the other hand, to me is probably one of the bravest, coolest and kindest indian woman that I know in my life. Sometimes, we really do not need to look far and beyond for role-models in our life. They are just around us in plain sight. Recently, when I found out that she had shaved her head, I was naturally intrigued. Was it for cancer? Let's be honest with ourselves. An indian woman shaving her head is indeed a rare occurence, let alone when she is married.

So, I sent her my usual what-when-why questions. Her story simply left me stumped for words. It was brutally honest and I am grateful to her for that. Her struggle and her pain is real. Her story is an inspiration to all.

Why did you decide to shave your head?
I’m going to be extremely honest here. I have had a very tough time in life since my early teens as far as family life is concerned. I also have very severe eczema covering my calves and ankles on both legs. It started off as rashes at my joints when I was 12, but soon moved to my legs. I get stared at a lot as long as I’m wearing a skirt or shorts. It’s painful on some days, as it makes me feel like some sort of exhibit. Some people also have no compassion in the way they talk. They ask with a horrified expression on their faces, “Oh my god what is that?! What happened to you?!” And when I tell them that I have eczema and that I have scars due to me scratching down to my flesh sometimes, they still continue looking at it in a horrified manner. It’s just human curiosity, but it can really get to a person at times when there isn’t any compassion or empathy or even just sympathy expressed by the other party.

 
There was once a mother and child seated opposite me on a train. I was wearing my school pinafore and therefore my legs were visible. I think I was 14 at the time. The mother kept repeatedly pointing to my legs and telling something to the child. I expected her to stop after a while but she carried on for more than 5 minutes and I couldn’t just sit there and not do anything. So I got up and went right in front of them and asked if they would like a closer look. That shut her up. I’ve also been asked by schoolmates if I had leprosy. There are several days when I’ve gone to school with my legs bandaged because of how badly I’d have scratched them, so you can imagine that with physical pain I also had to endure emotional conflict within me from the age of 12. I have tried so many different things, but nothing has truly worked.
 
This is what my right leg looks like after the treatment in India. I no longer scratch while I sleep and there aren’t any more open wounds either. Good sign that it’s healing :)
Last year, I finally learned more about how Ayurveda may have a real solution for me. Every allopathic doctor I have been to simply told me there was no cure and that my only option was steroids. So when the option of Ayurveda came about, I did my research and visited some doctors in Singapore. At the same time, I read up on several websites about Panchakarma Detoxification.

How did you go about your Ayurvedic treatment?
No one in Singapore offered what I was looking for, so I went to an ashram in India for a month (December 2015), and did my treatment there. It was a tough choice to make, as it meant leaving my family and my husband behind for the festive period in December. But I also had to make the choice because while I was in Singapore, whatever food restrictions I imposed on myself to help my eczema, nobody cared. Everyone said things along the lines of ‘just once more won’t hurt /it won’t kill / it’s no big deal/ not like you’re going to be healed tomorrow anyway’ (ouch for the last one). In order to make everyone finally respect my food and lifestyle related decisions, and for me to realize that I had the strength to deal with the temptations, I went to India.
 
 
How was the experience in India?
I truly suffered in India. From drinking cups of medicated ghee every day and not eating anything but rice water for 10 days straight, then drinking 2 litres of herbal water with more oily concoctions in between to induce vomiting, to freezing cold buttermilk baths (dressed in nothing but a loincloth), to having the skin on my legs pricked non-stop to the point of tears and then having leeches put on my skin. As crazy as it sounds… it worked. I’m now on a very strict diet with quite a bit of Ayurvedic medicine to take every day, and it truly is working.
A picture of the treatment centre in Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre (also commonly referred to as the Sivananda Ashram), Kerala

 
Was the treatment the reason for your decision to go bald?

Sorry for the long story. But the background is necessary. While I struggled with my self-confidence and esteem because of eczema, another problem crept up in my life. I lost a lot of hair because of the stress, poor nutrition and countless steroidal medications during those years in which I battled my skin problems. Just a couple of weeks after I returned from India, I had heard probably the thousandth “Eh wah your hair is so thin!!!”. Oh hell. I had had enough. So that’s really what sparked me to go bald. To show that my true beauty is on the inside, and I needed neither eczema-free skin nor a thick mane of hair because I have a good heart that’s willing to help everyone and that’s all that’s needed. Whether I had clean skin or thick hair, it would never be enough for judgmental people. It seems that majority of humans will always find some fault or the other, rather than focusing on how they can make our lives better or happier.
 
These two are before shaving. Mentally getting ready to see myself without hair
 
My parents were supportive and did not question my decision. My dad coincidentally shaved bald in Thirupathi in the same week. I think he wishes I did a prayer of some sort at the temple before I shaved my head, but he still supported me nevertheless. Same goes for the in-laws and the husband. Aroon (husband) is funny, he always pulls a face first when I mention that I want to do something but after I do it he usually really likes the new look. This has happened every single time I cut or dyed my hair so it’s the same now. He likes running his hand over the fuzzy short hair now. ;)
 
Aroon made my year when I took this shot with him. I sat down and took a picture to remember this very moment because right before I walked out of the door, he looked at me and said, “My god, you look beautiful. Like an Egyptian Goddess.” I am lucky to have found this man, I know

How was the shaving experience?

The shaving experience was surreal. I had a group of my closest girlfriends and Aroon to come support me. They parted the hair into bunches and then shaved bunch by bunch off. After that, I came home and Aroon helped me do a complete clean shave. I’ve shaved my head thrice since, and am trying to be more consistent with hair oil etc to help dissipate the heat from my shiny scalp!

How has it been since?

These are some of the reactions I’ve received. My cousin grabbed my head and gave me a kiss, which was an extremely sweet gesture for me. And then he started calling me Sigourney Weaver with a pottu… My grandmother told me I had a nice round head so I look great bald. A friend’s mum even said I looked better bald as it brought out my features. So I’ve been getting some really nice compliments which have really made me feel even more empowered to do more for society to feel the same way as I do.
 
Was it worth it?

It was completely worth it. I’ve proved a lot to myself and I think it was important as I wanted a fresh start after I came back from India. I had finally found a cure for my 14-year-old skin problem and I felt a renewed sense of hope and joy in life. I have since embarked on a Yoga Instructor’s Course as well. And despite my hair being thin, it ultimately was still useful to someone. I donated my hair after checking if it fit the minimum length requirement, and it will be made into a wig soon.
 
Some shots taken during yoga training. I’m not so full of myself to be posing for shots, haha. It’s just that these are needed for our final report that has to be submitted to the examining university




How has your life changed post-treatment?

These are my current dietary restrictions:
  1. No dairy – no milk, yoghurt, cheese, anything that has milk products in it
  2. No red meat or chicken. (The Doctor said pure vegetarian would be best but oh my god it’s been tough. A little bit of fish once a week is how I’m getting by. For the first two months after treatment I was completely vegetarian.)
  3. No processed foods. So nothing from cans. And no ketchup or chilli sauce either.
  4. No fried foods.
  5. No spicy food. As in chilli kind of spice.
  6. No bread / baked goods (i.e. egg, processed white flour)
  7. No processed wheat (maida) flour. Raw wheat (Atta) flour is okay.
  8. No nuts. (peanuts, cashew nuts, everything!)
  9. No caffeine, but I’m allowed to drink one black coffee or tea per day.
  10. No white sugar. Honey, molasses, palm sugar (gula Melaka, if pure) is okay.
  11. No cauliflower or brinjal, minimize potatoes.
  12. No processed soy products.
 
So as you can see, this essentially wipes out 99% of goods that you find in a supermarket. Only the fresh produce section has things that I can buy, and even then there are restrictions. I am surviving on Idli, Dosai, Chappathi, Rice, Dhal, vegetables and chutney on a daily basis. Surprisingly my cooking is quite tasty and I hardly crave the things I’m not allowed to eat. About two months ago, I had a major craving for chocolate cake so I bought a brownie home and shared it with Aroon. The discomfort and heart burn I had that day was enough to stop that craving for a long time. I can only have a little bit of dark chocolate every now and then. But since the treatment is working so well for my skin, I am inspired every day to do right by my body, and that makes me happy on the inside too.

On a completely unrelated note, we also heard you ride. How did that happen?

My entire family – mother, father, brother and I, can ride. So it wasn’t much of a surprise for me when my parents got me to enroll for my license as well as get me my first bike when I turned 18. It was a blue Bajaj Pulsar 180. His name was Balu. I upgraded my license to a class 2A a few years ago and finally bought a Super Four about a year ago. She’s pink and beautiful. I have christened her Rasathi. I rely on her heavily on a daily basis as I travel quite a bit every day. For now, my life revolves around my yoga centre in the mornings, and my tuition lessons (I’m a full time tutor) from early afternoon until about 9 p.m. on most days.
 
This is Rasathi. All washed and about to be polished. I find washing her very therapeutic. The whole affair takes a good two hours.


I literally cried and kissed Balu goodbye when I sold him because I had him for 7 years, even though I am the one who made the decision to sell him and buy a new bike. It sounds funny but I think we all develop emotional attachments to certain things in our lives at certain points. He was my first ever bike and will always be a treasured memory. Also for the fact that I used to wear a dance saree and ride on Balu to class when I used to attend bharathanatyam classes. ;)
 
My friend and I after class one week. I don’t remember why we took this photo but she and I had some really great times on this bike. We both studied in NTU together and used to travel to Bishan for dance class together. I miss my trusty old steed.

 

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