She Shaved Her Head To Wear Wigs for a Year

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Who shaves off perfectly good (ok, perfect) hair in the quest to understand what we, as hair-wearers, experience on a day-to-day basis?

emily buckwalter

Emily Buckwalter, that’s who.

Today, I’m excited and honored to bring to you my interview with Emily, Jon Renau’s amazing Education Coordinator. Some of you had the opportunity to “meet” her at the webinar we partnered on last year (eek, hard to believe it’s been a year!).

Emily has been with Jon Renau since 2012 and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to both the pieces themselves, and as well as how to care for and maintain them.

At the start of this year, Emily launched her blog The Truth Beneath the Wig. Because she wanted to fully understand what life is like for a full-time hair-wearer, she shaved off her (gorgeous!) black hair and vowed to chronicle her journey for a year.

I’m not sure many women would take on this challenge, and I definitely had some questions for Emily!

Let’s get started!

Lauren: Ahhh, your hair! Why did you decide to do this? How did this idea come about?

Emily: My co-worker Diana Ford had shaved her head two years earlier and did a fund-raising event for Children With Hair Loss.

She learned so much about alternative hair and even herself through the experience, so the idea of shaving my head to wear wigs full time was always in the back of my mind somewhere.

The idea of really taking the leap and shaving my head happened when I was standing in a room full of Jon Renau retailers at a major hair loss conference explaining to them how important it is to wear the hair we sell, when it dawned on me that although I had worn toppers for a few years (for fashion) I had no real experience wearing wigs as a “need”. Sure, I would wrap my hair up and wear it for a few hours for work, but it was not a part of my daily life.

Lauren: I think it’s so awesome that you fully want to understand the product you’re selling. Even so, I bet it was difficult to decide to part with your hair – even knowing it will grow back! Was it a hard decision?

Emily: It took me 3 months of thinking about it before I said anything to anyone out loud.

Lauren: Ah, you had to let it simmer a while.

Emily: For me, actually saying to it someone was the hardest part because it meant that now it was going to happen.

Lauren: What did your family think?

emily buckwalter family

Emily: My husband has been incredibly supportive the entire time. I think that maybe at first he didn’t think I was actually going to do it.

Lauren: You should’ve put money on it!

Emily: The rest of my family was supportive of my reason for wanting to shave my head and wear wigs for a year, but thought it was a bit extreme.

Lauren: My kids don’t know me any other way. They know Mama wears hair and they accept it…and probably think all women do. What did your kiddo think?

Emily: My son took it the hardest. He had just turned 3 when I shaved my head and he could NOT look at me without a wig on.

Lauren: Poor little dude. That was probably a bit of a shock for a little guy used to seeing his Mom look so different.

Emily: He would tell me to go put my hair on if I was walking around the house without a wig or hat on. After about a week of this, I sat him down and told him again why I did it and that it was okay if he was mad at me for it, but that he needed to be nicer to me about it. As soon as we talked and he knew that he was allowed to feel however he was feeling about it, everything changed. He loves my wigs now and tells everyone that I am wearing one.

Lauren: Aww, our kids love us unconditionally, don’t they? What’s been surprising to you on this journey?

Emily: The most surprising thing for me is the amount of guilt that I felt in shaving my hair. I was and am still very aware that this was my choice, while many people (1 in 4 women in the United States) do not have this option and are looking for alternative hair out of need and not want.

I would be out to dinner and see a woman wearing hair and hope that she did not notice me and ask me about my hair loss, or I would be driving down the street and see someone with long hair and think “you have no idea how lucky you are.”

My biggest insecurity during these past few months is what others will think about my reason for shaving my head.

Lauren: That’s an interesting perspective. I know women have hair loss for many reasons, but those of us in my circle think it’s amazing that you’ve done this, so let go of that guilt!

I know you’ve worn both: are you a human hair or synthetic girl?

(Left to right: Lea in 22/16S8, Carrie in 12FS8, Top Full Topper. All human hair.)

Emily: I love human hair wigs. I have a few synthetic and although I do love them and wear them from time to time (mostly curly ones), there is something about wearing human hair that makes me feel more comfortable and confident.

They are a lot of work and it takes time to make a human hair wig look good and stay nice, but it is so much cooler to wear and there are so many styling options that you can do.

Lauren: Some people are completely pro-human hair, and some pro-synthetic. I love how while you prefer human, you still break out the synthetic every now and again. There is room for both! Did you have a favorite wig, pre-experiment?

Emily: I have always loved Blake, being handtied and long human hair, I thought she would be my favorite since she looked so much like my biological hair and was very comfortable for me to wear when I wrapped my hair underneath.

Now my favorite wig is Carrie, all the way. I have her in a blonde, red, and even colored one green and blue. She is my absolute favorite and go-to for everything. I like that she has a lace front and the monofilament top so that I can change up the parting and style, and what surprised me the most is how comfortable the wefted back is.

Lauren: Those are completely different! I bet Carrie is fun for the hot summer, especially! I’ve always found Blake drool-worthy, myself. Everyone I’ve ever seen in that wig looks fantastic…that piece is undetectable.

I love that you’re having fun and going bold with color, too! Is the green and blue combo a Jon Renau exclusive color? Kidding!

Emilys Wigs
(Top Left: Blake in 27T613S8; Top Right: Ignite in 1B (synthetic); Bottom Left: You can’t buy that beauty, folks!; Bottom Right: Carrie with custom color

I’m not sure I could pull off color like that, but it WORKS for you! Finding the perfect color, particularly in human hair, is frustrating for me. What has been the most frustrating thing for you when it comes to wigs?

Emily: I am not as good about caring for my wigs as I should be and the most frustrating part is when I have no clean wigs to wear and I have to spend what feels like hours, washing and styling my wigs so that I have something to wear.

I love human hair but you have to brush it throughout the day to keep it looking nice and to prevent the tangling that happens in the nape area. I had always had to brush my own bio hair throughout the day, but for some reason remembering to do so when wearing a wig can be difficult.

Lauren: Ha, I know, once you have to become cognizant of doing something so routine, it automatically becomes frustrating! Even something so simple as brushing! I totally get that it can take a long while to care for human hair wigs, in particular. That’s probably part of the reason why I’ve only experimented with them without yet committing to one full-time. But oh, to be able to style it any way I want again…! If only they’d invent an instant-styling machine like the Jetsons had!

Speaking of “if onlys”, have you come across any a-ha’s throughout this that might lead to future Jon Renau innovation?

Emily: This experience has taught me how important it is to set the client up with the correct expectation of their new piece and what is going to be required to maintain it. There is a lot of information out there about alternative hair and how to care for it, but that information is not always correct and can sometimes be damaging to the piece.

We are really focusing on how to get the correct care and maintenance information to women who are wearing pieces so that they get the most out of the piece.

Alternative hair can be expensive and there is nothing worse than spending a lot money on an item and not being given the correct information and tools to care for it.

Lauren: Yep, I can see how this is important with all hair, but especially with human hair. We need to treat our pieces like the investment that they are.

Now, let’s be honest…I still fling my synthetic hair all over my bathroom vanity at night. I would never do that with human hair, though!

Two final questions to wrap up. First, what would you tell someone just starting out with helper hair?

Emily: NO ONE CAN TELL YOU ARE WEARING HAIR!

Lauren: THIS! THIS SO MUCH! If I had the “praising hands” emoji readily available, I’d type out 10 of them right here. Preach it, girl.

Emily: Have fun with the hair that you are wearing. I thought that I wanted to only wear a long, black wig, since that is what my bio hair looked like, but I found out that I love wearing blondes.

Don’t be afraid to change up your looks because at first, when you look in the mirror, it will not feel like you (no matter how much it DOES and how many times everyone around you tells you it does), and that is okay.

With time you will be more comfortable and confident wearing your new hair. Give yourself the time and freedom to explore options and feel whatever is it that is going on inside of you during your journey.

Lauren: I love that. You really do need to take the time to just do you. How someone experiences this and processes it can be completely different than how you do – and that’s ok.

One more question and I think this part doesn’t get talked about too often. What would you tell that person’s family/spouse about what to expect from someone delving into helper hair?

Emily: Be supportive and patient and understand that everything that they are going through is only what they are going through.

There will be good days and bad days and the best thing that you can do is understand that it is NOT “just hair”, but rather a part of who they are and who they see every time they are looking at themselves in the mirror or a picture.

The time and space to mourn the loss of that part of you is important, and those around you need to respect and love you even more for it.

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Got any questions for Emily about her journey or any of her fabulous wigs/toppers? Drop them below in the comments section.

27 thoughts on “She Shaved Her Head To Wear Wigs for a Year”

  1. I currently wear Cyberhair, I love it but I hate the shine of it. Have you any experience with that? I would like a wig but every time I try one its so un real. Its thick and hot and ugh! And I think people do know when your hair is not real. I feel like Im looked at all the time. But the worst is hearing””””””GOD YOUR HAIR IS SOOO SHINY”””” god I hate that so much…

  2. This is inspiring! I have Trichotillomania and decided that I was going to shave off my long blonde hair, to try and cope. I have been wearing a synthetic wig ever since. It’s still very hard for me not to have any hair, especially since I have gotten worse about pulling, but a wig has definitely helped me not be has hard on myself when I pull out half of my hair.

  3. Thank you both for your representation and participation in helping women with hair loss or just fine, thin hair. I’m wondering what can you do when you want to go longer. I mean, if I just get a new, longer piece, it will to totally obvious that it’s not my own hair. I just got Top Secret in the long version and I really like it long. Any ideas?

  4. I don’t think she had to pay for her wigs, or at least, I bet she didn’t have to pay full price, but did this experiment help her to understand at all that those of us who wear helper hair for medical reasons need affordable hair? For example, I’ve written and asked JR for a Sarah style wig for two years now. When I saw the sneak peek, I almost cried with joy. Only to find out it is hand-tied, etc., and totally out of my price range. 🙁 I will never own a Sarah. How about lace front and mono-part versions of some of their expensive hand-tieds?!

    • Are you on the major companies’ email lists? Cysterwigs, for example, regularly offers 33% off and I’ve seen them go as high as 40% off. Since your average synthetic wig (with good care) will last 6-9 months, those dollars can stretch with a good discount. Combine that with all the loyalty programs out there and you can save even more.

  5. A few days ago I was having dinner with our “Supper Club.” The lady across from me who is a casual friend complimented my “hair.” I thanked her and told her it was a wig. She leaned over and in a stage whisper said, “you know, you don’t have to tell anyone.” I responded that I don’t always, but sometimes when I do it’s the start of a great conversation. If I can do my part to help mainstream wigs and make others open to wearing them, hooray! I see ladies out and about with very thin hair and it makes me wonder why they haven’t tried a wig. I would so love to talk to them about it, but never would approach someone that way. Who knows, maybe they don’t think it’s an issue, and that’s great. But I suspect there are some very unhappy ladies who just don’t know what to do.
    All that being said, I admire Emily for what she did. So inspiring, and cool!

  6. You are correct; I have no idea what it is like to experience hair loss and I know that my hair is growing back. This idea of choosing to shave my head when so many do not have a choice has been the biggest internal struggle for myself. Thank you for your honesty.

  7. Having lost my hair to chemo- it grew back sparse & fine like baby hair- I would absolutely never shave off what little I have! About a year ago I found out I needed open heart surgery – I worried more about not being able to wear my hair in the hospital than surgery! I wore a headband & toughed it out, but I was so happy to have my topper back when I got home! I’ve just never been comfortable showing a bald head. More power to Emily ! Interesting interview!

  8. I have mixed feelings about this. Emily does seem lovely and well-intentioned, but I don’t know if the ability to choose giving up hair for a known limited amount of time, and with access to all Jon Renau products really approximates my experience. I support the attempt at outreach and raising awareness, though. Does JR also hire women with hair loss or partner with women with hair loss to develop a deeper understanding of their experiences?

    • Hi Anna! Jon Renau did a huge campaign this year called Jon Renau Gets Real (https://www.jonrenau.com/jonrenaugetsreal) where they brought in three women with hair loss to learn from. They’ve also partnered with a handful of Education Ambassadors (hi, I’m one!) starting this year – all have hair loss. I’m not sure many other companies can say that they truly try hard to get into the heads of hair loss sufferers.

  9. Yes, I second Lelia’s comment. Is it easier with a shaved head? What adhesive methods did she use? I’ve considered shaving my hair several times to remove a big potion bio hair maintenance but then I’m afraid my wigs will fall off or require goopy glue. So far I just use the fabric wiggrip and tie my remaining bio hair up.

    • I use blue liner lace adhesive, but if your wig is properly fitted it will not come off. I have gone on roller coasters without adhesive and my wig stayed on.

  10. AHH!! I loved this all so much – two big questions I have is – is it easier to have a shaved head to wear wigs (verses using a cap) and how the heck did she dye her green and blue wig?!! I’ve always wanted to do that.

    This was such a great interview – thanks so much!

    • I have to say that wearing a wig without hair was more comfortable (personal preference) and now that I am growing my hair back I have to wear wig caps to keep my hair from over directing under my wig and causing irritation.
      To color that Carrie I used a Renau Natural color (no textile-like dyes) and had an altrrnative hair professional color it. Coloring alternative hair is very different then biological hair.
      I hope this helps!

  11. This was such a great interview! I cannot express how amazing it is that she really put her money where her mouth is so to speak! Such an awesome thing to really understand the customer base.

    This also reinforces that Blake is still my “dream” wig?

  12. I don’t understand why she didn’t mention the discomfort of wearing a full wig when it’s hot and you don’t have the benefit of AC. How about the days they get itchy which is amplified when it’s hot? I’m menopausal and still have some thin bio hair which possibly acts as an insulator under my wig but I think that wig manufacturers need to come up with solutions to the heat, itchy and sensitive scalp people. I hope Jon Renau and all the other wig people see this! I would buy more wigs if I could find comfortable ones!

    • Have you tried Head Line It? It is an amazing and really helps with the irritation. For those hotter days it is perfect because it wicks away moisture and helps to regulate the tempurature. I wear wefted wigs with a lace front when it is hot out. By using lace front tape with my wig I keep my wig in place (no movement = no itch and painful rubbing) and the wefts keeps the cap cooler. Human hair wigs/ toppers also are a big help since they don’t trap in heat the way synthetic fibers do. I hope this help!

  13. Thanks, Lauren, for the interview! And a big thanks as well to Emily. That was a huge action you took to better understand what your clients go through; quite the sacrifice for someone who’s natural hair is great. Thank goodness it grows back 😉

  14. Emily is my spirit animal! Love this lady! I was lucky enough to meet her and work with her on the JR Gets Real campaign. She’s hilarious, kind, beautiful, capable, talented and so much more. Thank you for sharing this Lauren!
    Btw: I’ve seen that teal/turquoise/blue wig in person and it’s spectacular!

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