First impressions are everything—even in kindergarten.
I was born with Nonsyndromic Aplasia Cutis Congenita. Basically, I have had a scar on my head since birth, and hair couldn't always grow over it. Up until fourth grade, when I underwent two hair transplants that would allow me to slowly grow hair over my scar, it was definitely noticeable.
What I remember vividly about kindergarten is my new peers glaring at my shiny head with a puzzled look. I learned about my classmates through their lunchbox covers and backpack designs; they saw me as the boy with the scar.
It had a nice ring to it, but I wasn’t a fan. Unfortunately, that’s what I imagined everyone saw first, and first impressions stick.
In elementary school, it was still my defining characteristic—what separated me from a sea of collared t-shirts and cargo shorts. As I began first grade, the questions started. In retrospect, they were harmless, but they made me feel alienated. I would try to shrug them off, but the benign inquisitions furthered the self-created idea that I was different than my classmates because of something I couldn’t fix.
The idea of my peers seeing only my bare scalp when they looked at me, whether true or not, was a nightmare I couldn’t shake. It was my most distinct feature, but I didn’t want it to be defining. So, I applied myself to my activities. No matter what it was, I always tried to stand out so I wouldn’t be seen as the boy with the scar anymore. My hair wasn’t something I could control, but my personality was. I wanted to build an identity on my interests and attributes, not have one automatically assigned because of a birth mark.
From art to sports to being one of the only first graders on elementary student council, my desire to distract my peers from my scar was the reason I pushed myself to try new things and work at them, even if it wasn’t for the best reason.
As I grew up with it and found hobbies that I genuinely enjoyed doing and talking about, I slowly became more comfortable with the attention that I once shied away from. I found a way, through my activities and interests, to feel comfortable in my skin, whether there was hair on it or not.
I remember walking out of the operating room after my second surgery with a new sense of self, ready to be a different person with a re-created identity and a full head of hair. That didn’t happen. I went back to school as the same person I was before, and that was exactly what I wanted—I just didn’t know it then. For so long I felt restricted by my scar. It wasn’t until hair started growing when I realized I never really was.
I didn’t have a sudden epiphany about my scar after the surgery, nor did I feel like a new person. By that point in my life, I had figuratively grown into my scar just as I grew into my brother’s hand-me-downs. I found and focused on my interests, and from them I developed an identity that I was proud of, well before I went under the knife.
A caveat of my surgery was that the hair would grow, then one-third would fall off. My scar will never be completely gone, but I no longer feel defined by it like I did in elementary school.
Neither the surgeries or my search for a more redeeming quality completely changed my life, but both experiences made me more confident in my self-perception. I can be whatever I want to be; a scar can’t change that. It just took two surgeries and years of nail biting and pushing myself at my activities, some of which I still partake in and am passionate about today, to realize it.