Monday, July 28, 2014


Ask a Fancy Person: Occasionless Gifts, Chemo Baldness at the Office, The "Thanks For the Birthday Wishes" Anomie


I am a woman in my 30's undergoing chemotherapy. As a result, I'm bald. It hasn't been so bad (well, the chemo sucks, but fashion-wise, I mean), because my friends have lent me many colorful headscarves to wear. I'm also fortunate to have a nice wig to wear for special occasions, but I prefer not to wear the wig all the time.

Sometimes, though, I'd just like to be bald, especially in the summer when it's so hot outside. Do you think it would be unprofessional for me to go bald sometimes in the office if I still dress well and pay attention to my makeup? I've only done it a few times in public and I've liked it, but I'm worried about working in the office bald.

Thank you!


Dear Baldie,

First, let me say on behalf of my real self, my alterego Fancy, and all the ‘Pinners, we’re rooting for you and are completely positive you’re going to deal cancer a humiliating loss, akin to the one the Mighty Ducks dealt Iceland in D2.

But you didn’t write me to give you Gordon Bombay-style pep talks via the internet, so onto your question. Feel completely and totally free to do whatever you want. It’s dandy if you want to wear colorful scarves and a wig, and it’s peachy to go without, too. Professionalism doesn’t even enter into that equation. Cancer aside, if you chose to buzz your hair, you’re still presentable in a business setting. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, that’s unacceptable and you can tell them I said that. There are some kinds of styles that aren’t appropriate in all settings, but this just ain’t one of them. Looking the part of the teacher/sandwich artist/graphic designer/nanny/lawyer you are is more about not distracting from your work with a Pikachu neck tat, not about the specifics of the length of your hair. Dress like you’re at work, put on a touch more makeup than you might otherwise to play up your best features, and wear some pretty earrings and people will forget that you aren’t choosing baldness as A Look.

What I’m going to say next is likely not going to be popular, but I’m not here to make friends. Much like people love to touch the bellies of pregnant ladies in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly, people love to talk to bald women about their lack of hair. If you choose not to wear your wig or scarves, you have to be prepared for thoughtless people both known and unknown to you to say galling things. You need to have a pat answer at the ready to keep it from wrecking your whole day and making you feel less confident. If you’re feeling glum, that might not be the occasion to go scalp out; having a lot of these interactions can wear you down.

So, I recommend against telling strangers you’re too busy roundhouse kicking cancer in the face to worry about dumb shit like their comfort level with your illness: it's the true response, but you’ll ultimately end up in an even longer, more galling conversation if you take that route. Tell them that you were tired of it drying weird after bikram yoga, pick up your dry cleaning, and exit stage left. There’s nothing to be ashamed of about losing your hair, but you probably don’t want to have a lengthy back and forth with anyone stupid enough to approach a woman they don’t know to ask about her prognosis.

For people you know but not well, don’t feel like you have to lie or divulge personal information or make an excuse. Say something like, "Well, Steve, I’m going through both August and chemo at the same time, and it was just too hot today to mess with my wig. Have you seen any Keurig pods? I’m not nuts about the Caribou ones and that’s all that’s left in that bin by the water cooler.” Don’t give them a point of entry into talking about your health because you don’t owe them that; be better than them by not making a scene when you easily could. Anyone who needles you about it is just being thoughtless, so surprise them by being thoughtful in return.

Yours in sickness and in health,




Dear Fancy,

I’ve inherited a strange shopping habit from my mother and aunts, which is to buy things for my friends and family, regardless of occasion, if it’s cheap and I think they’ll like it. I do most of my clothes shopping at thrift and consignment stores, and I cannot control myself if I see something I think my roommate would look great in, or a good pair of shoes for my fashionably-challenged younger brother. Sometimes I get to the checkout and I’m buying more stuff for other people than I am for myself! Most of the recipients seem to enjoy my spontaneous “I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you” gifts, but sometimes I can’t tell if they genuinely like it or if they’re just humoring me. Is this a habit I should break, or am I doing my loved ones a favor by always keeping an eye out?


I’m Turning Into My Mother


We all turn into our mothers, and I think you should wholeheartedly embrace this direction you are taking so young. I, for one, would welcome any surprise gifts you have in your stores, so please contact Jia for my mailing address.

Your impulse for generosity you can afford is a plus in the “things people love about you” column, and I don’t think you should quash it, though it’s possible that your friends and family are both genuinely touched and humoring you. They’re glad you’re thinking of them and want to bring light to their days, but they’re also accumulating a lot of stuff that they may not need or already have. When you see a plaid skirt for two dollars at a yard sale and think, “Maybe Julia would want this, even though it’s a little short for work,” you should skip it. If you see a pair of mint-condition Red Wing boots at the Salvation Army and Josh the other day mentioned how cool he thinks those are, grab them! Keep in mind not only the sizes and styles people in your life might need or want, and don’t stray too wildly from that to avoid giving the gift of both a sweater and that feeling you get when you need to wear the sweater your grandmother got you because she’s coming over for lunch but orange is not your thing.

Make an occasion of these “just because” gifts by wrapping them nicely and writing a little note for the recipient. This is a little time-consuming, but it gives you pause: can you visualize them opening this up and being excited? Great! That’s a present to give them. And don't worry too much: who doesn’t love a unwrapping something on a day that isn’t Christmas?

Yours in Unbirthdays,




Dear Fancy,

Like many people, I have the good fortune of having supportive friends who wish me happy birthday or write kind things on my wall at life milestones like graduation or engagement. Problem is, I never know how to respond to these messages. I've seen the general "thanks for the birthday wishes!" post, but that feels humble-braggy: like, hey everyone, I am very popular, and for those of you who didn't wish me a happy birthday, where were you? I've also seen people go through and "like" every nice wish they've received, but that seems both impersonal and time-intensive. Simply not responding feels rude, too. Are there alternatives? What do you recommend?


Seasons Greetings

Dear Greetings,

Congrats on being so well-liked, and a happy belated birthday, graduation, and engagement! Sorry to make you a victim of this, but now seems like a good time to share this GIF:


Do you remember your first Facebook birthday? It’s completely uncool to admit this now, but you loved it. It feels great to hear from people who are just letting you know, in the most basic way possible, they’re glad they know you and that you continued to draw breath since they last saw you. It’s fun to see what people are up to and to hear from them during happy times. Don’t lose sight of that in the crush of incoming messages you’re sure to receive.

Catching up with all these people, though, can be exhausting and time intensive, and with Jesse Eisenberg changing the settings every ten minutes, you have to figure out the best way to do it anew each time you have a major life event. This is both boring and a waste of time.

The solution to this has two parts, and it requires a change in behavior from you as a giver and receiver of well-wishes. You have 362-364 days a year to issue good wishes (let’s say a person graduates, gets engaged, and has a birthday in an eventful year, and just has a birthday in a more normal one), so start today. Use the most personal mode of address you have for each person’s events. Invite your neighbor down for a drink to celebrate his promotion rather than clicking “like.” Send a card, in the mail with a stamp, to people you are close enough to to have their address on their birthdays. Text or email your cousin or childhood friend when you hear news of the birth of their child. It gives your missive a chance not to be lost in a sea of canned, cloned shoutouts and takes very little time.

If you want to hear back from someone but don’t have those options, feel free to send a social media DM to tell them they looked really happy in their law school graduation photos and that you’d be happy to send their resume to your uncle the judge. Resort to a simple “like” or wall post for people you want to reach out to, but don’t have any pressing need to catch up with.

Facebook and Twitter are both permanent and ephemeral; you think you’re going to double back to the messages, but once they fall off the main page, you’re not ever going to see them again until you’re running for public office and some intern has been tasked to go through your digital garbage in 2035. Use either a more physical (in person, a note) or more immediate (email, text) medium to really convey good messages. We all get dozens of well-wishes on special occasions via Pintstaface, but the ones that stand out in our minds are the ones that took a little more doing on behalf of the sender.

As the recipient, I think you’ll notice that if you start passing along your messages this way, people will being to respond in kind to you. After I started using the approach, I noticed I got a lot more birthday calls, emails, texts, and cards and my Facebook wall post count fell substantially. For the stragglers, I recommend looking through and sending a message, email, or text to anyone on that list that you have been wanting to reestablish contact with. For the others, a simple comment on the post, “Thanks for the well-wishes! Hope all is great in Chicago!” will do just fine.

Yours in Celebratory Drinks and Snacks,



Kirsten Schofield is an editor and excellent dancer living in Charleston, South Carolina. She's taking questions for Ask a Fancy Person here

20 Comments / Post A Comment


I went through chemo last summer and chose to stay bald the entire time - including at the office and at corporate conferences I attended. Going in I knew I wouldn't do a wig, I didn't even bother buying one. I did try scarves but I was always fussing with them and was never comfortable. Big lipstick, big earrings. I never had a stranger make a comment in 7 months. Be comfortable! I noticed that people were much more comfortable around me when I was bald than when I was futzing with the stupid scarves - they could tell it bugged me, and it bugged them in turn.

Also, for more casual occasions where I wanted to keep my head warmer I really liked Buffs (planetbuff dot com).

Miss Kitty Fantastico

@sony_b I came to comment the same thing. I went through chemo a few years ago, and ended up being bald for almost an entire year. The only time I wore a wig was in the wedding pictures for my best friend's wedding (though I went bald for the reception) and I only wore hats in the winter when my head was cold.

I also felt like people were more comfortable around me when I was straight-up bald. I did what you're suggesting - bold lipstick and big earrings - and it seemed most people who didn't know why I was bald assumed I was bald as a fashion statement! If anyone commented on it, it was always positive.

The few times I tried to wear a scarf I had a lot of strangers approach me and give me unsolicited cancer advice/prayers, none of which happened when I went full-on bald. Go for it! It's also so, so, so much more comfortable (physically, though I understand if it's not comfortable emotionally!)


To weed out people who are reflexively issuing a generic post when they get a reminder, take your birthday off your Facebook profile. Presto! Messages, emails, etc. almost exclusively from people who like you enough to keep track on their own.


Dear Baldie,

I'm a fellow cancer crusher who has been in your situation and wishes you the best. I hope that, if you enjoy funky eyeshadow shades and fun earrings, along with your scarves (perhaps tied like your favorite R&B singer), you'll feel like the badass you are.

I'd like to offer some of my favorite responses that I dreamed up but, in truth, never needed to use. (I live in a metro area with citizens who tend to mind their own business... or who figured out what was up and were nothing but kind.) Some of these gems came as recommendations from my hilarious former coworkers.

-"I'm a recovering Buddhist monk"
-"My re-enactment of Rapunzel went reeeeally wrong."

If someone had ever approached me to say, "You'd look better with longer hair!" I had this one saved up: "You'd sound better if you kept your mouth shut."

erin uh oh

Whose idea was it to use a picture of a bald woman smoking a cigarette to illustrate the question from the cancer survivor? Tacky!

up cubed

The "bald woman" is Amber Rose, a bad ass bitch in her own right. Google with caution! Probably most images will be NSFW.

lurked too long

Off-topic, but I need some advice! I'm going to a wedding with my girlfriend, and we booked a house back in December with two other couples and two single ladies who were sharing a room (8 people total). Everyone paid me money and I paid for the house. One of the couples let us know in June that they wouldn't be able to come b/c the wife is pregnant and will be very pregnant in Aug. One of the singles is now bringing her boyfriend and they are staying in the pregnant folks room and there's just a single space left in a shared room left. We haven't been able to find a person yet, two possibilities have fallen through, and the wedding is in a few weeks. If we can't find someone, how should we handle the costs? The amount we're talking about is $166.

Thanks for your help!

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@lurked too long I'm guessing that the now-pregnant couple hadn't already paid their share and haven't offered? (They don't necessarily need to, so I don't want to imply that. Plus, they have lots of baby stuff on their brains.)

I'd maybe find a way to work it out with all the current houseguests - either you all agree to split the extra cost (around $20 a person) or figure out how to sort of pay each other back in non-cash ways, like by bringing extra food or doing more cooking, or helping someone else in the house with their hair/makeup/ironing for the wedding. Would that be doable?

lurked too long

@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) Thanks for your input! They already paid (everyone did early on), but I feel a little weird keeping their money if they aren't coming... I thought about having them pay half and the rest of us split half, or doing some monetary combination. I hate paying more, but it seems like it's the most fair thing?

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@lurked too long Some sort of combination might also be a good solution. You're kind of between a rock and a hard place, since you're not big on the only two options you have (let the parents-to-be pay, or absorb more of the cost) but, the way I see it, it's either one or the other, or a combination of both. Have you considered talking it over with your girlfriend, and maybe someone else in the house whose advice you would trust?

Stacy Worst

Delete your Facebook.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@Sister Administrator That's a little harsh, but true. The only reason why I haven't deleted my Facebook is because I like hearing from cousins who live far away. If you're worried about being too popular when people wish you well, why are you on Facebook? Do you just really like getting invites for random Flash-based games?

LW says that clicking "Like" is too time-intensive, but honestly, all these people took at least five seconds to write on her* wall, so what's a few minutes over the course of the following days to thank them?
What I do (and honestly, we all have those people we haven't seen in five years who wish us happy birthday) is just comment on their wall post, or like it, depending on how close I am to the person and whatnot. (What? We all have those people that are in limbo between "don't really need to be friends with" and "have no reason to unfriend.") It takes five seconds to remember something about that person and use it in your thank-you comment, like:
"Thanks! How are your parents these days? I haven't seen them in a while."
"Thanks! Hey were you at the last ____ concert? I'm sad that I missed it."
"Thanks! My sister took me out for birthday drinks at [bar] and you're right, their cocktails are awesome."
"Thanks! Maybe we'll run into each other at comic-con."
It's really not that hard!

*just sticking to female pronouns for simplicity, feel free to replace with any pronouns that are acceptable

Stacy Worst

@Sister Administrator I thought I liked hearing about cousins and stuff, but the sad truth for me is that the closeness to those long lost people was kind of a lie. I appreciate that not everyone's mind is destroyed by the impulse to share things they are living, or by wasting time considering how many people liked or wished happy birthday or how to reciprocate, etc. But fuck Facebook.


LW2 - I'll suggest what people have often suggested to those who have trouble getting rid of things for sentimental reasons: take a picture of it! If you see something you think another person would get a kick out of, but aren't at least 80% sure they actually want/need it, take a photo and send a "saw this and thought of you" text. It gives about the same amount of feel goods on both sides, without the possibility of physical/emotional burden. Then, if the person really likes it, they'll tell you and maybe you buy it after all, or they'll know where to go get the thing themselves.


To the shopper who "cannot control herself": lots of hoarders and compulsive shoppers start out like this. Try limiting the number of shopping trips you go on, or the number of unnecessary things you buy. Or maybe stop shopping altogether for 30 days. See how that makes you feel. If this is very distressing for you, you may need therapy. Remember the people who love you won't stop loving you if you stop shopping.

By the way, my mother buys thrift store clothes for me and I hate it. It's almost never the right style, size, and quality.


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Blousey Brown

I know someone who buys thrift gifts for friends regularly, and she recently complained (on good ol' Facebook) about how people never return the favor. No good.


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Jane Hair@facebook

Through chemotherapy, I think you have experienced the baptism of life, you will live a more beautiful!! :) brazilian hair

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