News, Opinion — By on December 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

Hollywood has a unique way of portraying real life drama with their robust budgets, effective editing, and massive make-up sessions. Marriage, divorce, birth, and death are all common elements found in today’s sitcom world.

One significant life drama we don’t often see, however, is cancer. Nevertheless, several television series in recent years have brought women’s struggle with cancer into our living rooms, notably Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones on “Sex and the City”, Candice Bergen as Murphy on “Murphy Brown”, Felicity Huffman as Lynette on “Desperate Housewives” as well as Katherine Heigl as Izzy on “Grey’s Anatomy”. This season “Brothers and Sisters”, one of my favorite shows, diagnosed character Kitty Walker, played by Calista Flockhart, with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and is currently following her struggle with the disease.

These actress’s depiction as women with the disease play an important role in the cohesion of the cancer image in America, highlighting the various options women have when dealing with the side effects of cancer and chemotherapy. Diagnosing a popular sitcom character with cancer, especially a female character, goes beyond just highlighting options however. It is a huge opportunity to help women fighting the disease feel normal by publicly displaying their cancer related symptoms, such as hair loss. Considering the impact television shows have had on women’s hair in the past, cue Jennifer Aniston’s Rachael haircut on “Friends” in the 90’s, it becomes clear that the choices these producers make in portraying a woman’s struggle with cancer have the potential to affect the way real women feel about their own cancer diagnoses.

In “Brothers and Sisters”, character Kitty Walker is portrayed as a successful, bold, and defiant women with solid conservative beliefs. In the show Kitty was a former New York radio show host who leaves that position to become part of a political television show in Los Angeles. Eventually she quit her position and became the communication director for Senator Robert Mc Callister, whom she ended up marrying.

This season finds Kitty undergoing chemotherapy for her treatment of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. After her hair begins to fall out, she decides to shave her head. The show depicts Kitty’s struggle with hair loss by portraying her in several headwear options. Initially, Kitty chose to wear a wig, but in the last several episodes, Kitty has been seen in a variety of unattractive and unfeminine head coverings. These choices are completely uncharacteristic of her role as Kitty Walker: a professional mother and wife of a senator. Her selection seems almost alien to the character that the viewer has come to know, love, and respect. You have to wonder: what type of research did the producers of this show do in preparation for Kitty’s post-head shave appearance?

These unfeminine head coverings Kitty has worn have been a complete anti-thesis to what a successful woman would choose to wear after losing her hair. All of her scarf options seem to broadcast her illness. The scarf worn in the last episode put me over the edge. I wanted to jump through my television set and save poor Kitty from any further embarrassment. She appeared to be wearing a hospital gown wrapped around her bald head! Calista Flockhart must cringe when her stylist presents her with these scarf choices. Flockhart is a petite woman and the headwear options she is assigned completely overwhelm her stature, making her head appear very much out of proportion to the rest of her body.

A woman’s hair is more than just a facial frame and heat incubator; it’s an extension of herself and her personality. The Hollywood realm has held true to this as well, character’s hair styles are part of their wardrobe, and Kitty Walker, as I know her through “Brothers and Sisters”, would not be happy with this image. Television does more than just entertain America; it directly impacts people’s perceptions and opinions on style, relationships, learning, and even disease. Viewers develop emotional connections to the character’s they devotedly watch week after week. Thus writers and producers possess a power to sway viewers, and choosing to reflect Kitty Walker’s hair loss in such an unrealistic manner is a poor use of such influence, in my opinion. Kitty’s illness and her treatment seemed like such a perfect opportunity to highlight women experiencing medical hair loss in a fashionable and stylish manner. Kitty Walker was devastated when she started to lose her hair, and as a woman who has always pushed for what she wants and believes in, it‘s totally out of place for her to choose drab headwear in combination with her savvy and stylish clothing. Cancer is a diagnosis to fight, it should not be one in which women give up on the option of a ‘crowning glory’! Women who are experiencing cancer and hair loss need to know this, and an opportunity to broadcast such an option on “Brothers and Sisters” is not being utilized.

If the NBC network is reading this, please, please provide Kitty with the fashionable headwear options that she deserves! No more turbans, no more overpowering, unattractive scarves – please help those of us without hair to have a positive image to associate with – Your viewers want to see realistic options – Have her stylist call me – I can help!

Susan M. Beausang, President

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