So what is it like to lose your hair as a young woman? I can only speak for myself, but I have connected virtually with hundreds of other Alopecians who have gone through it as well. There is a grieving process…not only grieving the loss of our hair, but also grieving the loss of many other related things be they relationships, confidence, our self of sense, and missed opportunities.
I liken my experience to the 5 Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. No, I am not saying losing hair is like losing a loved one…OBVIOUSLY it doesn’t hold nearly as much value as a human life but I will tell you how I went through these same phases because of my ever more prominent scalp:
Stage 1- Denial
Me: I must be seeing things because 18 year old woman do not lose their hair.
My hair first started thinning at the hairline. Unlike other types of alopecia, Androgenetic Alopecia can slooooooowly creep up on you. It was so subtle that nobody else seemed to notice either. I would look in every mirror I passed and convince myself that “it must be the light” or “everyone’s hairline looks like this.” At the time, I didn’t notice any extra hair fall, so how could there even be a problem? Maybe, I thought, if I stop taking birth control, this will go away.
Stage 2- Anger
My loss continued to progress for the first half of my 18th year. My part started to widen. I started to notice more hair fall and what I thought was breakage from dying and styling my hair. I saw everyone around me with full, thick, healthy heads of hair so why was this happening to me? Why did this life have to choose me to go through this awful process of being robbed of my crown? I was angry about spending so much time and money on products to hide my thinning and at needing to use chemicals to fix the problem. I was angry at myself for having such intense emotions about something so trivial. I was angry that I was enduring this alone; that nobody was as concerned about it as I was; that nobody understood. I was infuriated with doctors for minimizing my hair loss. Angry at myself because it must be my fault!
Stage 3- Bargaining
I heeded my dermatologist’s advice, increasing my iron intake and using minoxidil religiously despite reacting poorly to it. I used it daily even though my scalp became angry and inflamed. I went through the “dread shed” and convinced myself this was a sign it was working (for some- it does work, but did not for me). I stopped colouring and heat styling my hair. I shampooed less frequently, and then not at all. Then I used medicated shampoos and serums. I rubbed lotions and potions on my scalp everyday. I did oil treatments. I tried anything I could find on Google (I didn’t know better back then!). I got regular trims. I exercised, ate well, and took vitamins. I felt these things were the price I needed to pay to get my hair back. At the time, I’d have done anything if it meant getting my hair back. I was certain if I did everything that I was “supposed” to do, it would get better.
Stage 4- Depression
I tried many things to get my hair back. They sadly did not work. I gave up. I felt badly for and about myself for a long time. I was convinced I was utterly undesirable and unlovable, that I was somehow flawed as a person because of my lack of hair. I turned down social outings (I also grieved the loss of my social identity and missed social opportunities). I struggled to look people in the eye for fear that I would catch them looking at my sparse hairline and part. I hid under hats, headbands, and various scalp filler alternatives. I refused to swim or get my hair wet. If somebody commented on my thin hair, I really took it to heart. I would ruminate about it for days and weeks, convinced that everybody was judging my thin hair.
On top of all of these thoughts and feelings, I also carried on like nothing was the matter, which made me feel more alone, because nobody understood.
Stage 5- Acceptance
I spent years beating myself up about my hair loss. I was completely consumed by it, until I started learning about beauty ideals being socially constructed. I started to question everything I knew about femininity and what makes a person beautiful. Sure, we all grew up being told that “beauty is on the inside” yet nearly everyone in my life was doing at least 1 thing to improve their exterior. But I began to see that I was more than just my hair. That I needed to carry on with my life. That I needed to build up the other areas of my identity that made me feel proud. I worked hard in school and earned my qualifications. I pursued a fulfilling career. I started prioritizing self-love and self-acceptance. I have built a beautiful family with the man I love. I found pass-times that allowed me to be me. I began to realize that it didn’t matter if other people looked at, talked about, or at all judged me for my hair, because I knew there was more to me.
Just as grieving is not a linear path, neither is grief related to hair loss. There have been periods where I could just forget about it; where I could will away my negative emotions about it; where I could focus on other things for a while. Then it would suddenly keep me up at night wondering if I was okay; or if everyone was noticing; or if people were talking about how thin my hair is. I had to find positive outlets to work through all of these thoughts and feelings. There are still days that I resent having Alopecia, but it doesn’t eat away at my soul as it once did. There are inconveniences and expenses that go along with it. There remains insecurity about it. But I have adopted an “it is what it is” attitude about it. I am in control of the narrative I tell myself about hair. I am in a better position to challenge my perceptions of beauty which means seeing beauty in myself and others.
I’ll leave you with my final thoughts- acceptance does not mean I don’t care about my hair, my hair loss, or my appearance. I have just pushed myself to accept the solutions that have helped me to cope in a more positive way. Whether your journey has been similar to or vastly different from mine, know that it is okay to feel whatever you feel about Alopecia, or other body insecurities. It takes time to process, to find support, and to cope effectively.
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