Losing your hair is frickin’ hard. Suddenly, or perhaps, if you’re like me, gradually over time, you look in the mirror and it’s hard to reconcile the image looking back at you. From an onlooker’s perspective, or maybe advice you might get from a seasoned hair loss sister (or brother!) or concerned acquaintance, the solution is to simply buy some nice hair and carry on. But is it really that easy?
Cost is obviously a factor associated with hair loss, which I’ve touched on before. The expense of proper assessment, the cost of treatment, and now the (ongoing) cost of purchasing headwear. Wigs and hair toppers can be a burdensome and ongoing investment, which requires, for many, careful allotment of expendable funds.
Cost is not the only barrier to effective coping with something as life-changing as Alopecia. May I be bold enough to say that HOPE can be a barrier? YES, we need to be hopeful that things can get better; easier. But sometimes we cling to the hope that we will return to a former version of ourselves; that we will find some miracle product that causes that reflection in the mirror to gleam back at us a restored or improved version of ourselves. Hanging on to this type of hope, for too long, can be counterproductive. Our expectations need to be kept in check, grief managed, and to stumble upon the support and strength to move forward and transform.
Stigma is another barrier. Maybe we can’t allow the word “wig” or, heaven forbid, “toupee” roll off the tongue as easily as we might like. (Side note: the word toupee is commonly still used for men’s hair pieces, but given the stigma, this type of hair piece has largely been rebranded as “hair toppers” or “hair systems” and some other industry buzz words). They aren’t inherently dirty words, but we’ve been conditioned to attribute them to perceived flaws. The fear of judgment for wearing a wig or topper is so excruciating for some that they wait years to take the leap, and when they do, they spend countless hours checking and double checking their reflection so that they can go undetected in public. These deeply ingrained beliefs and fears are hard to shake, and can be especially impactful depending on how your culture or social circle value hair and/or respond to concerns about hair loss or body related concerns (see: ISOLATION).
Then there’s guilt and shame. If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I’ve dedicated an entire post to this subject (find it here). Much of the guilt experienced by hair wearers is attached to cost, and much of the shame is tied to the stigma of both hair loss and hair wearing as above. Unpacking the guilt and shame are necessary steps in the acceptance process.
Comfort. Oh, comfort. Take a look at the many cap constructions available on the market and you will see this descriptor everywhere. Luxury caps that promise to be both undetectable and effortless, easy and suitable to all day wear. They feature velvet, silicone, soft lace, suction caps, or other materials intended to improve wearability. Even some of the most expensive, best fitting wigs can still cause discomfort- this is especially true when you think about the layers that some use when wearing wigs- a wig cap to contain biological hair or to protect the scalp, then a wig grip for added security, then the wig (plus any styling accessories; possibly glasses; and in a covid world, also a mask!). Toppers aren’t exempt either. Toppers are partial wigs that attach to the hair on top of the head with pressure sensitive clips that can tug on the wearer’s biological hair, especially with prolonged wear. So what comes first? One’s appearance or one’s comfort? Even with a perfectly fitted custom wig or topper, nothing can replace the ease and comfort of one’s own natural hair. For this reason, some Alopecians will opt to buzz any remaining hair, and either rock the look or incorporate headscarves, bandanas, turbans, or other types of hats and wraps into their wardrobe. It is a beautiful thing to exist as you are in the world, but exposing a buzzed or bald head to the world opens one up to the wandering eyes of strangers- another potential source of discomfort. It’s like having a dark secret scrolled across your forehead for all to read. It fuels the existence of assumptions from onlookers about one’s health, personality or style which makes it an individual choice whether this is tolerable.
With an overwhelming number of options on the market, it’s no wonder many are stunted in making their first purchase. Above, I’ve described just a handful of the available features that one considers when buying hair. Wefted, lace front, silk top, hand-tied, permatease, synthetic, ear tabs, adjustable strap, monofilament, polyurethane, multi-directional, closure, glueless. So.Many.Options! Not only are the cap construction options overwhelming, but figuring out who to buy from, how to take care of your piece, and then the steep learning curve associated with getting it to look natural! No wonder entering into the alternative hair world is so confusing!
Feeling isolated and alone in your journey is a surefire way to fuel despair. There are 2 major reasons why one may choose to keep their hair loss private: shame (as discussed above and in a previous post); and invalidation (or anticipation thereof). If you’ve ever opened up to someone you trust about your hair loss, only for them to minimize your pain and tell you “it’s not that bad!”, you’ve feel invalidated. (If your loved ones don’t know how to support you, have them read this post). Alopecians largely keep their hair loss quiet when they fear how others will react, whether about their loss itself, or their decision to don headwear of their choice. Rather than hope for acceptance of your decision, DEMAND it. Make sure the people in your life know that it is ultimately YOUR decision, and let them know how you feel about it. Something like “I’ve made the decision to start wearing wigs because I don’t like how my hair looks- this will be a positive step in helping me cope with this and I need your support” will get your message across.
I’m sure there are more barriers and each will experience them to a varying degree and in different combinations. I’ve touched on a lot of these topics in other posts, so be sure to poke around if you’re new to my blog!