Show and Tell
So, you might be wondering what prompted me to start this blog. It’s been a long time coming, and I wavered back and forth for a while. I was worried what people would think of me when they discover this secret that I’ve been hiding for so many years. I’ve been preserving my own normal, instead of working to normalize and destigmatize hair loss for the community.
Recently, I was reminded of a brave little girl who didn’t care about looking normal.
When I was eight years old, I had this cluster of bald spots that started just above my left ear and some parallel on the other side of my head. They seemed to be growing together and planning to meet at the top of my scalp, forming the shape of a crescent moon. Of course, that made it the perfect shape to hide. I had a friend whose mother owned a headband business, and she crafted me a treasure trove of wide headbands to conceal my hair loss. I loved them and wore them every day.
One Friday afternoon, it was time for show-and-tell, and I had forgotten whatever knickknack I had planned on debuting. I stood at the front of the class, and made the decision that it was time to reveal my big secret to the class. I took off my headband proudly, exposing my bare skin to a room of twenty or so astonished children. I told them simply, “I have alopecia areata. Sometimes my hair falls out.”
I’ll never forget the first raised hand, a little boy asking me, “is it contagious?”
I laughed, because this was a boy I used to chase on the playground.
“No, it’s not contagious, and I’m not sick.”
More hands began to rise, and I wasn’t even able to answer all the questions before the school day ended. I was so happy and proud of myself. I distinctly remember skipping excitedly through carpool to tell my mother what I had done in school that day.
I've realized it's time to take a note from my eight-year-old self and her bravery.
When you’re experiencing hair loss, there is a strong pressure to hide it, to perform a magic-trick every day to convince onlookers that you are "normal." I think a lot of this has to do with the omnipresence of the media showing us beautiful people with beautiful (often fake) hair and portraying them as commonplace.
We’ve heard it all before, that there are incredibly high standards placed on women, more so now than ever. But hiding hair loss isn’t like putting on makeup. I don’t do it to feel beautiful, I do it to feel normal.
I do it because sometimes I feel like if I didn’t, I’d be a sore thumb redirecting trains of thought in my direction as people wonder and worry about what brought my hair to the state that it’s in. I’ve protected my secret so that I could camouflage, dodge stares, avoid questions, and retain a “normal” image.
For years, I felt that I needed to keep my hair loss a secret at all costs. The threat of someone finding out through a slip-up of my appearance felt terrifying.
There’s a lot of anxiety, and even paranoia, that accompanies this demanding feeling. I imagine many of you reading this are able to understand that hiding hair loss can feel claustrophobic at times.
For those of you who don’t know what this feels like, allow me to explain what goes through my mind when I’m doing my hair in the morning:
I’m thinking about the girl that sits behind me in psychology who is going to have an up-close view of the back of my head for a prolonged period of time.
I’m holding up my phone and aiming the front-facing camera at the mirror so that I can view and evaluate the bald spots on the back of my head.
I’m thinking about the weather, and whether I should use brown spray to cover up the bald spots, or if I should just wear a hat.
Now I’m thinking, how many days in a row have I worn a hat, and will someone suspect something if I wear one again today?
On a good hair day, when I’ve really nailed the look, I’m hoping someone will stop me and compliment my hair. Then I’m worried it might look too good - I don’t want to attract too much attention.
I worry that it looks too much better than it did yesterday, and I wonder whether that difference is something I could’ve pulled off if I wasn’t wearing a wig or extensions, if I had natural hair.
I worry about the girl last week that asked me how I grew my hair so much longer over the weekend.
And lately I’ve been wondering, Why does keeping this secret matter so much to me?
I’ve been going crazy, so worried about what people are going to think about me if they find out my hair is fake and that my head is filled with a collection of bald spots.
People often fear what they don’t understand. If you’ve ever dealt with a bully, you know that they attack what they fear or what they can’t relate to. I always worried that once people knew about my hair loss, they would treat me as abnormal or other. But when we share our stories and live with vulnerability, people begin to relate to us. The key to normalizing hair loss, or any other insecurity you may be dealing with, is to open up about it so that people can learn and extend compassion rather than fear.
The kids in my second grade class grew up knowing about my experience with hair loss, and it’s my hope that ever since show-and-tell that day, they’ve been able to see hair loss as something that isn’t wildly out of the ordinary. I hope that if they ever met another individual with alopecia or any other form of hair loss, they approached that person with understanding and respect.
There is so much power in starting a conversation about a particular vulnerability. Just like with anything, the more exposure people have to something, the less that something will stand out like a sore thumb. None of us are normal, but when we see ourselves in the negative light of abnormality, we can be left feeling very alone. The more mainstream a conversation becomes, the less alone we will feel.
I was very hesitant about creating this blog, but I ultimately realized that the only way to reduce the stigma of hair loss is to talk about it.
The secret’s out. Now let’s extend the conversation.