'I’ve grieved and made peace with it': Women on their hair loss journeys

Hair loss in women is still a taboo issue.

Unconvinced? Think about how baldness in men is rarely given a second glance, but spot a bald(ing) woman in the street and you’d likely stare or assume she’s unwell.

Still today women are made to feel as though their hair has the power to boost their sexuality, their femininity and their confidence.

This idea is sold over and over.

Hairstyles are a part of everyone’s identity and losing that can shake one’s sense of self, but for women there’s the added layer of losing what’s deemed a ‘normal’ appearance.

Fewer than 45% of women go through life with a full head of hair, and yet this reality is seldom spoken of.

Haircare brand Monpure London have put together an #ItsNotJustHair campaign to highlight the psychological toll hair loss can have.

They want to showcase women experiencing it after finding that 52% of women are ‘extremely upset’ by their hair loss, while just 28% of men feel that same heightened level of emotion.

Research into hair loss conditions such as alopecia and trichotillomania are still underfunded. This combined with the lack of representation of hair loss in the beauty industry means that the stigma still prevails.

Currently there is little mental health support offered to those dealing with hair loss, which may result in casualties.

In December 2020, a 29-year-old A&E doctor named Dr Alicia Pylypczuk died by suicide after living with alopecia and depression for over a decade.

To normalise hair loss in women and empower those struggling with it, Metro.co.uk spoke to two women involved in Monpure’s campaign.

Christala Fletcher, now in her late 20s, noticed small coin size patches of hair fall out in primary school until more was lost in secondary school, eventually leaving her with just 5% of her hair.

She decided to shave it all off and now as an adult creates wigs for a living, being an advocate of choice to wear a wig or not.

Christala tells us that when she first started losing her hair it was ‘terrifying’.

‘I remember feeling so scared, that I couldn’t show anyone my head.

‘But luckily, I had my sister by my side reassuring me that it wasn’t actually a big deal and lightening the mood in a way only your sister can.’

Speaking on her decision to shave her head, she says: ‘Once it was done and I saw my smooth head I was so relieved and honestly felt so free from the emotions and restrictions that went along with holding onto that tuft of hair.’

Even though she has now reached a place of acceptance, she’s still affected by the gendered difference in how hair loss is (or is not) accepted by wider society.

‘It’s incredibly sad that female hair loss is not deemed acceptable in comparison to male hair loss,’ says Christala.

‘Women are often judged and ridiculed for not having long flowing locks and that for some reason through negative images in the media “bald” equals “ugly” or not feminine when in actual fact it takes a beautiful strong woman to be able to rock a bald head.

‘I find it brings out each woman’s unique beauty when you remove the hair.’

The wig maker switches between wearing a wig herself or ‘confidently rocking’ her ‘baldie’, saying the decision fluctuates with her mood.

Now loving that she can change her look daily, she adds: ‘I don’t let my hair loss control me. I no longer restrict myself to just one look.’

A lack of understanding from the wig companies she used before starting her own business spurred on her career choice.

Oftentimes, there was an absence of sympathy for the emotional weight hair loss can have on an individual.

‘Having dealt with alopecia from such a young age I often experienced getting wigs from companies that had no clue or even general understanding of the emotions that went along with hair loss,’ she explains.

‘I wanted to be able to make the wig world a little less daunting for people just like me.’

Her support stretches to women considering moving away from wigs altogether, understanding that it can be a painful process.

‘When a client is unsure about moving away from wigs, I simply tell them to take their time and that there is no rush to make a decision,’ says Christala.

‘Many clients think they will be mocked or judged for their decision to wear or not wear a wig, when their own opinions and feelings are the only ones that truly matter.

‘I explain that their friends and family will love them no differently and that once they come to terms with their hair loss there is this sense of freedom, but there is no right or wrong decision.

‘I think wigs can be a lot of fun as long as you allow yourself to not be controlled by them.’

Rima Theisen, 39, has experienced her hair loss journey in waves.

Having dealt with alopecia areata some years ago, she then stopped losing hair for two years.

However, after giving birth in 2017 her hair loss started again. Initially she belived this to be postpartum hair loss.

It didn’t stop and she realised her alopecia areata had returned – then she made the bold choice to shave her head. 

During those hair loss-free years, Rima tells us she was ‘really happy but under no illusion that it could be, and probably would be, short lived’.

Even with that awareness, when her hair loss returned she was still ‘gutted’ and needed time to mourn, then come to terms with her condition.

‘I’ve grieved and made peace with my hair loss now – I’m no longer connected to it,’ she says.

‘I decided to shave it all off because it’s far easier than watching hair constantly fall to the floor.

‘It’s always a big relief going for the shave – like a weight has been lifted.

‘It’s empowering to know that I can still be me, but bald. Now I’m ‘areata’ and not ‘universalis’ it’s going to do exactly what it wants – one perpetual cycle of loss and growth I’d imagine.’

Rima tried wearing wigs after the shave, but found they ‘only exacerbated feelings of loss’, showing just how complex the relationship a person has with their wig can be.

Speaking on the pressure for women to have their hair, she believes ‘times are slowly changing but not enough.

‘I long for a day when a bald woman can walk down the street with no care for what she might get called or the stares she might receive,’ she says.

‘Hair is hair, and bald is bald, so who cares whether it belongs to a man or woman?’

Rima has been ‘lucky’ with her support system and knows that not everyone struggling with their wellbeing as a result of hair loss will have help at hand.

She tells us: ‘If I could let people know one thing, it would be that every day gets better after the initial feelings of shock and fright.

‘I’m a proud woman with alopecia and I know that my hair loss doesn’t define me.

‘It’s made me a better mother, wife and friend as I’ve learned to appreciate the things that really matter.’

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