It started when I was 16. I found my first, small bald patch of hair, just above my ear.
I was terrified and being the inexperienced teenager I was, thought I had a terminal illness. Even now, women never talk about hair loss and I thought I had cancer. That was the first of many emotions I have experienced having lived with alopecia for more than 25 years.
In our beauty-obsessed world, I am one of few totally bald women. I have a very severe and rare form of alopecia caused by an overactive immune system. Thankfully it is only my hair that is affected. What surprises most people is that I am totally fine about it. In fact when my hair (yes 100% paid for and mine) is looking great I am pretty happy about it. I am genuine, but it has not been easy to get to this point - it has taken a very long time.
My first trip to my doctor was reassuring, “it’s just alopecia caused by stress, have some cream and chill out”. But patches continued to come and go and at one point all of the hair from the top of my ears to the nape of my neck was missing. I was so ashamed and repulsed.
It wasn’t visible but my previous thick and curly hair was now thin and tied back. I was the typical body conscious teenager with very low self-esteem so I never looked at it and kept it a total secret.
“IT’S JUST ALOPECIA CAUSED BY STRESS, HAVE SOME CREAM AND CHILL OUT.”
I knew it would grow back and following a change of boyfriends, it did eventually, so after that I got on with my life with the odd patch appearing and disappearing. I messed around with different products and potions. I remember cutting the leaves from aloe vera plants and rubbing the sticky gel into my hair. It used to run down into my eyes when I was at the gym and make them sting.
Later when I was travelling and working in Australia I found a patch at the front of my head. I was absolutely terrified for the second time by my alopecia, as I had never lost hair from anywhere visible.
I remember frantically rubbing that patch every day until it hurt, pulling out huge handfuls of hair whilst giving myself alternating boiling hot and freezing cold showers to shock (?!?) my hair into growing back. It did grow back but knowing the future was uncertain for me was very unsettling. From that moment on I lived in fear of my alopecia.
A year later my worst fears were realised. I was stressed and suffering from insomnia. One very early wintery morning I put up the hood on my coat and felt the silky material sliding across the crown of my head. I instinctively knew I was in big trouble this time. More and more hair fell; my eyebrows became patchy, followed by my eyelashes and it took about 8 months to lose all the hair on my body.
I became a shell of myself. Everything in my life felt completely out of control. The insomnia that made me feel ill was bad enough but my enemy was doing its worst at the time I could least cope. Worse still I was told I caused it, that it was my fault because I was too stressed. I sought out hypnotherapy as nothing was working and the therapist told me that I had to use positive affirmations and tell my unconscious mind to make my hair grow. Remarkably it did not!
"WORSE STILL I WAS TOLD I CAUSED IT, THAT IT WAS MY FAULT BECAUSE I WAS TOO STRESSED.”
I paid for private consultants to deliver the news that my hair loss was now so extreme that the chances that it would grow back where pretty small. I had already admitted defeat by this point but it was the first time I had cried in front of anyone about it.
This surprised me as my feelings about it remained buried and I felt weak for breaking down and guilty for being so vain. I thought it was karma for being self-obsessed. My condition was not physically hurting me, but I realise now that I was in psychological pain and it affected every part of my life.
However, there were positives amongst those negative emotions. I began to realise how amazing the people were in my life. I tried hard to be happy and appreciate all I had. How I appeared to the world and what others thought of me was surely insignificant compared to all the love I had? What I didn’t understand at the time was that it is how I feel about my appearance that matters. I was very uncomfortable in my new skin so I was never at peace and I struggled to communicate confidently with those out of my shrinking circle of people. Then something shocking happened, my boyfriend asked me to marry him! Love really was blind after all. Even I wouldn't have married me then!
My journey into hair replacement began when my dad told me I needed a wig for my wedding. He was absolutely right! I was living in hats at this point and the realisation made me cry again. There was, and still is, such a stigma about wigs amongst those of us who are not A-listers.
I happened to stumble across a little stall selling fashion wigs. I bought my fantasy hair, which was long and light blond. If I had to buy my hair I was going to have what I’d always wanted! If I saw that wig now I’d be appalled at the quality, but at the time I was elated to see myself in hair once more. I realised that even though I didn’t feel good, I could still look good. I didn't have to be a bald woman.
That was my first truly good hair day since losing it again. I wore this wig with hats as it looked really good with those and I was getting a lot of admiring looks but I felt a bit of a fraud.
During this completely bald period, I saw numerous doctors and tried yet more potions and vitamins of every kind. I took homeopathic remedies that gave me severe (and at times uncontrollable) diarrhea and an acupuncturist stuck needles in me every week. I tried apple cider vinegar, high-grade fish oils, Indian head massage and reiki. I gave up sugar, wheat, dairy, gluten. I drank a lot of alcohol and I spent an absolute fortune.
The worst of it all was seeing wig consultants. Often in hairdressers the sympathy and shock was unbearable. I was an emotionless robot supporting those around me from having to deal with any feelings I had. They did not have any knowledge or understanding about how it was to live with wigs. They were heavy, hot and itchy but looked pretty good for a few weeks before they frizzed. I remember being at work and suffering from headaches because the elastic bands pressed onto the sides of my glasses. I wasn’t given any proper advice and I had no idea that all of these issues were easily solved.
There were also the many times I caught people staring at my hair, knowing and wondering why I was wearing a wig and devastating times when some vile individual would make nasty comments. No one should be able to tell you are wearing a wig! There were things I avoided doing like paintballing or go-karting, anything that involved wearing a helmet. I stopped exercising and swimming. I didn’t want to hold babies in case they pulled my hair. I hated windy days, wet days, hot days. I had to consider it all the time and dreaded being exposed as a bald woman in public.
I changed jobs and decided to keep my alopecia to myself. Reflecting on this I realise how much I distanced myself from everyone and how I must have appeared untrustworthy. I had lost all my confidence and no longer had any faith in any of my abilities. I did however become an expert at both deceiving myself, and everyone around me, that I was OK with it all.
Against all the odds my hair started to grow back. I was absolutely elated the day I realised I could use some of my own hair with a ponytail attachment. I felt normal again and could confidently look people in the eye. My confidence grew and I was completely happy again. Then came the moment I was able to wear my hair down, using cover sprays and adding a few extensions. I tattooed my eyebrows. I was looking better and felt better than I ever did. I got pregnant and my hair transformed into thick, curly locks once more. Things were amazing until the birth of my second son when I rapidly lost all my hair once more.
I was determined not to go back to the self-conscious, unconfident person I used to be. I would no longer feel vain or guilty for wanting to look good. My psychological wellbeing was more important than ever now I had children. I had no choice but to fix this.
The very thing that I thought would set me apart brought me closer to people in ways I could never have imagined, people are so kind and so supportive when you are being honest. In showing my vulnerability I was free; I could finally stop hiding.
I began to create a new relationship with myself. I now liked the reflection staring back at me. Science has moved on so much in the last few years and the products available are incredible.
Then I decided to reach out and help others like me and my business was born. I felt great and I found my purpose. Women were telling me I had given them their lives back. Husbands were in tears because they had got their wives back. I have gone on to design products found on this website and the business continues to evolve.
However, I began to realise I still wasn’t fully there yet. As open as I was about my hair loss, I never showed anyone (other than my customers) my alopecia. I reasoned that it was my privacy, that it’s my right not to be naked in front of people. I realised that I didn’t like myself without hair and to be the best help I could be for others I needed to form a new relationship with myself and undo years of social conditioning.
Being bald in public is difficult because people assume you’re ill. Nobody knows how anyone will react to something so personal so usually we don't say anything, we look the other way and pretend we don't even notice. Unfortunately this has the opposite effect. I decided the best way to deal with this was to tattoo my scalp. This would show that I wasn’t ill and give others permission to speak to me, to say “I like your tattoo" without feeling uncomfortable. I could raise awareness in a positive way.
Not having any tattoo’s, I was pleased to learn that a scalp tattoo is the most uncomfortable place to have a tattoo. I admit I was terrified. And for some insane reason I emailed a couple of journalists and before I knew it ITV news were with me filming as the first needle pieced my skin. Not only was I now showing my never to been seen bald head to the world, there was no way of going back. I also had to wrestle with my conscious about my children. Was this a totally selfish thing to do? I was doing something totally unexpected, out of character and what would their friends say? What if people laughed at me? I was wracked with guilt, but I don’t need to spell out all the lessons they have learnt too from this. Again, this extreme vulnerability continues to bring me it’s gifts.
I have grown to completely accept myself because I know I can look good. I’m not worried about trying to fix it anymore. If it comes back that’s great (although I will still wear my hairpieces because they look amazing) if it doesn’t that’s OK too.
My hair might not be growing but my heart has. I am more compassionate and kinder. I am strong inside and I feel feminine. I have embraced my old enemy and we now have fun together; my alopecia gave me my blank canvas. I am passionate about finding solutions to cover hair loss and I want to share them with everyone!
I don’t want anyone to feel the humiliation I felt going into salons and talking to “specialists”. My next mission is to establish a network of salons who are as passionate about helping women as I am. Mostly I want you to know that you are far from alone and I hope you will soon be able to join me in reinventing yourself.