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A Hair-Raising Tale: My Journey with Alopecia

I wish my alopecia story was more exciting, more of an Eat, Pray, Love kind of deal just with more hair products. It’s more about me yelling at my hair brush like Regina George did in Mean Girls when she realized she was eating Kalteen bars. It took me 8 years to be brave enough to own up to my hair-raising issues: 

Diagnosis:

I noticed that my previously frizzy hair was starting to, well, not be quite so Hermione-esque. A hair stylist pointed out that my hair was thinning at the ripe old age of 21. I did what every college girl would do hearing that news: had a breakdown in my Ford Taurus in the parking lot of the salon, then vowed to *never* tell anyone. Also, I bought hair dye and a bunch of ball caps. Not my parents, not my significant others, not my friends. In fact, for years the only person who knew was my friend Christina.

*insert ominous voice here* until one day when I was 27 and I couldn’t camoflage the thinning anymore.

It was a routine July morning when I woke up late for my job, went to brush my hair into a ponytail and a bigger-than-normal chunk of my hair came out with the brush. I stood there staring at the brush for a solid minute or two. I immediately scheduled an appointment with my dermatologist. This is when I found out what telogen effluvium was– basically I was having an autoimmune response to extreme stress, which causes your hair to fall out a few months after the stressor has passed.

Hiding the Hair Loss:

I’d become a master of hiding my hair loss. Pink, lavender, purple, red hair. You name it, I’ve probably worn that hair color.  I would change the color every time The Great Molting (™) would begin to distract from it. Then a stylist recommended extensions– yes, the Kardashian-approved solution that required sheaths of hair attached by surgical grade tape to a tiny bit of my own hair. For about the past year I’ve worn full extensions, giving me the mermaid hair of my Instagram-fueled dreams.

However, I loathed the extensions. I literally had to schedule my workouts around my hair washing schedule. Washing my hair was analogous to power washing the side of a house due to the rows of surgical tape in my hair. Finally one day while I was walking home from grabbing groceries at Cosentinos, I decided I was done with hair extensions and by default also done hiding my hair loss. Come what may, I refused to live any longer hiding my hair like a bougie Cousin Itt.

Living Authentically with my Hair:

I’d always been ashamed of my hair loss as though it made me less of a person because I had less hair. That since my hair wasn’t like that of a Disney princess, I was less worthy of consideration. I think most women have that emotional tie to their hair as a source of their beauty and self-esteem.  I decided to take out the extensions that day and start living with the head of hair I had. Here’s the thing: Nothing that makes any of us interesting has anything to do with our hair length. 

I removed the extensions myself with olive oil, a hair pick and Netflix. Strangely, it was an act of acceptance and reverence to take out the extensions. I was left with a messy mop of hair but found little 5” sprouts of hair. That meant my mid-2016 hair loss had grown back in. I marveled at the little sprouts and did a happy dance in my bathroom since they gave me hope.

As I looked at myself in the mirror I realized 1. I would probably have to chop my hair pretty short to get it healthy and match the sprouts.  2. That’s okay, because my hair doesn’t define me. Here’s the thing: Nothing that makes any of us interesting is related to our hair length. I am still present: Banner ads are still trafficked, cats are still fed, I am still cared about no matter what my hair looks like. We will be remembered for what we did, who we loved, what legacy we leave behind for others.

With that, I let the Beauty Brands stylist lop my hair into a chin-length bob. I dyed it darker to get it closer to my natural hair color and get rid of the balayage. I didn’t feel instantly confident, but I did feel free. In the end I was more pleased with my bravery to live authentically with my alopecia and with short hair. It’s when we free ourselves from the shackles of others’ expectations that we get to live fully, do big things and be ourselves.

 

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