‘People will think you have cancer if you wear a headscarf.’ I lost half my hair in 3 months.’: Woman with alopecia embraces baldness

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“I had two nicknames before I was bald—Velma from ‘Scooby-Doo’ or Edna Mode from ‘The Incredibles.’ This was because of my distinctive brunette bob with a fringe and the big glasses. Losing my hair felt like a massive part of my identity had vanished, but taking control of my alopecia was the best thing for me—for my mental well-being, and, funnily enough, for my confidence.

I noticed my first small bald patch back when I was 19. I had been helping a friend with an art project where she had to paint a canvas on my back. The finished product had a photo taken and immediately uploaded to Facebook. It wasn’t until I was looking at it that night I saw the small circular patch looking back at me. I had no idea what it was. I even thought my hair was tied up too tightly or high.

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I remember looking online and searching for ‘random bald patches on head’ and alopecia coming up as the main answer. Again, I wasn’t very sure what this was, how it happened, or why it had happened. Truth be told, it really didn’t bother me in the beginning—until it became a problem. Growing up, I had always had thick brunette hair, either in a bob or shoulder-length. As a teenager and young adult, I could do every hairstyle possible with it being so long—space buns, braids, high ponytails, curls, straight, crimped—you name it, I did it. I loved my long hair, the way it would float around while dancing on a night out, or the fact I could chuck it up into a messy bun ready for work. I looked after my hair well, regularly washing it, haircuts, and little or no hair dye. So finding this small bald patch was a bit of a shock. But like I said, in the beginning, it really didn’t bother me, I just carried on as normal.

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I went to see my doctor with my mom. He looked at it and said, ‘It’s just a little bit of hair loss, usually called alopecia. It is small, I would say the size of a 50p piece. I can’t see it will get worse, but keep an eye on it and we will go from there.’ A few months later, the base of my neck had very fine thin hairs or was bald. As the months went on, my mom and I noticed my patches would come and go, and almost move around my scalp.

When I noticed it was getting worse and it felt thinner, I started to go see a lady who offered trichology and wig-fitting services. I didn’t feel I needed a wig at the time, but both my mom and I were intrigued as to what trichology was. We went for the initial consultation, where we mainly talked about what had been happening over the previous months and how this lady could help me. She explained what trichology was and the treatment she offered. Visiting her little salon in the small village in my county soon became the regular routine for me and my mom on a Saturday.

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I would say I had been seeing this lady for a year before I had a massive career change. I applied and got accepted for an interview to become cabin crew for British Airways. My parents helped me choose my interview outfit, and how the best way to style my hair would be. We went for the classic ‘doughnut’ hairstyle, and moved a few bits of hair, and sprayed them into place. The drive to Heathrow from my town was under 2 hours. I didn’t put my head back on the headrest in case I messed up my hair Mom had helped me do at 5 a.m. I did the whole day of the interview, and 3 days later got offered the job of a lifetime. And it really is the job of a lifetime. Traveling the world and meeting new people every day, going to places I had never heard of or dreamed to visit. I remember the pure excitement of getting this amazing news British Airways wanted me! But then the panic/worry set in— ‘What do I do about my hair?’

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As my start date approached, I took the plunge and asked my hairdresser to cut my long thick hair into a bob. I had the thought process this would help hide my bald patches around my neck and ears and I would fit into the ‘cabin crew’ image. It did work for most of my time flying, but in the last 6 months, I was really beginning to struggle. Luckily, I had a wonderful manager who listened to me when I told him about my hair and how I was struggling to cover my patches, especially when I have to wear the uniform hat at certain times—such as walking through the airports, entering hotels, and saying hello or goodbye to the passengers onboard. I was granted to not wear my hat due to medical reasons. I would always be asked by the other crew members, ‘Why don’t you wear your hat?’ or ‘Did you leave your hat in the car?’ To be honest, nine times out of ten I would agree and say I had left it behind.

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Only a few times would I be honest with other crew members and tell them I had alopecia and answer any questions they may have had. A lot of questions were asked every time, such as, ‘What is alopecia?’ ‘Does it hurt?’ ‘Isn’t alopecia related to stress?’ The one question I would get asked, at least three times on a flight was, ‘Is this why you have a bob, to look like Velma from ‘Scooby-Doo?”

There is one time that still really stands out to me from a conversation with a few other girls on a flight. Again, they asked about where my hat as and I explained, and one reply I got was: ‘Oh wow, I wish I had alopecia so I didn’t have to wear this stupid hat.’ I wanted the ground to swallow me up there and then. I couldn’t even reply because I was in such shock. Safe to say, I politely declined her Instagram and Facebook request.

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I left flying back in 2017 at Christmas time. I had seen most of the world, but all in all, I was tired and ready to get back into a routine. I had recently been with my ex-boyfriend, and honestly, I didn’t like leaving for however long and not being in the same timezone. I also felt if I got into a routine, my hair would somehow want to grow back. I still had my bob, and some parts were very thick, and other parts were very thin or bald.

As time went on through 2018, I was back to having regular trichology appointments, but my hair loss was progressing and starting to get thin on top of my scalp. I would go back to see my doctor, show them any new patches, and ask for any other alternative treatments to trichology. By the end of 2018/early 2019, I was handed a tube of steroid cream and told I could be waiting over a year to see a dermatologist. In the meantime, I tried everything else possible—organic thickening shampoos, growth serums, diet changes.

Woman showing bald patches on head due to alopecia
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There were countless blood tests that always came back as all clear. Nothing seemed to be working, and I felt the world was against me. I began looking into toppers and headscarves to help cover up the areas on show, and what was already a stressful and upsetting time became more so in the early months of 2019. I would get a lot of comments from my ex-partner, the main two being, ‘You’re just drawing attention to yourself if you wear a headscarf. My friends and people will think you’ve got cancer if you wear it,’ or ‘Why did you spend so much on a topper you can’t even put on anymore?’ I honestly felt like I was alone and like nobody truly could understand what I was going through. People can sympathize and say they understand how it must feel to lose your hair and try to make you feel better by saying, ‘You’d totally rock being bald,’ but when you are in this funk, no words or amount of chocolate will help make you feel better. I’ve learned it is something that comes with time.

Woman wearing headwrap taking selfie with man
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Finding things to make you feel better can help—I made the decision at 23 to have braces to improve my teeth and smile. If I had no control over my hair, at least I had control over my crooked teeth. The first glimmer of hope was back in 2019 when I was finally able to see the dermatologist, and I was able to start having steroid injections at the appointment—I had nothing to lose, and if I didn’t try, how would I know if it would help or not? The regrowth after quarterly appointments was noticeable, not for its thickness, but for the gray hairs that came back. But I didn’t care what color it was, it was hair. I finally felt my luck was turning. I always attended the appointments and had injections each time on new patches, up until March 2020, due to COVID. Like everything else, all appointments were canceled, and as last year went on, I could see a drastic change in my hair.

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The patches were getting bigger and my hair was getting thinner. I also noticed little things, like more hair on my pillow, having to unclog the shower plug after each use, or detangle my Hoover. I would even be cooking and just see it fall to the kitchen counter. I managed to cope with it until the summertime, but it was the worst I have ever seen my hair. I took the plunge and bought some turbans to help with covering up, only cheap ones from Amazon. But oh my gosh, these helped me massively. Some of my friends admit to me now they thought it was just a new style I was pulling off, they had no idea my alopecia got so bad. But then again, nobody really did, besides me. However, like most, things the turban was a great quick fix to help cover up, but it didn’t resolve the problem. I would say I lost over 50% of my hair within 3 months. I’m not entirely sure why it happened so drastically, but I just knew by February this year I couldn’t go on anymore. I was putting so much love and care into my hair for no gain at all.

Woman wearing pink wig sitting at restaurant holding wine glass
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After a lot of tears from me and my partner, Louis, we both decided it was time to say goodbye to Velma/Edna Mode, and hello to the new me. Shaving the rest of my hair was the best thing and also the right thing to do. I had so much support from another girl in my town who also has alopecia universalis, and without her advice and courage, I don’t think I would have gone through with it. Alopecia is a funny condition, it just creeps up on you with no warning like, ‘Hey there!’ I know this is why it was so hard to say goodbye to my distinctive look, but even looking in the mirror I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and I was so upset and confused as to why this was happening to me. I would have understood, and maybe come to terms with it, if the drastic hair loss happened to me in 2019—coming out of an abusive relationship and losing my home after only 5 months. But my hair was so healthy that year, a few small patches here and there, but nothing compared to the end of 2020.

Woman wearing jean jacket taking smiling mirror selfie
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2020, despite COVID, was the best year I have ever had. I met the love of my life who supported me from the moment I mentioned to him I have had alopecia for 7 years. He didn’t bat an eye, and every day, even now being bald, he always says, ‘Good morning beautiful lady.’ Alopecia is really difficult to come to terms with, female or male. But the community out there is incredible. I encourage anyone struggling with hair loss to reach out to others to ask for any advice or to just get to know someone with whom you may never have crossed paths. I certainly have, and it has inspired me to start this new chapter where I feel comfortable enough to share my experience of alopecia, show off a new wig or turban, and very slowly start the discussion around mental abuse.”

Bald woman wearing scarf and glasses standing in woods
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Thea of the United Kingdom. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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