Alopecia helped me find my style

Today’s post comes from guest writer Emma aka Lady Alopecia. Emma always had an eye for style but alopecia drove it in a different – and very cool – direction. Check out the Lady Alopecia website, a positive space for discussing and celebrating alopecia (and even if you’re not affected yourself, you will definitely appreciate Lady Alopecia’s witty writing and you might learn something new!)

I never thought I’d have a punk look. I’ve always leaned towards floaty dresses, colourful patterns, a boho style – which my love of festivals and travelling seemed to fit perfectly. As did my long, curly auburn hair.

My hair attracted a lot of compliments, even though it drove me crazy. The ringlets blowing about everywhere, the fact that it’d never behave like straight hair, that friends said they’d kill me if I ever attempted to dye it. I was useless with knowing how to style it. So I rarely did anything to it, apart from letting it grow, and missed out on that whole teen rebel thing of experimenting with different styles.

In fact, I’m fairly sure that apart from shedding baby fat (and gaining beer pounds instead), my “look” didn’t really change all that much between ages 10 and 24!

But that look wasn’t entirely mine.

Because I’d had alopecia since I was 10. (If you don’t know what that is, you can learn more about it here.) The first patch appeared just after my mum died (of another autoimmune condition called Lupus) and even though it filled in soon after, those pesky patches would continue to haunt me throughout my teens and early 20s.

Until I could no longer hide them with carefully arranged clips. Or later, headbands. Or later still, stick-on extensions. Until I was 23, when I eventually caved in and bought a wig.

It would take me hours to style it so that it looked like my own hair. And because I’d never had any practice in hair care before, I was terrible at it… I can’t count the amount of burns I got from trying to curl or straighten the thing!

But it was worth it. At least I looked like my usual self – even though that look wasn’t genuine.

The wig lasted about a year.

Then I grew sick of the headaches it caused. (Without much hair to cling onto, the little combs would dig painfully into my scalp, often tearing the skin.) Of the constant anxiety that it’d part to reveal my patches when a gust of wind came – which, in Ireland, was a fairly common occurrence! Of feeling like a fraud, all the time.

The only relief I’d get during my wig-wearing days would be when I’d come home after work and fling my wig to the side… like some people slip out of high heels. And I wondered what it’d be like to experience that lightness, that freedom, all of the time.

So, one day, I asked my boyfriend Andy to shave my head. At that point, I only had around 20% of my hair left – which I’d been tying into a topknot at home, channeling my fiercest Grace Jones look. I thought I was prepared to start with a fresh, bald slate.

I was wrong.

When Andy handed in a mirror, my first thought was: What the hell have I done? My second was: Well, that’s the last time I’ll look in a mirror, then! I didn’t look fierce at all. I looked sick. And… weird.

The little hair that I’d had before had been covering a giant bump on my head, which now stood out like the sorest of thumbs. Plus, the stubble of this old hair, which we couldn’t get rid of, formed a shadowy spider web across my scalp – not exactly the clean break I’d been hoping for!

This new image, coupled with the fact that I’d be on a plane the next day, bound for Indonesia on the first solo trip of my life, was all a bit much. Needless to say, tears were shed.

But I set off the next day – headscarf atop my head like some kind of security blanket.

And over the next few months, I gradually found the confidence to grin and bare my baldness. I still wore the scarf sometimes – but I was curious to see people’s reactions without it. A lot of people stared, many pointed, some laughed… and a few were downright cruel.

But some people complimented me on my “edgy style”. Others didn’t even seem to notice, which was even better – I could actually blend in! And the confidence I found during that trip, the acceptance I finally felt towards my alopecia, paid off. Because a few weeks after I got home, my hair started to grow again.

Two months later, I had a head full of short hair. True, two months after that I found another patch, which then spread… and spread… but still. By that stage I’d stopped being so attached to my hair (a good thing, since it clearly wasn’t attached to me!)

That was nearly five years ago.

Since then, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs with my hair. Sometimes it grows a little, sometimes it falls out a lot – right now it’s the healthiest it’s been in a while. But the sides of my head haven’t sprouted hair since, leaving me with a chunk of hair in the middle that I style into a mohawk.

And you know what? I actually quite like this new look. It never fails to get attention in my current home of Hoi An, Vietnam, where it provides a constant source of entertainment for locals. (It means they always remember me, too – handy for haggling in market situations!)

I’ve gone from never bothering with my hair when I was younger, to bothering too much with it when wearing a wig, to just bothering with it when I want to now.

Nowadays, I can get ready to go out in about ten minutes. Which Andy definitely appreciates!

For times when I want to put in a bit more effort (like at weddings or festivals), I can create an Elvis curl, or decorate my mohawk with feathers/flowers, or rock out the glitter and dramatic eyelashes. For times when I want to put in zero effort… well, I’ve got a drawer of colourful headscarves to hide underneath. Phew.

I’ve come to see my bald head as a blank canvas.

I can decorate and adorn it as I like. I’ve gotten face paint on it, I plan on getting it hennaed soon and I enjoy the “don’t mess with me” style it represents. It’s like I’m showing alopecia who’s boss. Finally.

Coincidentally, my mohawk has influenced my choice in clothes – I recently bought a skull t-shirt and an anarchist one, too. (Although the skull is made of colourful flowers and the “anarchist” is a teddy bear with a flamethrower. Guess I’m still a girly girl at heart.)

With my “new look”, I can continue wearing floaty dresses and colourful patterns, just like I did before – but with a little more bite.

That’s my style now. I’ve got less hair but more attitude. It’s 100% me – and I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out.

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