People always told me I was brave.
I always heard the following a lot when I was a child/teenager with no hair:
You’re so courageous
I could never show people my bald head
You’re an inspiration
To these people telling me these things, I hope that’s how they felt - I hope I did inspire them, show them a different way to live with hair loss, or just consider their attitude to those with appearance diversity. However, I never felt worthy, or deserving of these words. I never felt it really applied to me.
In my own head, I was not courageous, or brave. I just didn’t want to hide my true self. I have no idea where this thought came from - but I have this crystal clear memory of this feeling when I was very young. Of considering wigs - but it always felt like hiding to me. I did wear a lot of hats though, my mum was constantly on alert for a new way for me to wear something that made me feel comfortable and safe.
I want to be so clear on this, I did not think that those who wore wigs/toppers as “hiding”, or inauthentic, or not showing their true selves. This never really had anything to do with judgment of others, just an internal, all encompassing judgement of myself - if I wore a wig I was hiding.
As a teenager some of this faded in the quest (as we all do at that age) to blend in more. I wore a beanie for the 4-5 years of high school. It still felt like I was hiding, and I judged myself harshly for it - but it let me get through my teenage years with some semblance of fitting in.
But it also felt like a prison - I wouldn’t let myself swim, go to the beach, take it off - even in 40°C/100°F weather in QLD, Australia. For four years my mother would have to pry it off my head to wash it so it wouldn’t smell. I remember getting in a water balloon fight in the park with friends, and how I had to sneak away to wring it out - the new guys we’d been hanging out with had never seen me without it on. I remember calling my first boyfriend and letting him know I had no hair under my beanie and asking if he’d realized - worried he would be disgusted and break up with me.
I was so harsh on myself.
How dare you explore a crush, there’s no way he is going to like you without hair
You’re just a weird little bald girl
You’re not normal
You’re so strange looking
No one is ever going to find you attractive
I felt ashamed, different, broken, other, lost - and at the same time I was outwardly friendly, happy, social, outgoing. That duality wasn’t false either - I loved my friends fiercely, and felt accepted with them. We hung out nonstop and I talked to them about my alopecia. I went to alopecia areata support group meetings and spoke about my hair loss, I travelled to the USA and attended my first NAAF conference and went without my beanie for the first time in a group of my peers and had my first crush on another bald kid (a grungy dude from New York).
My confidence grew and grew, and near the end of high school I think, I finally took off my beanie and just said - this is me. The judging and the fear of what others would think was still there, don’t get me wrong. But this tiny voice inside me that had been insistent that hiding my baldness from the world was the wrong move for me finally won out.
The voices did quieten, a little, for a while. This was a huge event for me, and it felt amazing. I still didn’t think it courageous, or brave, or inspiring - but it was momentous for me.
Growing up - a whole new set of thoughts
It’s funny though, how this was just the start of a whole new exploration of what it meant to be a bald woman in the world. Just like any teenager, coming into adulthood - as the ground shifts beneath you, you start to question more about your place, your life, yourself.
Coming into adulthood as a bald woman shifted those voices and thoughts and feelings even more. Whereas teenage boys (at least in my years) were away from you, not constantly with you, and at the mercy of your parents rules and regulations - adult men are not.
I recall the first time a completely unknown man touched my head. He meant it as a compliment, “wow, you look great” - and then he ran his hand over my scalp, gave me a thumbs up and went on his way. I was taken aback, torn between the complexity of feeling some acceptance, appreciation and attraction for my baldness, and the instinctual fear many women feel when an unknown man encroaches on their personal space.
I was 17.
It taught me some new thoughts about myself, these I’m sure are familiar to all women:
I should accept the compliment, it’s safer
I should not confront them
I want love, so I can seek it out from those who appreciate my hairloss
I need to settle for what I can get, no one of worth will love me
Again, I felt ashamed about my hairloss, unlovable, unattractive - and I sought to solve those feelings, to make them go away by allowing a continued invasion of my personal space in exchange for connection and affection.
Even after I fell into my first real serious relationship, this shame, fear of never being loved continued to haunt me - I acted out, drank a lot, put myself in dangerous situations, all because I craved that attention and affection that I had always thought I would never receive - and didn’t feel worthy of.
Even after I found attention, love, affection, intimacy and passion (sometimes in all the wrong places, sometimes with amazing people) - these thoughts would haunt me until I actually started confronting them myself.
I needed to realize that what I said to myself, how I thought about myself, what my inner voice barraged me with daily - 100% impacted how I felt in my body, how I walked in this world and how I allowed myself to heal, grow, and embrace who I was.
So I worked on it.
The shortest story of that shift in those voices is in small captures of moments over the last 10 years:
Breaking up with an emotionally abusive partner and spending 5 years in talk therapy
Learning that wearing wigs, hats, beanies, scarves is exactly the same for me as someone wearing their hair in a ponytail, or putting on lipstick. It’s an accessory for when I want to wear it and a choice - ie. unlearning the self judgment that it meant I was hiding or weak.
Finding a voice as a soloist in dance and a platform to perform exactly as I am, no wig, no need to blend in.
My eldest sister’s words to me, after a particularly messy breakup and when I felt my life was falling apart: “no wonder you can’t deal with this everyday stuff, it takes so much effort for you to just walk into the world every day looking different”.
Falling in love with my best friend and soulmate
Moving countries and having to start over - building new relationships, interviewing for jobs, networking and meeting new people - all as a bald woman.
Experiencing the pain of grief at the loss of a loved one, and finding a path to healing and acceptance
Applying these lessons, strategies and learnings to my life with Alopecia. Understanding all the work I had done on myself, and figuring out how I'd done it.
Some of these may seem completely unrelated to hair loss, and alopecia. However everyone of them was a small path, a door I opened or a window I fell through into deeper exploration and understanding of who I am. And the more I explored that, the more I dug in and figured out who I was - the more I started asking bigger questions and the less I said mean things to myself.
I realized this year, that much of that negative self talk, has disappeared. Sure, it still raises its head sometimes, and I need to refocus and find some compassion for myself, but for the most part, I’m not tearing myself down anymore.
In approaching my body, my alopecia, my life with curiosity, kindness and compassion - I found a way to relate to her that was based less and less in judgment, and more and more in empowerment. In allowing my body to be a safe space to feel, sense and be - I started to understand there was so much more to her than what I thought or feared others might think of her.
In depth I found peace, and in relaxing my attitude I found pleasure and in acceptance I found empowerment. My alopecia became my superpower - a portal to my authentic self as well as, I hope, a gateway to allow others in.
If you'd like to work with me in 2021 to uncover your superpower, you can book an alignment call with me now! Have you ever taken a moment to notice how you speak to yourself? Has having alopecia or hairloss impacted how you talk to yourself? I'd love to hear your story. You can comment below or reach out to me!