Wig Free Week

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Credit: Rachel Jones

I have had alopecia for almost ten years and finally feel able to speak up about it.

I am challenging myself to go wig free for a week to raise money for Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK.

The purpose of this blog is to start a conversation about alopecia and to help other people who are undergoing the same challenges I have been through.

My Story

My hair began to fall out almost ten years ago, the summer after I left school age 18. Three months later, I was completely bald.

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My real hair before it fell out – during my last term at school in 2006

Losing my hair was an extremely traumatic experience, as I didn’t know or understand what was happening to my body, and was unable to control it.

Every time I brushed my hair and found clumps in my hairbrush or realised that there was hair all over my pillow, I felt sick, and if I stayed at a friend’s house I would have to run around cleaning up after myself because I was so embarrassed that someone would find out!

Eventually, when I looked in the mirror and realised that I had huge patches all over my head, I had to admit to myself that something was seriously wrong.

Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease which occurs when the immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, often causing permanent hair loss.  Although not damaging to physical health, alopecia can have severe effects on quality of life and emotional health.

Doctors could unfortunately do very little to help, as there is no known cure or effective treatment for alopecia, so I was left to get on with it as best I could.

Covering Up

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Gradually losing my hair during the headscarf months

For the first few months after my diagnosis I started wearing headscarves, and still managed to go travelling with a friend around Europe that first summer.  But as I lost more and more hair, the scarves got bigger and bigger, and I began to get increasingly stressed about my appearance.  I no longer recognised myself in the mirror, and would tear up photographs because I was so ashamed of how I looked.

Even worse was losing my eyelashes and eyebrows, which completely changed the look of my face, and made me feel less feminine.  Without any hair, I felt like an alien in my own skin.

First Wig

About three months in, I was persuaded that it was time to explore the option of getting a wig.  For me, this was a totally foreign concept – the only time I had ever worn a wig was for fancy dress and I couldn’t imagine having to wear one all the time!

One of my first nights out post-alopecia
One of my first nights out post alopecia – glitter wig!

Trying one on for the first time was a bizarre experience, and even the word ‘wig’ felt strange to me.  Although I must admit, trying them on in the hairdressers turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be – I could choose any colour that I liked!

Wearing wigs had its ups and downs, as I was pleased to be able to hide behind them but often I would be racked with insecurity that people knew and were talking about me behind my back.  I also felt less free, and wasn’t able to do things like going swimming or on rides at a theme park, without worrying that my wig would come flying off and embarrass me.

Keeping Up Appearances

Over the years, I have experimented with wigs of various colours, lengths and shapes, from auburn and heavily fringed to peroxide blonde to my current darker tone.  The quality of my wigs has gradually improved, as I have found out more and more about what is available, where to source them and how to get them cut.

I also started getting my eyebrows tattooed on with semi-permanent makeup, which is a huge relief as pencilling them in every day got frustrating pretty quickly!

My various wig colours over the years – discovering whether blondes really do have more fun!

Confidence Boost

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Credit: Rachel Jones

With time and incredible support from my friends and family, I have grown more confident about my appearance, however I still feel the need to wear a wig every day.

I have always found telling people about my alopecia really difficult, even though I know it is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people have no idea that this is not my real hair, including colleagues I sit next to every day at work!

Undertaking the challenge of Wig Free Week is a huge step for me, but I hope it will be a liberating one!

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8 thoughts on “Wig Free Week

  1. I too have Alopecia. It started when I lived in Scotland in 2005. Mine was much slower, however I now have AU. My hair loss increase over time and then last year it went mad…no hair no where in a month. Eyebrows and eyelashes have been the worst. I have looked into getting them tattooed on…as you it a has been a pain to have to pencil them in every time I go out.

    What you are doing is such a brave thing to do. I wish you all the confidence in the world. I hope you find peace in being wig free. You look stunning with or without hair.

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  2. Dear Ruth
    My name is David Cuthill. I was Three years old when all my hair fell out. I do recognise the hurt you must feel and the unfairness.
    I do feel like I’ve had it easy.
    It’s much much easier for guys and it gets easier as they get older. Mainly because male pattern baldness is a fact of life.
    It was very difficult for me in my teens. Beatlemania and shoulder length hair to follow. I can’t imagine what it must have been/is like for you. I can’t remember it happening. All I have are photos of when I was two, with carefree brown hair. 1954. Now, I don’t have a single trace of hair anywhere. I gave up wigs in 1986 but I wore them from age 13 to age 34.
    It was the best decision of my life to ditch them.
    I would never go back. I wish I could have dumped them much earlier. I went to a therapist who hypnotised me and under hypnosis we discussed the situation. I went for three sessions and after that I just walked into work au natural.
    I had convinced myself that nobody knew. I really believed that everyone hadn’t noticed the wig. (Even now the word makes me shiver a little).
    Once I dispensed with the ridiculous lie that was the cover-up, I was much happier in myself. People congratulated me on the first day. After that it was completely accepted.
    If you would like to contact me, I can certainly talk over your experience. It might help both of us. 😊
    It would seem to be different for women. But you, I am sure could just be yourself.
    You are a lovely looking woman and you should be so proud of yourself for showing off rather than hiding behind a curtain of hair. 😉
    It’s tough but you sooner or later will need to put behind you any thoughts of the hair growing back. Like I say, tough news.
    Only then can you progress. When you progress, life gets much better!
    I can give you many advantages of not having hair.
    Money saving. Count the cost of all the shampoo and hairdressers bills.
    When you go swimming or training its much quicker to shower and dry.
    Swimming/ fitness training no hat required.
    Faster underwater!
    As you age there is no colour change that people can age you with. I’m 63. I can’t believe it myself but I can act 25 years younger and nobody knows.
    People can be cruel, but it doesn’t last. Since I was about 20 no one has ever given me any offence about it.
    I can tell you that in my whole life, I’ve never spoken with anyone else with this condition.
    So this is a first for me.
    People will like you and love you for the real person that you are.
    That person is inside your skin and your friends see that person.
    It will be very difficult, because you look so show stopping.
    You will see people being attracted to you. And the opposite. Well, that saves a lot of Smalltalk!
    Get in touch for a chat if/when you’re ready. 😉
    D

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  3. Thank you so much for putting alopecia sufferers on the map! I wish I had the courage to go without a wig for a week. I have suffered total loss since 1991. It affected my emotional health quite badly in the beginning. Now at the age of almost 65, my wigs help me to look and feel younger. I’m not sure when or if I will ever go grey. I did have my eyebrows tattooed at one time but now prefer pencilling them in. All the best with keeping up your confidence. Having a bubbly personality is a huge bonus.

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  4. Hi my name is Emma-Jane I have had alopecia since I was five years old. I did have wigs that never really got to stay on my head. They were thrown across playground or hidden away. So I spent most of my childhood and teens without one. And took what ever abuse questions or fights as they happened. It was only whem I left home at eighteen someone thought it a good idea that life would be a lot easier if I was to get a wig. Which I did til I was twenty four by then I’d had enough. If people didn’t like it tough. So I went along my daily life bald.
    And today nearly twenty year later am may be tempted back to the land of wigs. Because people still have problem with women with no hair. And you still get stereo type even today.
    Thank god for the improvement of the grannie wigs…..

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  5. Inspiring story. But I guess there are already some natural treatment for this. So one should not be depressed cause there are already some cure or remedy being developed.

    XoXo_ LAofoye

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    1. Hi Faith: It’s tough, but I think it’s more honest and realistic, with less psychological compilation to accept that there is no effective treatment.
      I would encourage people to avoid the wigs and cover-ups and just be natural. It’s other peoples’ problem if they can’t accept it.
      I agree that this is much easier for men, as many men lose their hair through pattern-baldness anyway.
      Be confident, smile and make people comfortable in your presence, and any awkwardness will go very quickly.

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