When Julie was 14 years old, all her hair fell out in just a few short weeks due to alopecia. Now 36, she told us about the profound impact the condition has had on her.
My parents have always been amazing; I’m so grateful for that.
Alopecia shaped my life in a lot of ways. For a long time, I didn’t really deal with how much it was affecting me – it damaged my self esteem in a big way and it’s only now with hindsight that I can see that it affected every part of my life from career choices to relationships with friends and family. I spent so much time and energy trying to hide my difference that it became a kind of obsession, which was really energy draining.
It’s not really about the hair; it’s about the emotional impact of it – learning to accept the lack of control, coping with stares and questions, finding a way to feel feminine, beautiful, loved.
Losing my hair damaged my self-esteem to such a degree that I lost a huge amount of my confident, unstoppable personality. I didn’t want to stand out, I worked very hard to blend in and not be noticed. That’s really career limiting. By the time I realised I was doing this, I had missed so many opportunities career wise.
I never believed in myself enough to put myself out there and talk about what I could do and had delivered at work. I spent far too much of every day worrying about my bald patches to be able to fully engage with what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done fine career wise but I know I’ve held myself back underselling myself and not believing in myself.
My parents have always been amazing and I am very grateful for that. They sacrificed things financially so they could buy me natural wigs that would allow me to blend in and to pay for micro-bladed brows when I was a teenager. They answered the questions people asked so I didn’t have to, and most of all they listened and loved me.
My husband has never made it an issue and he’s done some things that he would admit were not the easiest like shaving my head for me. He views my ever changing hair choices a bit like which t-shirt I’ve chosen to wear that day. I’ve learnt from him that the beauty he sees in me has absolutely nothing to do with how I look, it’s who I am that he fell for and continues to love.
My children see me with a different hairstyle every day of the week, it doesn’t change who I am and hopefully they have seen that I am in no way limited by looking different to other mummies. The wonderful thing is that they and all their friends know what alopecia is and it is completely normal to them.
Three things have been very influential in making it possible for me to stop hiding my alopecia and start embracing it. Firstly, I got involved with Alopecia UK and discovered that there were thousands of other people who also had alopecia – no longer was I the only person I knew who was going through this. Secondly, I started meeting people with a whole range of visible differences through Changing Faces and it became clear that it is not about what the difference is, there is a lot of commonality in feelings and experiences of being something other than society tells us we should be. I love that I am a part of an inspiring, interesting and embracing community who are challenging those expected norms.
Finally, I absolutely do not want my children to feel that they should be anything other than what they are. I want them to be happy in their own skin, to not feel that they have to change anything about themselves to be accepted and loved and to look in the mirror and be content with what they see – and I can influence that by role modelling it.
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