I thought back to when I lost a large portion of my hair between the age of 14 and 17-ish. Though I did not go completely bald, and I certainly can't compare it to a cancer patient losing their hair, the hair loss certainly impacted on my confidence and dare I say it, ability to feel beautiful.
A symptom of the variation of Ichthyosis I have is brittle hair - or 'bamboo hair' as described in medical texts. When I was a baby, and also as a pre-schooler - as Mum tells me, my hair fell out. My parents thought that I was going to go through life without hair. Fortunately my hair growth has sustained, and I've managed to have the same hairdo since I began school! A few years back, my dermatologist showed me my old patient notes from when I was six years old. My only dream was to have long hair. That dream has never come true, though while away on holidays last year, my hair was touching my shoulders when wet and I was very excited about that! Though my curls give the facade that my hair is voluminous, my hair is actually quite fine.
The hair loss as a teenager came at a time when I was at my least confident. When I just wanted to fit in and not look any more different than I already did. I wanted to use Clearasil and shave my legs and wear skimpy clothing - even though it was impractical to do any of those things. After a holiday to the Great Ocean Road, where we stayed in cabin accommodation , I felt my scalp get more itchy than usual. Maybe I picked up an allergy from the pillows? I scratched and scratched, and in doing so, the hair on the back of my head broke off. My scalp bled, my skin peeled, my hair didn't grow. And I effectively had a self-cultivated undercut (something I found attractive in boys at school in year seven, but something I did not want for myself!). I also had lots of bald patched over my head, including at the front of my head.
I was so self conscious of it. I hoped no one would notice. Mum used to tie my hair in curly pigtails and brush the sparse hair over the bald patch at the back. When my hair did grow a bit, I would flatten it and tie it back, doing a side part to cover the bald bits at the front. I hated it.
Over a few years, my hair became fuller and has stayed that way, and now I only have to manage smaller bald patches which are usually caused by me being too rough when combing my scalp. My scalp still can get extremely itchy and sometimes I rub my head up on corners of walls or furniture to relieve it. Weird, like a sheep scratches itself on a fence. I wash it with sulphate free shampoo and condition every day, and don't use much product in it - only Bodyshop Brazil nut cream and Dove hair oil. Thanks to my gentler treatments, and more positive outlook, I feel far less self conscious about my fine, sometimes broken off hair. I've had it straightened twice in the last year, and have even felt a little more confident at hairdressers.
Her words touched me. I wish this article was written 17 years ago, to help build my self confidence. I am so glad to finally feel positive way about my whole appearance . Able to make jokes about it, accept that this is how it is - I will never be Rapunzel, and never reach back to my South African heritage with an Afro - and not want to change things. And most importantly, I am able to feel happy looking in the mirror and also when I face the world.
"...sometimes flaunting the stuff that you’re most self-conscious about forces you to embrace it. It forces you to acknowledge who you already are."
There is an initiative run by Pantene called Beautiful Lengths where women can donate a ponytail to create wigs for other women who have lost their hair to cancer treatment. It's such a great cause!