That’s Ridiculous! Women Don’t Lose Their Hair!

 

 

 

 

Linda Rieschel is currently writing a book titled Coping With Chronic Bad HairHere is an excerpt.

I am a sixty-two year old woman with Androgenetic Alopecia. That is something I could not say to anyone for much of my adult life, but I can admit that now to almost anyone I meet.  I can also write about it and have even been interviewed on The Today Show by Katie Couric, who asked me what it was like to lose my hair at the age of sixteen.

Although I am comfortable with my appearance now, for the first twenty-five or so years of dealing with my hair loss, I mostly felt shame and embarrassment. And I felt alone.

 “That’s ridiculous” my mother said, turning away from me, “women don’t lose their hair… go and get your ironing done.”  This was my mother’s response when I tearfully told her that I thought I was losing my hair.  I was sixteen, in the middle of my junior year of high school.  I had cut my hair into a layered, short look a few months earlier (at the insistence of my mother) and noticed that my hair was so thin that I needed to “rat” or “back comb” it  to get it to cover my scalp. From that time on, I lived in fear that my thinning hair would become noticeable. It was ironic, because I had just spent several months of the school year trying very hard to be ‘noticeable’.
 
My family had moved around since I was three years old. I am the second oldest of eight children and my siblings and I once counted up the different schools we had attended through the years.  The count was somewhere between twenty and twenty-five. Sometimes we’d stay in a neighborhood for a few weeks, sometimes a few months.  I was a shy child and being the new kid in each of the schools we attended was agonizing for me. I learned to tuck into myself so I wouldn’t be noticed.  I avoided eye contact, striving to be invisible. I had to force myself to speak to people and I although I always made a couple of friends at each school, those friendships were short-lived because, before long, we’d be on the move again.  
 
Everything changed in 1963 when we bought a small home in Pacifica, California.   At age fifteen, I entered Terra Nova High School late in the fall of my sophomore year.  Since I knew we would be staying put for a while, I decided to reach out and avail myself of every opportunity my new high school offered.  This time, instead of dreading being the new kid, I was excited.  I joined a modern dance group, formed a singing group with my older sister, was a clothing model and was eventually on the Pom Pom squad.  People began to know who I was and it was fun being noticed.  I embraced the school, embraced the other students and embraced life, at least for a little while.
 
 
By the middle of my junior year my hair was alarmingly thin but I managed to convince myself that what was happening to me was still not too noticeable.  I soon found out that I was wrong. My best friend’s sister smirked at me one day, asking in front of several other girls who were standing in front of the high school gymnasium, “What’s happening with your hair?  Are you going bald?”  I was devastated. Now it was real. My thinning hair was not just a figment of my imagination; it was a fact…and it was also visible to others.  From that moment on, my best friend called me baldy.  She wouldn’t whisper it quietly, just to me.  She would shout it across a crowded lunch room “Come on, baldy!”  Of course people would look up to see who she was shouting at, see me and stare.  It was so embarrassing, so humiliating.  I wanted to die and I wanted to be invisible again.  I avoided eye contact, avoided being called to the front of the class to give a presentation. I quit the modern dance class, quite the singing group I had formed with my sister, decided not to try out for a second year of Pom Pom squad and worst of all, retreated back into my little shell.
 
I had an additional stress factor added to my hair loss, because I was born to a mother who so highly prized her own good looks, that she was constantly comparing hers to mine, particularly when I became a teenager.  Upon arriving home after a social outing, I would be brimming over with the good times I  had, wanting to tell her about it.  Almost immediately though, Mom would hold up her hand like a stop sign. “Wait,” she would say, “were you the prettiest girl there?”  “No, but I had so much fun, Mom…” “Well,” she’d cut me off…: “wherever I went, Iwas always the prettiest girl there.”  With just a few words, she would diminish me and each time my self-esteem plummeted. When my hair began thinning, it took me months before I got up the courage to go to her and say “Mom, I think my hair is falling out.” When I realized my mother was unwilling even to acknowledge my hair loss, let alone take me to a doctor to find a cure, I knew I was on my own.
 
I spent years and wasted thousands of dollars trying to find the cause of and cure for my hair loss.  Most of the dermatologists I met with didn’t know enough about women’s hair loss and really didn’t quite know what to do with me.  Most of them were full of platitudes and bad advice.  One even advised me to get married and said then my hair would come back.  Helpful guy! I finally found out what I had when I was thirty-five.  It was, as the doctor called it, the female version of male pattern baldness.  “:But,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “At least you know it is not life threatening.” It was the worst thing he could have told me.  As far as I was concerned, having female pattern baldness was ‘quality of life’ threatening. I felt like a freak.
 
Even women with good self-esteem go through an emotional withdrawal when they start losing their hair.  It’s one thing for a man to get a little thin on top. In fact some men are perceived as even more manly when they are bald.  Women, though, are thought of as ‘less than’.  Since hair is considered a ‘crowning glory’, what happens to women who are thinning on top?  They look older…sickly…unhealthy.  I once read that men are attracted to shiny, bouncy, healthy hair because it’s indicative of a woman being healthy enough to bear that man a healthy child. Great, I thought.  Just what I need.  More reasons to be ashamed of my thin hair.
 
Dating was a nightmare but after a while I did meet and marry a nice man who did not seem to mind my thin hair.  What he did mind, though, were the constant tears and the reluctance to socialize.  It was he who suggested I start wearing a wig. I was insulted and depressed for days over his suggestion but it did start the ‘wheels turning’.  In fact, it was my husband’s mother who offered to pay for a beautiful human hair wig. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dorothy, not only for her generosity and kindness, but because buying a beautiful hair piece led me to an entirely new life and a positive way of dealing with my hair.  I started working as a hair replacement consultant with the woman who styled my hair piece.
 
Charle Dewitt, who now has studios in San Rafael as well as Carlsbad, was a godsend to me. She and I worked together for over fourteen years and it was working with other women who were going through hair loss that finally brought my own tears to an end.  Sharing our mutual stories of hair loss was such a cathartic experience and it was gratifying to realize  that I had come a long way in learning to accept who I was.  Our cancer patients in particular were responsible for teaching me something very important about my thinning hair.  All I was dealing with was hair loss, not cancer, not chemotherapy treatments, not the prospect of surgery…just hair loss.  Many of our breast cancer patients told me that losing their breast was not such a big deal but losing their hair was by far the worst part of their cancer ordeal.  I felt validated!  So many times through the years I had been told by those close to me that I was being shallow and vain for crying so much about my hair.  My cancer patient customers showed me that it was normal to cry.  Once I got over feeling guilty about how much my hair had affected me, I felt free. I felt lighter. I felt not alone. I felt proud of myself.  There was a television commercial several years back with a kicky song with these lyrics: ’You’ve come a long way, baby, to get where you’ve gotten today’… (The rest of the song was about a cigarette, so I’ll leave that part out).
 
That’s how I feel today – that I’ve come a long way. I am so very grateful to those people who helped me in my journey.  Even the ones who had nothing kind to say were nonetheless building blocks to the road I built for myself.
 
I feel good about who I am and what I have to offer other women going through hair loss.  I know how it feels, how much you cry, how different, how abnormal you feel.  But I also know that there comes a time when you get tired of the tears and start to ‘get a grip’ on your situation.
 
I started an online business last year (http://www.ninisniche.etsy.com/), offering the head wraps, sleep caps and accessories I designed especially for women who are losing their hair.  I also do consultations with local (Marin County) cancer patients from my home office and get a tremendous boost each time one of them gives me a hug and tells me that I have made them feel better.  I just started a blog (headwrapguru.blogspot.com) called Alopecia Musings and I’ve written about the emotional ramifications of women’s hair loss and dating, finding the right hair piece, and my favorite one,  entitled “We are not our hair!”
 
More recently, I signed up to be a general volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program.  My intention is to help other women feel that they are not alone…that they are not abnormal, that their tears are perfectly justified and just as important…they will not cry forever.  The more people know about hair loss, the more comfortable those who have lost their hair will feel. 
 
And it’s all about feeling comfortable with yourself.
 

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 Copyright Ark Stories 2011

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