What Losing My Hair In My 20s Taught Me

Madeleine Bowden

We are taught that our hair is our crown, every Disney character in history has had a head of bountiful, flowing locks, even the villains sported some killer do’s - case and point; Ursula’s fierce silver crop.

The first hair cut I ever received was at the hands of my mother. Famed for my blood curdling screams whenever a brush came within a foot of my head, my mum had finally had enough and, after some stellar persuasion at my end, eventually cut it all off (not before saving a plaited lock because, you know, mums).

Ever since then I have had quite a liberating relationship with my hair. Save some glorious curls in my early and late teens I have always cut and coloured it at whim.

It’s just hair, it grows back.

I was around 22 when I really started to notice my hair thinning. It was quite long at this point and I had taken to dying it black every few months as was the trend in the golden age of Megan Fox. What I hadn’t considered though, is that the starkness of a white scalp is only more evident when met with its raven counter part.

I was on holiday with a particularly insensitive boyfriend at the time and he asked me why my hair was so thin. I was so taken a back that all I could say was, ’I didn’t know it was’. I was then told that it would be a ‘deal breaker’ for most men that I had thinning hair. A few months later a hairdresser pointed out that I had ‘about three hairs on my head’. It was a year of rude awakenings.

I became so embarrassed that I didn’t go to a hairdressers for six years. Instead I had my mum and later my now husband cut my hair at home (nothing cements a relationship quite like your boyfriend navigating his way round your tiny bathroom making sure the bottom of your hair is straight).

I changed my parting, bought an inordinate amount of plumping serums, tried anti-androgenic contraceptive pills, overdosed on vitamins, changed my diet, spent too much money on DHT unblocking shampoos, topical lotions and oral ‘miracle’ pills and even found myself trying not to stand under spotlights or in direct sunlight (easier said than done considering I live in a country that only gets 1493 hours of sun a year on average). Nothing really helped and if it did it wasn’t much. It became debilitating.

Losing your hair is hard enough as it is, but coupled with working in an industry where the way you look and making other people look good are at the forefront - you feel like you’re selling a lie. Add impossibly high standards of beauty and femininity into the mix and I felt utterly lost, alone and desperate.

After battling my hair loss secretly, a few years ago I stopped getting my periods. I went to the doctors and was referred to a specialist to have a ultrasound where they found multiple cysts on my ovaries. I had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and my testosterone was 4.6 times higher than it should be - a side affect being Androgenic Alopecia. As hard as it was to hear I was actually relieved to have a reason and why I was losing my hair.

The next revelation came when I was asked to partake in a hair and beauty campaign and to be honest it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. I thought about saying no but money, my inherent need to please and embarrassment made me say yes.

That was the moment I had to say out loud that I had Androgenic Alopecia.

Surprisingly no one screamed in horror, pointed, laughed, called me less of a woman and, aside from a few ‘pity’ looks, it wasn’t mentioned again. Being vulnerable is hard but that was when I realised that this ever-present elephant I had been carrying around was only visible to me.

Related...

Ultimately stress does not help at all and once I was open and stopped fretting about it all the time I found that my hair got a lot better, it will never be the same but better is great. Hair effected by Androgenic Alopecia isn’t famed for it’s rapid regrowth rate but not letting it rule my world has helped insurmountably and talking about it has given me access to knowledge about products like minoxidil - one of the only lotions I found to promote any semblance of regrowth and Nanogen/ Toppik - hair thickening fibres that helped me so much when my hair was at its worst. It sounds trite but knowledge really is power and ladies, we’re nothing if not powerful.

Seven things I have learnt:

1. Speak your truth, take the power out of the embarrassment. I’m not saying run around and tell anyone who will listen to look at your hair and how thin it is but treat it like any affliction and speak openly about it.

2. Don’t be paranoid - likelihood is no one has even noticed (you may the centre of your own world but you’re not the centre of everyone else’s.)

3. DON’T spend money on overpriced ‘miracle hair growth’ treatments, the results are minimal in Androgenic Alopecia and you will only be even more deflated when you don’t wake up with a full mane three months later.

4. Invest in a good hairdresser, even if just to make yourself feel better because babes, losing your hair is hard.

5. Listen the fuck out of India Arie’s ‘I am not my hair’. It is an anthem and a sentiment that will hit you right in your heart.

6. Don’t hide it from your partner, it will be harder than telling them and if they care they aren’t worth your precious time.

7. You’re aloud a pity party but don’t stay there too long, there’s too much life to live.