||I’ve always been very sensitive
and tend to overreact to stressful things. I think it comes
from my childhood - my father worked for the UN and as kids
we moved around the middle east a lot. As a result I’ve
always searched and struggled to feel secure. But, at that stage,
I wasn’t too alarmed about the hair loss. I’d always
had thick hair, so I thought it would grow back. But then more
patches started to appear, and they started to join up, until,
a year later, I had no hair at all on the back of my head. Then,
it started creeping up and up until I only had a few hairs left
on the top of my head. It was devastating, as if my body was
out of control. The doctor told me it was alopecia, and although
it may be stress-related, nobody knows what actually causes
it. He casually said, “Jo, you know there’s no cure,
don’t you?” I was in shock. He basically said,
“I can't do anything about it, now go away.”
‘It’s actually quite rare to lose all your hair on your
head. With alopecia, the immune system sees hair as a foreign
body and attacks the follicles to stop it growing. Most people
just get bald patches which recover, but, with some people,
hair loss is permanent.
‘When I lost my hair, I felt like a freak. It's a very,
very shameful thing for a woman. I've always been quite shy,
and I worried about not being attractive. My hair was the only
thing I liked about myself.
I have two glamorous
older sisters. Jenny’s hair is bigger than Jayne’s, but mine
was the biggest and people used to comment on it. It was very
dark, curly and feminine. It was the thing that made me feel
OK about myself.
Friends and family were wonderful, but you still feel incredibly
alone. Everybody talks about practical things, like getting
a wig, but nobody wants to discuss what it actually feels
like to lose your hair. How could they? My mother did say
things like “Oh Jo, I wish it had been me,”
which was sweet, but mostly we didn't talk about it. I can
understand why. In a way, it’s like someone is dying - what can you say?
‘Losing your hair is, in some ways, like losing a limb.
That sounds vain, but it’s to do with your femininity
and your sense of who you are. I do feel like something’s
been ripped away from me. How you look is very important and
when you lose your hair, so much is taken away. I felt there was nothing about myself that I could enjoy
|| and like any more.
I felt less than nothing.
‘At first, I used scarves and hats, and then bought my first
wig – a red, acrylic one. It was awful, like having a big, hot
itchy basket on your head all day. Most wigs are not very well-fitting,
so even walking outside on a windy day is a nightmare. You feel vulnerable
all the time, worrying it's going to come off and you'll be exposed.
You never feel safe. Even if you're sitting in a restaurant, someone
walking past could catch it on their cuff. I hated that wig so much
that when I got home each night, I'd kick it across the room.
‘I was single again, too, and the thought of meeting someone
seemed impossible. I've always been shy with men, and probably gave
off the wrong vibes because I felt so vulnerable and isolated. I didn't
want to go out, because I knew I would be noticed – and for
all the wrong reasons. And when I did go out to a party or meet someone
new, the first thing I'd blurt out was, “Hello, I'm Jo. I've
lost all my hair.” Then, there was usually a shocked silence.‘-
All my friends were saying, “Well, Jo, it can't get any worse.”
And then all my body hair fell out. In some ways, that was worse.
Losing your eyelashes and eyebrows is such a real, tangible thing
– your face looks naked and even
make-up can't hide it. And
not having a hair on my body
– no pubic hair, nothing
– is so strange and inhuman.
You feel like an
‘'At the beginning, though, I managed to feel quite brave
about being bald – I suppose I thought my hair would
soon grow back. I remember one summer, I used to go out without
a wig on. One night, some boys called me “slaphead ”,
which was a bit upsetting, but on the whole I didn't feel I was
being stared at. Yet, I'd always want to wear a wig when I was meeting
friends. It's easy to be bald when you're anonymous. But meeting
people one to one and looking someone in the eye is the hardest
thing. Even with friends, I imagine they think I'm hideous and feel
embarrassed for me. I try to imagine their shock - being
bald with no eyelashes is a devastating look. People think, “Oh
God, she must be really ill.”
‘Looking back, I was in complete panic mode at that time.
I'd always had a deep lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, and
I went under. I wasn't suicidal but I was incredibly low.
My life was unmanageable -
I just wanted to be like a normal girl. So,
I started therapy, which I still find helpful.
‘I also tried everything to make my hair grow back -