I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where long, luscious hair is a cultural staple. It’s not uncommon to see people with hair down to their waist. For most of my life, my hair grew past my ribcage and was dyed shades of pink and blue. Like many others, I didn’t think much of having hair until 2018, when my hair started falling out in clumps.
In February of that year, I went on a trip with my sister to Austin, Texas. As I waited for her to finish showering at the hotel, I ran my fingers through my hair and skimmed something smooth and cold. It felt instinctively wrong. I asked my sister to take a look and her eyes widened with panic. There was a dollar-coin-sized bald spot right in the center of the back of my head.
A handful of doctor visits later and I learned I had alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition where the body attacks your hair follicles. It’s unpredictable and there are no proven preventable treatments or cures, only steroid shots in the scalp when a patch shows up. From there, it’s a waiting game to see if hair regrows, while hair might fall out from elsewhere on your body.
The author learned she had alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss, in 2018.
Despite alopecia being mainly cosmetic, my mental health deteriorated over the following weeks. I felt silently suffocated by the endless list of societal beauty standards for women, especially in the western world. I’d wake up each morning analyzing the loose hairs on my pillow. I’d hold my breath every time the wind blew, potentially exposing my bald spot to strangers behind me. I dreaded washing my hair because I didn’t want to see how much would fall out.
Besides the day-to-day struggles, I worried no one would find me attractive — and that even I didn’t find myself attractive anymore.
I felt alone and isolated; I didn’t know anyone else with alopecia. While my friends and family were there to support me, there was only so much they could say or do. They couldn’t understand the nuances of this experience. I couldn’t find any support groups near me in Hawaii, and unfortunately, I couldn’t just hop in the car and drive somewhere else.
And that’s when I decided to turn to Instagram. While the platform has become known for worsening our mental health by making us feel bad about ourselves, I felt desperate for connection: and that was where I discovered other women going through the same thing I was, just by searching through alopecia-related hashtags.
One woman, Vanessa Rosa, …….