Welcome back to the Learning Curve, a monthly column where we unpack the complicated experience of accepting your own body in a world that doesn’t seem to want you to. This month, news editor Nicola Dall’Asen ponders her own experience with hair loss and the way it’s surprisingly damaged her body image.
“Oh, god,” I wail from the bedroom on a mild September afternoon.
My mother, visiting me in New York City from my hometown of Dallas, races right through my open doorway. I had surgery to replace a shattered disc in my lower spine mere days ago and am not capable of much other than sleeping and moaning. She’s worried I’m in pain, and I suuuuper am, but that’s not why I’m crying. It’s my hair. A big curly bunch of it scrunched up in my weakened fist. It wasn’t the first time I’d run a hand through my hair and felt a whole clump come out, but something about this particular instance — probably a mix of exhaustion, searing physical pain, and Oxycodone — broke me down entirely.
My body is a failure, I thought.
And, surprisingly, that thought had little to do with my back, which has caused chronic pain throughout my 20s and rendered me physically useless for most of 2021. Between my surgery and its excruciatingly slow recovery, rapid weight gain, unprecedented stress levels, and more, my body’s been thought a lot in the past 12 months. But nothing, not even all of that, has ever caused my own body image to crumble as much or as quickly as losing my hair has. Why?
My journey (pardon me for sounding like I’m on The Bachelorette) with hair loss has been an avalanche physically and emotionally. In the early spring, I noticed the very middle of the crown of my head was a tad thinner than usual. I chalked it up to extreme wear and tear, got bangs to conceal the area, and restrained myself from using heat and hair dye. Cut to the early summer and the entirety of my crown was thinning, so much so that I could see small patches of my scalp under the harsh, overhead lighting of my bathroom.