The other day, I bumped into a close female friend of mine who has long suffered from alopecia, which means hair loss. Over the years, I have worked with myriad clients and friends, all victims of permanent hair loss, along with many who have endured temporary hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. One client of mine even went completely bald as a result of stress—she lost all her hair following an extensive and consuming remodel of her home. Many women with hair loss issues come to Los Angeles in the hopes that the L.A. professionals will be able to help them. After all, if you can’t get great-looking hair in Hollywood, where can you go?
A surprisingly large percentage of females have either very thin hair or are completely bald. Of the total number of Americans who suffer from hair loss, up to forty percent are women. Research indicates that, in the United States alone, approximately 25-30 million women are affected by some form of hair loss. And men think they have it bad! At the very least, male baldness is widely accepted in most cultures, and very often is even regarded as sexy.
What are the causes of female hair thinning and hair loss? Common causes include autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, in combination with stress. Nutritional deficits, such as low-carb diets or imbalances of certain nutrients, such as Vitamin A, zinc, manganese, B6, essential fatty acids, and iron, can also cause women to lose their hair. Drug side effects and certain hormonal conditions can also cause female hair loss, as can birth control pills. Anything that has the potential to negatively affect our minds, our emotions, or our physical selves has the potential to induce hair loss.
Most women deal with their thinning hair in silence, and the secret is incredibly painful to keep. Hair loss is more in the closet than homosexuality these days, as women rarely discuss this issue even with their closest friends. Since hair loss is not life-threatening, the medical community deflates the significance of hair loss for women, offering little in the way of support or treatment. But female hair loss is certainly a big deal, no matter what the doctors say. The psychological pressure to conform to absurd standards of beauty and lifestyle are difficult enough—as it stands, women must attempt to stay in shape, wear the proper clothing, earn their own money, maintain perfect relationships, and raise decent children. Worries about hair loss only exacerbate the disparity between the modern woman and her idealized self-image, chipping away at her already fragile self-esteem.
Hair loss can occur as early as a woman’s teenaged years, played out under the microscope of intense peer pressure. In order to maintain any sense of positive self image, these young girls must lie to friends and potential dates about something so beyond their control. A newly divorced woman face similar obstacles—re-entering the world of dating and mating, this woman feels pressured to lie to her suitors about the status of her hair, or her lack thereof. When we imagine a woman at her most sensual, slowly stripping to climb into bed with her partner, her hair does not usually land next to her pile of sexy lingerie.
Amy Gibson was starring on a daytime soap opera when she started losing her hair from alopecia areata, an auto-immune condition that eventually left her permanently bald. At the onset, she was only 13 years old. She managed to keep her condition a secret through decades of soap stardom. Eventually, in an effort to help other women in similar situations go “from feeling like a victim to being victorious” (amyspresence.com), Gibson decided to break her silence. A brave and compassionate woman, she now publicly sports different wigs in a variety of colors and styles—and she looks stunning in all of them!
I met an older woman recently who permanently lost her hair after being given ether during the delivery of her two children; she has been wearing wigs for over 50 years. I don’t know what options she had when she first started wearing wigs, but these days, so many wonderful possibilities exist. From gorgeous full wigs made of high-grade Russian human hair to less expensive wigs made of coarser Indonesian or Chinese hair, or wigs crafted from a variety of impressive new synthetics, the options have considerably improved. It takes a full-fledged commitment to figure out what will work best for each person. For some, hair extensions are the answer; for others, a small piece to add fullness to the top of the head does the trick. For some women, a full wig is necessary. The level of comfort is also a viable consideration, as is the versatility of the piece—can a woman swim in her wig? Will the piece require a good amount of time and preparation in order for a woman to feel ready for public outings?
None of these considerations are trivial. They say a woman’s crowning glory is her hair. Without it, the world sees her as ill or disfigured, inevitably affecting the way she sees herself. Hair so powerfully symbolizes sexuality that it will take some time for us to be as neutral toward the idea of a balding woman as we are toward balding men.
My heart goes out to all the women who expend the enormous amounts of time, energy, and money it takes to manage their hair loss, and to those who suffer the psychological grief of losing their “crowning glory.” I extend a special thanks to those who, like Gibson, have become comfortable enough with their hair loss to break the silence of shame.