As women, our relationship with our hair is fraught.
From Lady Godiva riding horseback covered only by her flowing locks. to fairytale princesses with impossibly thick tresses, we’re sold early that hair is intrinsically linked to femininity.
The average woman spends approximately $50,000 on her hair over her lifetime, and almost two hours a week washing and styling her hair. That’s not including the time spent despairing over whether it’s too short, thin, frizzy, dry or grey.
It doesn’t stop at head hair. Body hair is ripped, plucked, lasered and threaded. Lashes are plumped and permed. Hair is a multi-billion dollar industry.
But what if you started to lose it?
This week, the Mamamia Out Loud podcast received a listener question that had us stumped.
A 21-year-old (who asked not to be named) has just been diagnosed with androgenic alopecia and it’s hit her hard.
So far not one day has gone by when I haven’t thought about it.
I look in the mirror and instead of looking at my general face like I used to I look at my hair. I get nervous brushing it, or when someone touches it, just in case it falls out. And I’m now super sensitive when my girlfriends chat or complain about their hair I want to scream at them, ‘you don’t know how lucky you are!’
Some days I think, ‘stuff it, I just want to live and be happy and who cares?’ and others I think ‘I must cling on to every strand I have.
I feel so alone with this issue.
So we called someone who has been there.
Shannon Dooley is a creative professional and artist – and the founder of RetroSweat – who lives with alopecia universalis.
Shannon lost all her hair in clumps, over about 10 days. Listen here:
She says alopecia is not life threatening but can change the course of your life. And the shock was immense.
“My hair began falling out and it fell out extremely quickly over the course of about 10 days in 2002, so when I was 17, at the start of my HSC year,” says Shannon.
“When I think back, I was definitely in shock. But I have strong memories of my mother sitting beside me crying and me running my fingers through my hair, and sitting in the bath with the shower running and just putting it on the edge of the bath while I was showering,” she says.
With the disease striking so quickly, the dance teacher struggled with her diagnosis, but says the people around her adjusted quickly. She said in the past, friends talking about their hair was frustrating but that she’s reached a level of normality about it.
“I had a very good friend call me crying last year because the hairdresser had dyed her hair a colour she didn’t like. I just let her talk and I let her cry… I just said to her, ‘look, I don’t think I’m the right person to be having this conversation with.’ The fact that she had forgotten was actually almost a compliment. My condition has become so normal for her that she didn’t even think,” the 32-year-old says.