Historically, socially and culturally, hair is a symbol of youth, sexuality and above all, femininity. Baldness on the other hand is often associated with the caricature of the middle-aged man and is not a condition usually aligned with women, especially young women. As an issue that affects such a large proportion of us at some point in our lives, why isn’t there a greater level of discussion surrounding female hair loss and its causes? Female hair loss is one of a great number of topics which affect women that are not deemed suitable for public discourse. Why not? Because bald women somehow don’t fit into society’s expectations of what a woman should look like.
Alopecia Areata, is an auto-immune hair loss condition where the follicle sheds in almost circular patches. It’s something I have suffered with since I was sixteen.When I first noticed the small, shiny round patch of skin that had appeared on my scalp where my blonde hair used to be, I felt gross. I felt as though I wasn’t a ‘proper’ girl anymore, because ‘proper’ girls have long, thick, luxurious hair, right? All I initially wanted was for a public figure to come forward and share their experiences with it too. I felt as though this would validate my experience, and make me feel more comfortable with my decreasing level of hair.
This ideal was highlighted earlier this year in Emily Ratajkowski’s Instagram post celebrating her partnership with Kerastase. Ratajkowski captioned the post, “hair is a fundamental part of beauty, femininity and identity.” Whilst Ratajkowski probably hadn’t accounted for the reaction that this statement would provoke or the implication of her comment, what it does show is the ingrained societal view on the relationship between women and their hair. The implication here was, no hair = not beautiful, not feminine, not identifiable as a woman. At the heart of the issue here, is not Ratajkowski’s comment, but society’s construction of femininity that resulted in an ill-advised caption like this in the first place.
Bald women are scarcely, if ever, represented within the media. Despite the occasional magazine feature, the coverage is sporadic and is only likely to be consumed by those with some interest in the topic. This is something that needs radical overhaul and the only way to do this is to deconstruct society’s man-made ideal of femininity. Obviously, this is far easier said than done, but it is possible.
Recently, journalist Bryony Gordon shared a photograph on Twitter with her bald patch proudly on show. For someone who is forever in fear of a gust of wind disrupting my remaining hair, strategically placed to cover my bald patches (it’s highly likely that they are still on full display, but it makes me feel better), this was monumental. Gordon accompanied the photograph with a tweet, “what I love about these pictures […] is how I am totally rocking my bald patch in public with zero shame or embarrassment. A seemingly small thing, but big to me.” Big to me too, Bryony! Gordon also happened to be meeting the Royal Family at the time the photograph was taken, not exactly a low-key event. For a woman in the public eye to unashamedly show her bald patches to the world and it’s cameras, was a massive step forward for me, and I’m sure for many others too.
To have any chance of changing the societal link between hair and femininity we must shun the temptation to cover balding patches and not feel that we have to succumb to wig-wearing. I know how tempting it is. It’s honestly my worst nightmare for someone to realise that I don’t have a full head of hair and the amount of times that I have Googled where to get specialist hair extensions is endless. However, by doing so I can’t help feeling that I’m giving in to some kind of construct that dictates not only how I should look but also how other people think I should look too. This man-made construction of womanhood needs to be re-evaluated and the only way to do this is through awareness and discussion, because hair (or lack of it) should never dictate how ‘feminine’ a woman is considered by society.
By Helena Allfrey
Follow Helena on Twitter
Follow Helena’s blog