Stress manifests itself in many ways. During my transition to first year, I worried so much about my grades that my acne breakouts became worse than ever before. I lost ten pounds from eating irregularly and never had a proper sleep schedule. But none of these things particularly worried me: I had concealer for my pimples, breaks in between classes for naps, and losing weight, despite the probable long-term health consequences, was more preferable than the dreaded “freshman fifteen.” What plagued me the most was that I seemed to be losing a great deal of hair.
My hair would come out in clumps in the shower, to the point where I’d be glad for my near-sightedness. It littered the sink whenever I used my blow dryer. It created massive hairballs that collected on my carpet, and every time I cleaned out my comb. I began dreading visits to my hairdresser, mainly because he would always comment on how much less hair I had in comparison to the last time I had gone to see him.
I consulted my doctor, only to find she was equally baffled; my blood tests suggested everything was perfectly ordinary. She initially suggested iron supplements, but told me to stop after my iron levels became adequate despite no visible effects on my hair. I spent two and a half hours waiting in a walk-in clinic to get a different opinion, only to have my concerns dismissed. I switched shampoos, included more protein in my diet, and even stopped using straighteners and hair curlers altogether. But no matter how hard I tried, losing hair was the one thing I just couldn’t compensate for. I became acutely afraid of the inevitability of premature balding, for which there appeared to be no cure.
Most websites suggest hereditary reasons as the main cause of baldness. In addition to inheritance, they mention illness and of course, stress, which also tends to be the main explanation I get from friends after haranguing them with my complaints. But then I stumbled across a Marie Claire article on dealing with female hair loss, which mentioned roughly 24 percent of women equate losing hair to losing a limb. I began to wonder: what exactly constituted the exaggerated fear of losing all my hair? It wasn’t so much vanity as the abnormality with which we viewed female baldness.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I told myself how much easier it would be to deal with hair loss if I were a man. This is not to say that it isn’t also a concern for men, but to point out that male-patterned baldness is generally more accepted, particularly as we age. Dwayne Johnson is bald. Patrick Stewart is bald. Homer Simpson is bald. Even Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender is willingly bald. The problem is that my mind stalls when I try to think of female icons without ample amounts of hair as a part of their regular appearance. If 40 percent of people who deal with hair loss are women, then why do we have this perception that women losing hair is both uncommon and unseemly?
Yes, losing hair is an issue. It may even be an important indicator in terms of signalling that something is wrong with our physical health, or that something is wrong with our lifestyle, and it should definitely be addressed to the best of our abilities. What needs to change, however, is the level of apprehension with which we view it. In the words of Cersei Lannister as she commences her walk of shame; hair grows back. And if it doesn’t?
I will not cringe for them.