It’s 2:42am, and I can’t sleep.
Instead, I’m on Instagram.
After running through the usual gambit of timeline searching which includes “catching up with friends”, memes, and comment section wars, I search random hashtags to see things I usually don’t. I go down hashtag click holes which has me looking at armadillo farms, or hot air balloons, or what Croatia looks like this time of year. Within all of this, I may land on a page of interesting individuals, maybe someone with a physical ailment or mental illness, then I will start engaging with hashtags of other people living with conditions or ailments, which is interesting because I’m reading how other people describe their lives or express their outwardness towards whatever they may be dealing with, be it temporary or permanent. Amongst these posts are some brilliant stories and testimonials that stick with me.
Then I get more personal.
I search things that I’ve dealt with. Heath issues, insecurities, and the like. Things that I’m currently dealing with (for those who understand, these are the type of roads that you don’t want to go down when you can’t sleep, but here we are). One of the most recent ailments that I’ve been dealing with for the past 5 years is alopecia, but it’s more on my mind recently because it has gotten progressively worse in the past 3 months.
I search the hashtag of alopecia and see a mixture of hair restoration adds, people wearing wigs, and folks that are bald as a cue ball, living their life through Instagram; they just finished a 5k, or they’re at their niece’s birthday party. Some have their entire page dedicated to awareness, others have the occasional post that discusses it. In the instances where folks are talking about their alopecia, it’s usually something overly positive, like ‘how wonderful it is to be “different”’, hashtag “baldisbeautiful”, “nohairdontcare”, folks that are embracing their alopecia, and ‘they wouldn’t want it any other way’. Reading testimonials such as these are great to see, not just with alopecia, but whatever someone is dealing with something. I scroll through a few, and then I switch my focus on to something else.
Throughout the regular hours of my day, I think about those testimonials. I don’t know if this is really how they feel, but I take what they’re saying for face value. They love their baldness. Alopecia has compromised my hair for the past five years, but recently, I’ve entered a new arena. I lost my facial hair, including my eyebrows. To be candid, it’s been difficult, and I’m not at the place where I can embrace my new look in the same way in which they do. I think I eventually will, but because the loss of my eyebrows was very sudden, it’s still something that I’m trying to understand. I’m still in the grieving phase. I know that sounds extreme, but I touch on that later in the article. I’ve never been an forward-facing person on social media. I’ve also never been an overly vain person, but having alopecia is a test to my vanity. It’s compromising. It takes something away that I’ve had all my life and something that I’ve always loved. Those who have known me in my 20s know how important my hair has been to me throughout my adult life. It was once a symbol of my identity. To lose one of my cherished identifiers over time, and then to lose my eyebrows, something that is somewhat of a facial standard almost suddenly, has been something that I am learning to navigate.
Here’s the overarching reality. My appearance as changed, but I’m not sick. I’m not terminally ill. I acknowledge that my loss is not something that compromises my health or my way of life. People have experienced terrible accidents where they can lose their mobility overnight, or become sick and lose functionality or ability to be who they once were. There are people who are dealing with significant loss that is a more substantial battle in many other ways than what I’m dealing with, and those are folks who I wish are not overlooked when thinking about my loss. But my loss is still a loss, and it is a loss of something that is personal, and the 5 stages of loss are things that I think about. I want my loss of hair to be validated, while at the same time understanding the insignificance of what hair is. This is what I think about during those times where I feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. In the end, the understanding of the insignificance overrides the feelings of grief and loss that I have, because I understand that the idea of true compromise is something that my loss of hair doesn’t affect.
Believe it or not, the hardest part about losing my eyebrows, basically over the span of 2 months, has to do with the people closest to me. There have been times when I’ve been at events and public spaces where people don’t know who I am. In those instances, I feel more secure since no one has a reference to what I may have looked like a few months prior. They probably think I’m starting a new trend or something. On the flip side, that’s not the same feeling I have when I see a friend whom I haven’t seen in a year or two, because they know I look different. We all age, but how do I explain what happened to my eyebrows?! This makes it strangely difficult to insert myself into social settings where folks have known me for a while, but what helps me get through those situations is the self-reaffirmation that these are my friends, and I am blessed to have them. I can also imagine that there are some folks (especially in LA) who have circles of friends where the common connecter is vanity, and no disrespect to any of my friends, but we’re not that. In any situation, I know that my “broken-ness” (a word that my friend Kordae used to explain issues that we all have, and a word that I’ve embraced) is different than yours, because I know you have something that you’re dealing with, or struggling with. Something that struggles to bring you out of the house at times, or something that you avoid, cover-up, or don’t like talking about. Well, we can talk about it together. My outward broken-ness reminds me and those around me that it’s ok to be flawed. My interactions with friends are unchanged, as are my interactions with strangers. The more I think about it, the only one that seems to care about it at all is me.
That’s why I’m writing this article. Hopefully, me putting this out there will answer questions you may have, and invite others to discuss my issue, and for you to share with me yours. My struggles with my new appearance are admittedly brief. I’ll feel down for a few hours every so often, but those feelings pass. I reflect back on those testimonials that I read on Instagram, and to the folks out there, not who are dealing with things that are infinitely more significant and serious, but for folks who have alopecia, and are living with no eyebrows, and I mean living their best life. I have a newfound respect for those people, and I salute them. I also recognize those who have dealt with it on a public stage, like athletes Charlie Villanueva, Ryan Shazier, and Joshua Dobbs, or actor Anthony Carrigan, or model YessirMichael.* These folks normalize what I’m dealing with while making it look easy, and without knowing, they encourage me to wear my marker with pride and acknowledgment. Alopecia is not something that they chose, but it is what they have, and their deficiencies did not prevent them from being who they are today.
I don’t know if my hair will ever grow back. Maybe it will in some capacity, but it is definitely something that I cannot wait on. My new look is this. I embrace it because I have to, and it is me.
I’ve always said, growing up in a society that uses a Eurocentric standard for beauty, children who do not fit that mold have to learn to love themselves…our bodies, our struggles, our culture, and all of the things that are included with being a person of color. That’s a conversation for another day, but I would consider that my story a similar to that experience. In addition to that, the “learning to love” theory is never over. It’s continuous. As we age, as our lives change, as people and things come and go, the idea of loving our self, being kind to ourselves, and being our own best friend is always important.
- Footnote: I realize that the people who I’ve named are all men, and that is intentional. It is not to diminish women who deal with alopecia, because I am certain that women have their own set of battles when dealing with this disease, especially when it comes to traditional standards of beauty. Without getting too nuanced, I know women use wigs and makeup to counterbalance their alopecia, and men normally don’t. I also recognize women in the public eye who deal with alopecia, such as Viola Davis and Keira Knightly, both of whom have spoken about it. I want to acknowledge women and non-binary people who deal with alopecia, and that they have their own battles as men, some of which are congruent, and others that are not. This is my personal story, and how I’m living with alopecia.