Can there be a happy ending to a hair loss story that is riddled with guilt and shame? Not without some serious unpacking!
This is a guest post, cross posted from Elle from Elle's Hair Corner.
You can also find Elle on Instagram @ elleshaircorner.ca
Elle is an incredible writer and takes us deep into the shame and guilt associated with hair loss. Enjoy!!
Shame is inherently tied to our perceived inability to live up to societal standards. We are slowly conditioned from a young age to believe we ought to exist in a particular way to be accepted, and when something gets in the way of that, it’s easy for shame to creep in. Being suddenly faced with looking different gives you automatic entrance into the arena of public judgment and fuels the fear thereof, internalizing the shame. This is where the importance of NORMALIZING kicks in, as well as the need for challenging socially constructed beauty ideals. One can do this individually and it can occur collectively. We all know somebody who rocked the buzz cut or the blue mohawk to “stick it to the man” before it was trendy. Those people took it upon themselves as individuals to free themselves of the pressure to exist in a certain way. They showed up, for themselves, as their selves, authentically. But for those of us who haven’t been so bold, it’s been indoctrinated into us that girls ought to wear pink, and be nice, and have their hair just so. Flowing locks and bikini bods being hailed as the ultimate show of femininity; makeup seen as a rite of passage for girls of a certain age. Yes, there are pressures on men (and others on the gender spectrum) to look a certain way, and a man’s own experience with body insecurity, whether related to hair loss or not, is valid and is, too, shaped by that same ingrained thinking about how they “should” be. But hair loss presents a uniquely different set of challenges for women in many cultures where hair is equated with beauty. So loosing that hair can make us now feel inadequate since we may never again have biological hair that is “desirable”. This standard by which we measure the “adequacy” of our hair is used as bait to sell us all sorts of products intended to regrow or strengthen our hair (this also applies to skin, shape, and lifestyle in general!). We’re lured by promises of sprouting new hair and regaining our beauty that once was. Then we’re left feeling even more ashamed when these potions don’t deliver. Sure, I see the occasional commercial for men’s minoxidil, but the majority of such marketing is geared toward women just to remind us that we will never be good enough. Add to that the fact that most wig companies market their products using models who’ve been made up and dressed by teams of stylists and makeup artists, with professional lighting, filtering and editing. Imagine one’s disappointment when the wig arrives and doesn’t have quite the impact it had on the website. There is much that is being done to normalize female hair loss and other body image issues. The body positivity movement has given us, collectively and individually, the opportunity to pause and reflect on what we have been led to believe about how one “should” look. This is the remedy to shame… breaking down those long held beliefs and questioning them. On an individual level, it sparks a shift in one’s thinking that they can embrace their physical self as they are, or they can take control and make any physical changes they desire. And collectively, it unites those with common experiences of overcoming the stigma which creates a ripple effect amongst others with a similar story. While I feel much less ashamed about my hair loss now that I’ve processed my hair loss trauma over the last 15 years, I still battle with feelings of guilt. I feel guilty that to have that socially desirable hair, I will spend thousands of dollars over my lifetime on alternative hair. Thousands of dollars that could otherwise be spent on my children’s education, donating to charity, or saving for retirement. I used to feel guilty for obsessing about my hair, for spending hours styling it just so, or for missing out on opportunities for fear that my hair might get noticed. It can be confusing, and further compact your guilt when faced with comments from others that “you don’t need hair to be beautiful” or that it is vain to give so much energy to something so seemingly trivial when hair is the very thing you can’t stop fussing over. And on top of the guilt of spending this money on myself, there’s the ethics of human hair sourcing to consider. It is well-known in the hair loss community that there are unsavory tactics used to source human hair for extensions, wigs and hair pieces. It is difficult to know exactly where hair is coming from. It is difficult to know whether those labourers making wigs, hair toppers and extensions are being paid fairly, and whether “donors” are compensated and/or freely giving of the hair for the purpose of creating products that will hit the retail market. So I already feel somewhat ashamed about my sparse crown and guilty about needing to buy hair, I stumble upon some new guilt wondering whether someone has potentially been exploited for the hair that now sits atop my own head. It feels icky to be faced with the idea of buying mysterious hair whose origins are unknown, and so-called “ethical” hair, which comes at a premium, is out of reach for many. Phew! That’s a load off! I hope you are catching on to a theme here on my blog… that hair loss is never a cut and dry issue with a straightforward solution! Here’s how I’m combatting this guilt: I try to be a conscious consumer in my purchases how and when I can. I choose to primarily purchase my own clothing, my children’s clothing, and household items secondhand when possible (did you know you can also purchase hair secondhand?). I try my best to shop locally for staple food items when I can as I can get a better sense of the working conditions of the people that work on the farms and in packaging plants. I contribute to charitable organizations that promote causes that speak to me. We try to reduce our consumption of wasteful or unnecessary items. I will remain cognizant of the ethical issues in the hair trade, and if/when possible to verify the origin of the hair I’m purchasing, I will do so. However, the lack of transparency in the hair business makes it difficult to know for sure, so I will channel my guilt into being an all around conscious consumer when and where I can. I encourage all hair wearers to ask the tough questions, to encourage vendors to obtain ethically sourced materials, and to just continue the conversations about the ethics of the hair industry. There also comes a time when one makes the decision to prioritize their own needs. If you are struggling with hair loss, and you breathe a sigh of relief when you put on your alternative hair (that cost you a small fortune!), inhale that relief, and exhale that guilt! Yes, it is expensive, but if this is the choice you are making to help you cope, YOU are worth it! In no way am I implying that one SHOULD or MUST feel ashamed or guilty for wearing hair, because for some, it is a saving grace when faced with the devastating impacts of hair loss. Being conscious of our own guilt and shame is important. Name it as such. Sit with it for a while. Is it helping you or holding you back? Is it making your hair loss journey more painful than it needs to be? Give yourself permission to let *some* of it go… I say some because hanging on to a healthy level of guilt will serve as your constant reminder to be a conscious consumer ;). What are you grappling with the most on your journey? I want to know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org