Hair is identity, hair is personal. Hair often defines our sense of self, and its loss can rob someone of their identity. And even if you’ve never experienced hair loss, this is relevant for you. Many of us have experienced something in life that has robbed us of identity or prevented its expression.
Alopecia Areata (AA), a specific type of alopecia, is an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss on the scalp, and even face and body, and is associated with a higher risk of other autoimmune conditions.
Many patients with AA (as well as other types of alopecia) suffer from significant anxiety, stress, and psychosocial burden, especially as it relates to their hair loss.
Social stigma only further perpetuates these experiences and insecurities.
Alopecia may not be a chosen path, but choosing to pursue treatment is. We should encourage people to be comfortable in their own skin, with or without hair. Every scalp, regardless of the presence of hair, should be considered as beautiful.
As dermatologists we treat many men with alopecia as well. Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss, and affects a huge proportion of the population, disproportionately in males. Yet many men choose not to pursue treatment as it’s more socially acceptable for men to not have hair. Balding in men is often portrayed as a coming of age, ushering in wisdom and a normal aging process.
Women, of course, are not held to this same standard. For women, hair is viewed as a sign of social power, of beauty, of vitality. Our female patients often share their experiences of shame as a result of hair loss, being asked whether they’re sick or undergoing cancer treatment.
Media. Wake up. This is an opportunity to push societal perception, not only toward a more equitable view of hair between men and women, but of empathy toward the impact medical conditions can have on our identities.
Let us use this moment to come together for a common purpose: acceptance.
While we do not condone a violent approach to defending the cause, Smith’s actions offer an opportunity to reflect on this issue and build change. Every voice matters and together we are stronger.
We must embrace all people no matter their shape, size, skin color, hair type, or presence or absence of hair.
Dr. Lo Sicco on behalf of the Alopecia Justice League
Photo Credits: Harper's Bazar