I’m a beauty editor and I’ve been bald since I was 25 years old. There, I’ve said it.
When I pitched this essay idea to Baze, I wasn’t sure if I had the courage to write the piece in the first place. Could I write 1,000 words on something as painful as my hair loss without breaking down into a complete weepy mess? Would my bold declaration embarrass my partner? Could I let the entire world know that I secretly look like George Jefferson underneath my weave?
Apparently not on that last one, which is why I decided to write this anonymously.
The balding process began my freshman year of college when a local hairdresser noticed a bald patch about the size of a dime at the crown of my head. I wasn’t alarmed since a botched box-braiding job by my cousin left me with thin edges anyway. Plus, I was away from home for the first time and was still in the process of finding a local stylist who could handle my hair. Maybe bouncing around to various stylists and salons caused some damage?
Whatevs, I thought. It’ll grow back.
The little patch would gradually become the size of a penny, but I still wasn’t concerned. I graduated and was back with my regular stylist in New York and of course she was going to straighten everything out -- so I thought. I was completely unprepared when my scalp went to hell in what felt like T-minus two seconds. Not only was the patch growing in size and at a much faster rate, it was also irritated.
“Girl, I have this one spot on my head that I keep digging in. My hair is a little thin where I scratch, too,” is what I heard over and over again, but I didn’t feel normal. Every night I went to bed wearing gloves so I wouldn’t gouge my scalp and every morning I would rise to find the fingertips of said gloves ripped to shreds and blood underneath my nails. I scratched like I had poison ivy. It was torture.
I bought every sort of healing oil, calming balm and soothing cream to ease the inflammation. Nothing worked. I kept digging and my scalp got bloodier and balder. Styling my hair became a game of strategic placement. If it was windy, I was screwed. I couldn’t use hairspray because the alcohol burned my wounds. Sex became complicated. Doggy style meant he had a prime view of my thinning locks, while the missionary position put my strategically placed hairs at risk. When you’re losing your hair, you stress about EVERYTHING.
A trip to a dermatologist would have been a logical solution, but as a recent college graduate, I was no longer covered under my parent’s insurance and since I was considered a full-time freelancer at my first magazine gig, I didn’t have benefits. I couldn’t afford a bunch of doctor’s visits and prescriptions, but I could afford a weave. I gave up, waved the white flag and copped some fake hair.
Today, celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Nicki Minaj post pictures of themselves sans weave or wig and talk openly about using extensions, but back in the early 2000s, folks were a little more undercover. I felt ashamed. I wasn’t getting a weave by choice, but by necessity. I was angry and felt cursed with bad genes. Both my parents suffered from hair loss and I was their defective offspring.
A year later, my condition worsened to the point where I didn’t have enough hair to hide the tracks of my weave. For the first time in my life, I walked with my head down. I couldn’t face the world. I was depressed. I thought I was an ugly troll and felt unfeminine. Silk scarves and wraps covered up a multitude of sins and became my savior, but who was I without my hair? I was always the girl with long, thick hair, and I lost my identity and all self worth without it.
Luckily, I worked for a major publication and my role was growing, so I had access to various perks. I was getting swag, complimentary treatments, and publicists were pitching their fancy dermatologist clients left and right. I cashed in my freebies and started getting laser treatments, which ultimately failed. I tried every thickening shampoo, topical medication and miracle grow supplement on the market. Epic fail. My depression worsened as a result.
Right when I felt there was no hope, I discovered a little gem called MHN Hair Studio on Madison Avenue, while working on a writing assignment. I scheduled an appointment for a consultation and the manager looked horrified as soon as I peeled off my scarf and revealed a partial weave that was surrounded by open cuts and scabs. I secretly died when she put on gloves and began poking around my head with what looked like a wooden tongue depressor. She didn’t want to touch me and probably couldn’t since there was dried blood all over my head.
At that moment, the dam burst and I started to sob uncontrollably. Good god, I’m a health hazard! Am I the worst case she’s ever seen? Am I a leper? She explained the hair restoration process, which was essentially a sheer net of natural hair that was secured to my head with an adhesive. However, she was concerned that the adhesive would further irritate my scalp, considering its condition. Cue the despair.
I continued searching for answers and doctors were still clueless. Maybe it was hereditary? Maybe it was damage from years of chemical straightening? There were tons of maybe this and maybe that, but never a definitive answer.
In my endless scouting, I ended up visiting a famous dermatologist who prescribed me the controversial drug Accutane as a last ditch effort. Another celebrity doctor had me on the drug a year before, but it turned out my dosage was too low. Within a month, my scalp was healing without incident. I returned to MHN and got my dream weave. I had to shell out $1,500, but I felt liberated. I had hair again and I no longer had to hide!
It has been almost 20 years since my ordeal began, but I’m crying as I type. The memories are very raw and they continue to haunt me. And outside of the stylists at MHN, no one has seen me without my hair, which makes me feel exposed and incredibly vulnerable. Plus, I’m afraid to ask myself, ‘Where would I be without MHN?’ Would I still be the same chronically depressed hot mess I was back in 2000 to 2003? I’m bald and found a solution, but how are women today coping? What if you can’t afford a hair system that starts at $1,500?
I recently borrowed a book called "Breaking the Silence on Women’s Hair Loss" by Candace Hoffman from my stylist, Albert, and, lord have mercy, I wish I read it years ago. While the author doesn’t necessarily offer solutions (she battles hair loss as well), she does highlight potential causes, provides resources and overall, let’s you know that you’re not suffering alone.
There are tons of women who frequent MHN from all walks of life. White, black, young and old, there’s a community of ladies who are struggling with this issue. Trust me, ladies, I feel your pain. Hair loss is debilitating to say the very least, and I felt that it was my duty as a writer and industry insider to let you know that you’re not alone. We’re in it together.