We Need to Destigmatize Female Baldness

I get it. It’s not pretty.

Our idea of beauty has been molded by tradition, what society has deemed normal and acceptable. We are taught anything that strays from the usual is ugly and wrong. Boys liking the color pink and girls without hair make us cringe with discomfort and confusion.

Even before we are born, society begins to classify our favorite colors, toys, hobbies, careers, and even our appearance. Girls are expected to be cute, little dolls with porcelain skin and rosy cheeks. Picture perfect hair is an essential aspect of this image.

As the years go on, bows are traded in for highlights, but the importance of having gorgeous hair never ceases. We face it every single day. We’re exposed to it when other girls at school braid each others’ hair while praising its beauty. We see it on television, as commercials repeatedly try to sell us their products so we can achieve long, glowing locks.

Despite the encouragement, some young girls are incapable of upholding this ideal hair image for reasons beyond their control. I was one of these girls. At the age of 7, I began pulling out my hair. Not one or two strands, either. I was creating bald spots at a terrifying pace. Eventually, the spots evolved to the point where most of my scalp was left sore and bare. I was diagnosed with trichotillomania, a disorder characterized by compulsive hair pulling. It changed my entire life.

I spend a great deal of time analyzing the years of my life I suffered the most. My memories are a puzzle. I try to unscramble the pain, figuring out which piece of agony goes where and why it fits in a certain place. After a while, I was able to identify the source of my shame. Surprisingly, it had little to do with the disorder itself. Certainly pulling out your own hair isn’t exactly the most prideful activity, and it in no way made me feel good about myself. It provided me with temporary relief and long-lasting devastation. However, the act of pulling out my hair wasn’t what upset me or anyone else. What truly bothered us was the baldness.

I can remember the look of helplessness in my father’s eyes as he engraved something in my mind I already knew. “It’s OK for boys to be bald, but not girls.” It didn’t seem fair. I knew it was true, but didn’t know why. As I grew older, I realized the stigma of female baldness came from nothing more than traditional expectations of beauty.

With no help from mainstream subliminal messages regarding female beauty, I have grown to see the bald me as a beautiful woman. There is much more to me than what is on my head. I am full of knowledge, love and acceptance. Hair is an accessory, not a necessity.

It makes me incredibly happy to see more women are bravely accepting their baldness and going out into the world as their true selves. However, while the stigma surrounding this “trend” is much less than it was 50 years ago, we still aren’t where we need to be with it.

People’s immediate reaction to a bald woman is that she is a cancer patient. In reality, there are a variety of reasons why a woman may be bald, including but not limited to: alopecia, cancer, trichotillomania or even choice. Many people with trichotillomania actually find that maintaining a shaved head keeps them from relapsing. Oh, the irony… Assuming someone’s baldness indicates sickness, when it is actually helping them stay healthy.”

Unfortunately, it may be a while before society accepts female baldness, but you can do something while we wait. The next time you see a girl or a woman exposing their bare head to the world, think something other than, “That’s ugly,” or “She must be sick.” Instead, think, “That’s unique,” or “That looks awesome.” Had I experienced such compassion earlier in life, I would’ve been able to love and accept myself long before I really did. I could’ve been spared years of negligent bullying and unnecessary loneliness.

the author as a small child

Learn to see beauty in a different light, other than what society has taught you. When your friends or family say something negative about a female without hair, educate them. Teach your children it’s OK for a girl to be bald. You never know what impact you’ll have until you take the step. The girl you or your kids make fun of is probably someone just like me.

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