The Mighty Logo

My Trichotillomania Targets the 2 Areas I Associate With Feminine Beauty

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

My story is not dissimilar to the countless others I’ve read online. I was 11 years old, on the cusp of puberty, and one day, while looking in the mirror, I noticed an errant eyelash. It was growing ever so slightly out of alignment with the others, and so… I pulled it out. Henceforth began my lifelong battle with trichotillomania, the name for the disorder coined in 1889, from the Greek word “thris,” meaning hair, “tillien,” meaning to pull and of course “mania,” meaning madness.

When I am in the grips of an episode, “madness” seems the perfect descriptor. It’s an obsessive, compulsive need to pull at my hair — sometimes triggered by stress, other times it strikes when I’m simply sitting on the couch with nothing better to do. I can hear that voice in the back of my mind screaming, “No, Cloe, you’ve done so well growing it out, don’t spoil it now!” But alas, that sweet relief as a hair pops from its root is just too consuming to be overpowered by any amount of my rational thinking.

Trichotillomania affects an estimated 4 percent of the world’s population. You wouldn’t know it though, because I believe many of us are the masters of subterfuge. When I’m recovering from an episode, and my eyebrows are patchy and nowhere near “on fleek” and I have no eyelashes on my top lid, I go to great lengths to ensure no one sees me in my natural state. Before I head off to work, I’ll spend an hour applying a heavy armor of makeup with all the battle accoutrements — false lashes, liquid liner, brow pomade. If I have to pop down to the shops, I’ll wear sunglasses. There have been times when I’ve even slept in my makeup if I knew my boyfriend might see me in the morning before I’ve had a chance to reapply a fresh face.

Of course I’ve been caught by family, friends and co-workers. My stomach drops when I notice their eyes lingering a little too long, searching for the lashes that just aren’t there. Then I see their foreheads furrow in perplexity as realization dawns on them. Most of the time they’ll say nothing, maybe thinking it’s too “freaky” or awkward. But if they ever do ask the question, I’ll generally mumble something about stress and then try anything in my power to extricate myself from the discussion as quickly as possible.

Because, to be quite honest, like so many other people struggling with trich, I haven’t opened up about my condition to many people. I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for almost six years, and we’ve never even discussed it. “How is that possible?” I hear you ask. Oh, I’m sure he knows. But you know, he’s never broached the topic, so neither have I. Besides, how do you explain something so absurd? “Hey babe, FYI I get psychological pleasure from ripping out my own eyelashes. Also, we’re out of milk.”

And therein lies the crux of the issue, and what I’ve struggled with the most throughout. It’s simply not an easy thing to disclose, and so I’d rather hide it away, because I feel it’s shameful. I feel ashamed of my condition, and I feel ashamed that I cannot stop. And then that shame is compounded with guilt because I know I shouldn’t hide it, but I do.

I tell myself I am a fabulous queen every day, but if I were truly at ease in my own skin, would I purposefully conceal something that has affected my life for over a decade, and something that medicine tells me I will probably live with until death? Oftentimes I’ve felt like my whole appearance revolves around deception, and my excuses for it run the gamut from beauty standards to humiliation. In this cruel world, it feels like every bit of female body hair is unfairly ripe for scrutiny, and dealing with trich for me is a great illuminator of just how much importance we place on the stuff. My trichotillomania affects the two areas I personally consider most associated with feminine beauty — eyelashes and eyebrows. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve despaired over the fact that my hair pulling obsession isn’t localized to my leg hair, or my pubic hair. These are areas where it’s socially acceptable — even expected —  for a woman to be bald.

When every pretty Instagrammer with 1000 plus followers has doe-like eyelashes with a full set of extensions and brows so fluffy and full, it can be hard for many women to feel confident and beautiful in their own skin. It’s particularly hard for me to look at my completely raw face in the mirror and love what I see. My trichotillomania has gone on for so long now that my eyebrows and lashes will never be what they once were. Now they are thin and full of gaps.

But, you know what I’m finally here to say? That’s OK. That’s OK. At 25, it’s taken me a torturously long time to be able to say those simple words. I know my identity goes beyond hair — there is so much more to me than the number of hairs on my head. I refuse to buy into the narrative of shame and embarrassment, because those sentiments frankly don’t correlate with my overarching belief in my own self-worth. After grappling for so long with those aforementioned feelings of humiliation and guilt, it’s only recently I’ve become accepting enough of my condition to seek help from a local support group. Talking openly and honestly about trichotillomania has done more for my confidence in a few short months than the preceding decade of secrecy ever did. To herald in this new age of self-acceptance, I wanted to supersede my history of silence with a bold declaration that yes, I have trichotillomania! I have trichotillomania, and it’s one small part of all the wonderful parts that make me who I am.

I only wish other individuals out there can reconcile with the things that make them different. Whether it’s trich or not, breaking free from shame and self-doubt is undoubtedly the greatest unburdening there is. At the end of the day it’s just hair, it’s just perception. Furthermore, if anyone needs advice about long-lasting eyeliner or where they can buy bulk false eyelashes for cheap, hit me up.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via MistakeAnn.

Originally published: July 10, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home