Coming Out Alopecian

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While this blog is meant to be art based, I feel that it is still a blog of my personal life too as it pertains to art and design.

While art and design have been in my blood since I can remember, I have been dealing with something not so artsy: alopecia areata. Most of my friends and colleagues have known about this for a while, I don’t really like to bring a whole lot of attention to it. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks itself and in this case, the hair follicles, so that the result is hair loss. It can fall out in patches or all over the body. There is no cure and no definite treatment. Alopecia can cause permanent hair loss or it can grow back. It can also fall out again. It affects any gender, any age, any race. It doesn’t hurt, but alopecia can have some psychological effects.

When I was first diagnosed in September of 2015, it was quite the shock. I already have 3 other autoimmune diseases (asthma, eczema, allergies) that have affected me since birth, but this one kind of did a number. I will admit that my self-esteem has been rather fragile from growing up with red, blotchy, itchy skin that is neither attractive nor remotely comfortable, but losing all of my hair in a matter of 3 months was shocking to say the least. This is what I looked like in August 2014:

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By December, I was completely bald. I went through rounds of steroids, prednisone, and ointments. I even lost most of my body hair, including arm and leg hair (by the end, I was developing bald patches in my eyebrows). During my months of hair loss, I was using headbands, hats, and scarves to cover up my head. My coworkers and classmates were the most supportive and some even showed me how to style headscarves in certain styles. These pictures show what was left of my hair in December 2014 before and after the buzzcut:

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While alopecia still did a number on my self-esteem, it did not hinder my work ethic and creativity. I graduated in May this year as magna cum laude in my class, finished my senior thesis and featured in its gallery show, acted as editor-in-chief for a school magazine, acted as president for the marching band, designed the senior show identity, won 3 academic awards, and dealt with a breakup of a 2.5 year relationship. So, talk about stress. Alopecia didn’t hold me back; I had more important things to worry about.

It took several months for my hair to grow back to a fraction of what it once was. After 8 months, I was finally starting to be comfortable with my new look. I was styling my short, fine, fluffy hair. I was using headbands to accent it, not to hide it. I felt more liberated and getting back to feeling like myself. I’ve been getting new clothes that reflect my creativity and personality. This was me in August of this year:

Photo Jul 24, 12 49 36 PM

Sadly, as if it wasn’t a perfect anniversary, my hair has started falling out since this September. There is some good news that after taking steroid shots in the scalp, I have some hair growth. It’s just that I keep losing hair and what is left is already so thin. So here is where I can relate this to my art and design career: I don’t know how to explain this to my coworkers in a professional setting. I work in a very close-knit setting, with only 8 employees total working for this business. I’m back to wearing headbands to cover up major bald spots. Here is my dilemma: how do I continue to cover up?

I’m lucky to be in a creative field where the environment is slightly more relaxed, but I still have to adhere to a business casual dress code. Are there any professionals that can relate to covering up? If I had my way, I’d go bald again, but how do I explain this to my coworkers? Any ideas or suggestions on how to address headwear in the workplace? I feel that this disease has not only helped me be more confident, but has also been a daily struggle in trying to get more comfortable with how I look and present myself as a professional. Still, it is a battle.

I am grateful for all that I have been given and all that I’ve worked for. I couldn’t be happier with where I am right now and there’s so much more that’s in store for me! However, I could use some advice as going bald or being alopecian in the professional world.

Plus, thank you to all my close friends and family who have helped me dealing with all this in the past year. Professors, roommates, and also my lovely hairstylists have been exceptionally amazing! I’ve gotten this far and I will keep going!

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