Having Hair Loss in Halloween: Alopecia Areata
By Stephanie Kim, Editor-In-Chief
You wake up and look in the mirror, only to see that patches of your hair are missing. When brushing your hair you see clumps of it fall to the floor. It feels like a punch to the stomach--the alopecia has come back.
Alopecia Areata (AA) is an autoimmune disorder that begins with sudden hair loss, usually starting with round bald patches. The immune system begins attacking the body’s hair follicles, affecting the scalp and sometimes hair on the whole body. There can be many causes for alopecia, but the most common seems to be stress. Like causes, treatment for alopecia can vary. Some people have found luck in treating the underlying issues, such as the cause of the stress, or using topical medications. Other times, there is no hair growth again.
My journey with alopecia started when I was going into fifth grade, around 10 to 11 years old. Since it started during the summer, I didn’t fully realize how much it would affect me, as I was only around my family. As the next school year approached though, my parents grew antsier. They took me to multiple doctors and tried various treatments, but the patches continued growing larger. There were too many to cover by styling once I began the fifth grade, so in an attempt to hide them I put on a wig.
This wasn’t my family’s first choice. My parents scheduled to meet with my principal at the time to discuss if I could wear bandanas (I’d gotten comfortable wearing them during the summer). I would be going into a new grade and school, so new dress code rules came along, too. Anyone who has attended a public elementary school knows that the dress code is heavily enforced; however, we thought an exception would be made in this situation. After telling the principal about my hair, he replied,
“If I let you wear them, then we’ll have to allow everyone to wear them.”
We saw no problem with that--but he did. To me, this posed a fundamental issue in the school itself. Instead of using the situation to advocate for one of his students or a relatively unheard of disorder (we’re talking about a small Missouri town), he chose to hide it. The rules could have been changed or at least the school’s administration could have been contacted about it, anything would have been better than simply saying “no” and encouraging a family to pay money to hide it. Perhaps that’s a topic for another day.
So my parents found a wig that fit my hair color the most and I wore it to school on the first day of fifth grade.
I was bullied every day that semester, ridiculed, and then exposed in front of an entire gymnasium by one of my peers. My alopecia cleared up about a year later and didn’t return until 2020 (what a year, huh?). Ever since then it’s been a back-and-forth battle with losing and growing my hair.
I spoke with one young adult whose alopecia began around the same age that mine did. Brandon says, “I was 11 when I first started seeing signs, my hair would just fall out in clumps.” When I asked him how he handled it he says, “At first, it was emotional because at that age no one generally loses hair. And if they do it’s generally due to cancer treatment. I was made fun of a lot because of this. It took a toll on my self-esteem because I felt I was ugly so I shaved it all off and that helped a little but only momentarily until kids made fun of the fact I was completely bald instead of just having spots.”
Brandon tells me how he handles alopecia now, saying “Now I’m 27 and I embrace it taking the good out of the situation, realizing that it could be worse, and thankful I’m not a woman dealing with it.” He adds, “and I don’t have a weird shaped head so it kind of fits me.” He states, “As I got older it did suck in one aspect because I went from just losing it on my head to losing every hair on my body, so not having a manly beard or eyebrows kind of sucks but again I just stay positive and deal with it.”
One part of staying positive about it requires Brandon to look at the bigger picture. He explains how having alopecia has changed him, saying, “It has changed me, it’s made me realize that looks aren’t everything and to appreciate the body I have. I always think there is always someone who is fighting a harder battle.”
Being a female with the disorder, I understand why Brandon is grateful to not be dealing with it as a woman. The sexism and stereotypes that arise when a woman cuts or shaves off her hair are some of the main reasons I haven’t this time around. The different ways we, our families, and even my elementary school chose to handle our disorders brings up internalized, interpersonal, and institutional sexism. I never even considered shaving my head as a child, yet Brandon was able to take that step early on in his battle.
And though it’s an ongoing battle that Brandon and I face, his positivity is something that all of us facing battles can learn from. We may be faced with sudden and challenging situations, but that doesn’t mean we have to let those situations take control of us. Learning to adapt and find the good in the bad is how we can start to take control of our circumstances. This can be done by looking at the bigger picture and seeing what positive changes can be made.
And there’s always one bright side for us facing the alopecia battle, Brandon remarks, “It’s kinda nice not having to shave and deal with hair. Makes for quicker showers!”
If you want to learn more about Alopecia Areata or to donate, you can visit the National Alopecia Areata Foundation website: