Confession #1: I have alopecia. There. I’ve said it. Androgenic alopecia, it’s called. My hair won’t grow back. No miracle cure will bring back my long-dead follicles.
Confession #2: I wear a wig, and have worn them for three decades.
Confession #3: Until today, I’ve never admitted it to anyone outside my immediate family. Today’s the day.
My own hair is thinned and gray, victim to alopecia. I haven’t had a good hair day in more than 30 years! I’ve lived incognito, my condition hidden beneath wigs and hats, hoping that no one would notice. But I’m tired of hiding. I’m embracing the wig, the hat, the headscarf as fashion statements, balding pate be damned! Besides, it’s trendy as hell.
It’s the week after Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Ever the rebel, I’ve decided to go from streaky, punk-y auburn to high-fashion white (hair, that is). It’s a wig. It’s completely glam. It’s a choice type of wig. It’s obviously a wig. My nieces and nephew think I look like A) Australian pop singer Sia or B) A Russian Anime superheroine. How cool is that! My colleagues love it (or say they do!) But it’s the shock of such a different and determined a look that prompts me now to tell my story, which I imagine is not much different than a thousand others.
So here it is; I hope you’ll share yours below in the comments (or on Twitter @B_Barnett). My mom had alopecia. She wore wigs for as long as I can remember. Back in the ’60s it was a thing. Wigs, wiglets, piled higher and deeper atop every female head to get that beehive ‘do or french twist. What I didn’t know for many years was that she wore a wig to cover her hair, which was falling out.
My own hair as a kid was to be envied. I had thick, long, nearly black hair, which I wore until pre-teenhood, at least, either in a long braid down my back or up in a ponytail. It grew annoyingly fast (especially when I had it cut in a gamin-style freshman year in high school), and I gave up on cutting it, preferring to go for the parted down the middle hippie look, and let it grow to an area south of my waist. It was thick enough that when the trend to wear updone corkscrew curls came into fashion for special occasions the stylists used my own hair to create them, marveling at how thick and luxurious were my long locks –no wiglet needed. (Ah, the memories!)
When I was in my 20s, I started doing theater. Wigs were a part of stage life, part of making the character. But I also began to notice my hair thinning out–fast. Yikes. I read what few articles I could find, which generally attributed it (wrongly) to hair-curling permanent chemicals, rubber-banded ponytails, and various other vices.
By my mid-20s, I was getting super-curly permanents to hide the fact my hair was beginning to disappear. Eventually, not even that helped, so I took my mother’s advice and went to a wig store. I was outfitted with very big hair. Let’s just say that. It didn’t look natural or like mine, despite the assurances of the middle-aged owner and her husband, the theatrical wig designer. They didn’t understand that a late-20s woman would want a natural (read, fine-textured), low volume wig. I wasn’t looking to make a statement. I just wanted not to look like I was going bald!
That was about 30 years ago. Thirty years of hiding, too embarrassed to publicly state that I have it. Alopecia. Alopecia. Alopecia. There, I said it. Three times.
Here Comes the Gray
Last year, I began to gray. Yeah, I had some salt and pepper in my hair before then, but now it’s more salt than pepper. So I hemmed and hawed…should I go “natural?” And by natural, I mean in color (not sans wig). Should I ditch my cherry-chocolate streaked wigs? My edgy, shaggy, spikey ‘dos for something more befitting a woman of my age (and hair color)? Would it shock everyone, from my husband to my agent, to my publisher and publicist? My fans? My family? And what about my pre-adolescent students?
I went to a wig store (a different one) who knows my flair for the edgy. I told her it was time to bite the bullet and “go gray.” Her response was, “hey even people with no gray are ‘going gray’.” It’s a thing, a trend. She showed me a couple styles, which only depressed me. Then she said, “I have the perfect wig for you. It’s a bit radical and doesn’t work for everyone, but…” She knows me too well. I put it on. Pure white (well a few strands of pinkish-copper as well). It was radical (color-wise), a departure for me, and a real statement.
And so it is. My next article in this series will be on wigs: types, shops, brands, color and more. Stay tuned.