For as long as I can remember, I’ve obsessed over having long hair. As a child, I would spend hours just combing and styling my Barbie dolls’ beautiful waist-length blond locks, patiently awaiting the day when my own hair would be that length.
I used to tell my mother I wanted my hair to grow down to the floor. I wanted the hair of my favorite Disney princesses — Jasmine, Pocahontas, Ariel, Aurora and Rapunzel. At a young age, I associated hair with beauty and femininity, so every time my mother took me to the hair salon, I would wail as soon as the scissors came near me the same way a toddler would at the sight of an injection.
In the awkward tween years, my hair gave me confidence; in high school, it gave me protection. I used my hair as a security blanket — as a way to hide my anxiety and depression and to shut myself out from the rest of the world.
By the time I was in my 20s, my hair defined me. Hair wasn’t just pretty — it was sexy. When preparing for dates, I would spend hours blow-drying and straightening my hair, and the longer my hair was, the more confident I felt. I could never be without waist-length hair… until I had no choice.
A month after turning 28, I began to lose my hair. It started with larger-than-usual clumps in the shower — by the third shower, I had removed enough hair to form a wig. It escalated to countless strands falling from my scalp every time I tried to run my fingers or a comb through the tangles. I vividly remember the horrified look on my friend’s face the moment she saw me casually pull out at a large clump while we were lying on the beach.
Within a span of two weeks, my beautiful waist-length hair was reduced to an uneven shoulder length. I went to three salons, but each stylist was stumped — my hair wasn’t just falling out, it was actually breaking. The strands had become so weak and brittle that each one was snapping off in a different place, resulting in uneven lengths. I began to take some of the strongest hair supplements, including Viviscal, biotin, iron and collagen, and when that I didn’t work, I added Rogaine to my hair care routine, but the situation only worsened.
With my hair now in a choppy bob, I had one last hope: hair extensions. This new hair finally gave me my confidence back, but it was very short-lived. My hair was so dry the extensions broke off within a week, and suddenly, I was forced to confront my biggest fear — living without hair.
I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. I declined all social invitations and sought solitude. I felt exposed. I felt ugly. I felt insecure.
I couldn’t hide behind my long, luxurious locks. My most attractive feature was gone, and now, I had to see myself for who I truly was, and to me, that appearance was repulsive. I’ve always hated everything about myself, from my short stature to my large thighs to my round face. My hair was the only part of me that I truly loved.
With more hair falling out each day, my anxiety peaked. I began to have full-blown panic attacks. I would cry myself to sleep just thinking about all the years it would take to grow my hair to its original length — if that’s even a possibility. I wanted to know when I would be able to look into a mirror and smile rather than cry. I had become a stranger in my own skin.
Yet no doctor has found an answer for my sudden hair changes. I’ve been tested for just about every illness and disease, I’ve had my hormone levels checked, and I’ve even had my hair follicles scrutinized under a microscope, but still no answers. No doctor has even shown the slightest sympathy. One dermatologist recommended I “get over it” because “it’s only hair” as I sat on the exam table with tears streaming down my face.
It has now been four months since I started losing my hair, and though I haven’t experienced much of an improvement, I’ve learned new ways to cope with my reality. I’ve invested in several headbands to hide the receding hairline, and I’ve gotten creative with hair clips to manage some of the unevenness. Although I know this is my new reality, I still envision myself with my long, flowing hair in all my nighttime dreams. It’s difficult to separate that part of my identity after all these years.
With such a drastic change, I’ve been challenged to embrace my other assets and to open myself up to the world, which certainly isn’t easy. It’s a daily struggle to face the mirror and to come to terms with the truth. Just as my dreams of finding Disney’s version of Prince Charming have disappeared, so too have my dreams of letting down my long Rapunzel-like hair.