Trinidad & Tobago
5 min read
September is Alopecia Areata Awareness Month.
The autoimmune disorder, often triggered by stress is characterised by bald spots or complete baldness.
Celebrities such as Scottish TV presenter Gail Porter and US Democratic representative Ayanna Pressley proudly rock full bald heads and are open about their experiences with alopecia, while others such as Oscar winner Viola Davis and former Little Mix band member Jesy Nelson have spoken about their temporary brushes with the condition.
Founder of NGO Bald Beauty, Ain Earle, took the time to chat with Loop News about her journey with alopecia and how learning to be comfortable with herself allowed her to connect with and inspire others living with the condition.
Earle, who is also the founder and lead brand consultant for the Fashion Arch, a branding and marketing firm tailored to local and regional designers, launched the NGO in 2018 after a friend’s young daughter began developing the bald spots associated with the early stages of the condition.
By that time, she had long accepted herself and had already begun posting about her experiences on social media. As she continued to make contact with more persons who supported her drive, she was encouraged to recognise the need to create a supportive space for those who would benefit from meeting others with a shared experience.
Earle’s own journey with alopecia began in her early 20s, when she started noticing bald spots after the death of her grandmother. “It was the second major death in my life and I was really close to [her]. I didn’t deal with it very well.” She explained that the condition is stress-related and that stress, when experienced, can, in turn, activate other dormant autoimmune reactions in the body.
She explained that she was first misdiagnosed with ringworm by a GP before noticing that her eyebrows had begun thinning and decided to get an opinion from a dermatologist. After seeing a few specialists, she was finally able to understand why she had been losing her hair rapidly.
Naturally, the reality was tough to digest, and guided by doctors, Earle underwent courses of treatment to remedy the issue. She was made to try everything “from female Rogaine (minoxidil) to steroid injections straight to the scalp. That wasn’t fun,” she said.
For some persons who deal with the condition, treatments can, in fact, take root and have lasting effects. It was even suggested that the weight of her locs had been causing her hair loss. In the end, none of the recommended treatments had any lasting effect, and the alopecia took its course, leaving Earle to refine herself with a new look and attitude to life.
“The process took a very long time,” she said, explaining that she had been enthusiastic about locking her hair for years as a teenager. Earle said that she had always admired her aunt’s locs and begged her parents to allow her to adopt the style. They told her that once she left school, she would be able to do as she pleased. “As soon as I received my CXC results,” she recalled, “I locked my hair. That was my identity. It took a while [to accept things] because I held onto that.”
From 2004 to 2009, Earle went from developing the first bald spots to becoming completely bald, which she spoke of as being “emotionally, mentally and of course, physically [taxing].”
In the early days of her baldness, Earle explained how she would “hide behind head cloths,” as they would not only conceal her bald head, but they would keep her connected to her passion for dreadlock styles.
Earle said that as much as she was attached to that aspect of her identity, she chose self-acceptance and healing. “I had to look at myself and say, ‘This was a part of you, but it wasn’t you’ [and it’s] not coming back anytime soon.’”
Two years later, at a carnival event, Earle made her first public appearance without any head ties. She took comfort in the knowledge that her family was present and that she wouldn’t know anyone there. She stepped out proudly and despite initial apprehension, had a great time. That was just the beginning.
“After the compliments started coming in, I realised that a lot of it was in my head,” Earle said. “I’m not living for people; I’m living for myself.”
Now in her mid-thirties, Earle embodies pride in her appearance and wishes to continue inspiring others. She claims that alopecia helped her with accepting life’s challenges and renewed her sense of gratitude for her blessings.
Earle says that while her appearance at first came as a shock to many, she no longer receives stares as before, as she finds herself going to the same places in her weekly routine, so people have become accustomed to her. Given her work in the fashion industry, her baldness is sometimes even perceived as a deliberate style. “I’ve dealt with years of stares and snickering. You form your own shield so that it doesn’t bother you as much,” she said. Knowing that there are others having the same experience can be helpful.
This is the idea behind Bald Beauty, to provide a much-needed sense of community to persons living with the condition. The logo for the organisation was inspired by the time that Earle had her head decorated with henna by an artist at the New Fire Festival. Although she was unsure about the idea at first, the artist begged her until she gave in, and Earle didn’t regret her decision. “They say that your hair is your crown, so I adored my crown, which is my head,” she said, proudly.
The organisation hosts monthly support groups where persons can share their stories, even with the option of eventually inviting loved ones to attend. Earle said that she is open to this as “they are going through it, too,” recalling how her family offered their support during her period of coming to terms with her reality.
Earle spoke about one of the group members who mustered up the courage to go to the beach without her wig for the first time. “It’s not just about the awareness, the acceptance and understanding, it’s about the support.” She mentioned that persons living with alopecia can be made to feel ashamed of their appearance due to the way in which society links beauty and hair, particularly for women, and the pressure that this adds to fostering healthy levels of self-confidence.
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