Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Hair loss and the pressures of femininity

Content Warning: this article discusses eating disorders, mental health, body image struggles and gender dysphoria

All of my life, people have said to me that I have “so much hair!” Before I even understood the significance of my hair, I always dreamed of having long, flowing locks. Whether it was the result of people glamorising, fetishizing, or bullying me, I no longer care. I loved my hair. It made me feel powerful and beautiful – even if I didn’t recognise the feeling as such. In the winter months, it protected me from the cold, and in the summer, it reared itself as my glossy mane. It held my pride, my personality, and everything I loved about myself. Beyond all that, it was a safety blanket when I was scared.

I loved my hair, and I lost it. When I was 18, I saw a trichologist who diagnosed me with chronic telogen effluvium, a form of hair loss that occurs when your body is placed under so much stress it decides it’s malting season, all the time. This happens for a variety of reasons. For me, we narrowed it down to my history of eating disorders, ongoing stress and anxiety, antidepressant side effects and vitamin deficiencies.

Hair loss is something that affects 40% of women by the age of 50

“Don’t worry,” my trichologist assured me because “it’s totally reversible. Work on these, and in six months you’ll see your hair come back.”

Unfortunately, it never did. I tried everything. I gained some weight, took my vitamins, went to therapy and lowered my sertraline dosage but my hair never grew back and as it grew longer, it got wispier. My once illustrious waves became stringy curls, and over the years my hairline has receded further. My scalp is more visible than ever.

Hair loss is something that affects 40% of women by the age of 50. Yet here I was, 20 years old, supposedly in my prime, with only 50% of the hair density I had when I was 16. Sometimes, I torture myself by looking back at photos of teenage years and think how beautiful I was, yet I had no idea.

Hair is a defining feature of their femininity

My mother asked me the other day whether I had considered getting a transplant, just moments after commenting on my thinning crown. Now a 22-year-old, I am inevitably showing signs of ‘male’ pattern baldness. It was only a matter of time as androgenetic hair loss runs in both my maternal and paternal family.

Hair loss is “a reminder of our mortality, and a threat to our vanity” as David Lewsley from GQ Magazine so accurately puts it. For a transfeminine person, this is also a reminder that the testosterone that I wish I didn’t have flowing through my veins is wreaking havoc on my body in ways I cannot control, and in turn, my mind. Against my will, the hormones within me are turning me into something I spent so long fearing.

Whilst hormone replacement therapy (HRT) isn’t something I am currently in pursuit of, I have decided to invest in a course of Dutasteride – a medication which is believed to reverse male pattern hair loss by blocking the hormones responsible. This is, however, a long-term commitment which will be costly and not without side effects.

Femininity isn’t set in stone

For cis women, their hair is a defining feature of their femininity, and maybe it shouldn’t be, but for someone like me who is often misread as male, the only way to express the femininity they wish they wielded is through long, thick hair. My loss of hair is therefore seismic. When our bodies are at odds with cis-normative ideas of femininity, we are often expected to present hyper femininely to compensate for this. This is just unrealistic and often unachievable, and a testament to the unfair judgement we suffer under the transmisogynistic culture we live in.

I attribute a lot of these pressures to culture, but a lot of it is also internal. My hair is the touchstone of the identity, femininity and beauty I so desperately strive for. The more I lose it, the more I find it strengthens these aspects of me. I don’t need my hair to be beautiful. It helps, but it’s not vital to my substance. Femininity isn’t set in stone, and even so, this is just one small part of who I am. I am so much more than my gender and we shouldn’t ascribe so much value to aesthetics.

If you are struggling with hair loss, please reach out. Don’t be afraid to seek support, whether its emotional, medical or pastoral. The more we talk about it, the more normalised it will become. If we seek support for ourselves, we will enable help for others, and remember, your feelings are real and valid. Don’t let anyone, even yourself, convince you of otherwise.

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