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The root of the problem: Coping with hair loss

What hair symbolizes
In our society, women’s hair symbolizes many things. It is an external sign of femininity, beauty and sex appeal. Hair is sometimes called a woman’s “crowning glory.” And we all grew up with images of attractive women having lush, full, beautifully-styled hair.

Hair loss and how we view it
Since we’ve been conditioned to believe that we need to have a full head of hair to be “accepted” as women (quite a double-standard, since many men actually choose to go bald because it’s “sexy” on a man), there is a great sense of loss when our hair starts to go. We feel unattractive, less-than-feminine and inadequate and inferior, as a result. We feel like we don’t fit in. We feel a loss of control. Based on what we’ve been taught to believe, these feelings are completely normal. And while they’re normal, they are also quite damaging, so we need to work through them and arrive at a better, healthier place so that we can live and enjoy our lives to the fullest.

You’re not alone
In addition to knowing that your feelings are normal, you must also known that you’re not alone. There are millions of women experiencing hair loss (just look in your local pharmacy and notice all the products on the market designed for women’s thinning hair.. those products are there because there’s a huge market for them). So while you may feel alone, because this issue is not openly discussed, please know that you are not!

Know your value
Your value as a human being, as a partner, as a mother, as a friend, as a professional, etc.. has very little to do with any one physical aspect (including hair). We are our own worst critics, so sometimes it may help to see yourself through someone else’s lens. Go visit with someone who knows you well and try to see what they see. Or try this exercise: What would you say to your mother, your sister or your best friend if she was struggling with her own hair loss?  Would you approach her with kindness, caring, empathy and positive affirmations? Now ask yourself if your self-talk sounds anything like that… because it should! Don’t let hair loss define who you are. This is your life. Live it on your terms.

Acknowledge reality and grow from it
Whether your hair loss is due to illness, a certain condition or just genetics, accept the reality of what it is and decide how to live with it. There are medical treatments, over-the-counter products, hats, scarves, wigs, different hair styles (including bald), etc. You have a variety of choices. But whatever your choices, acknowledge that you have embarked on a journey.. a journey that will undoubtedly have it’s losses but also might have pleasant surprises and gains.  Be open to the idea that sometimes our toughest challenges make us stronger, better people.  And remember that this is not a one-day process. Keep talking, keep feeling, keep surrounding yourself with supportive and self-affirming people, activities and things.

Dr. Kimberly Flemke is a Senior Staff Therapist at the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia:

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