By Alyce Collins
THIS WOMAN was so embarrassed by her bald head that her boyfriend didn’t even know about it for SIX MONTHS until she posted a WIGLESS picture on FACEBOOK.
YouTuber and video producer Abby Andrew (24) from New York, USA, started losing her hair when she was just two years old, and was taken to the doctors’ numerous times before being diagnosed with alopecia areata. Abby’s hair fell out gradually and by the time she was three, her mum shaved her head.
As a young girl, Abby was carefree with her alopecia but eventually, stares and questions from her peers grew too frequent. By the age of eight, Abby wouldn’t leave the house without a wig and as a teenager she grew dependent on a wig for security to prevent people asking questions. From 10 years old, Abby wanted people to believe her wig was her real hair, so she only switched to a different wig over the summer holidays to make people think she’d grown or dyed her hair over summer.
Abby developed a very hard exterior from keeping her hair loss a secret. Rumours started swirling at Abby’s school that she wore a wig, so she avoided talking to people outside of her social circle for fear that her secret would be found out.
During university, Abby didn’t want her alopecia to be so secretive, so she tried to be more open by telling people. Alopecia hindered her life for so many years because during her childhood Abby quit the swimming team as she didn’t want to step out without a wig, she refused to go on roller coasters because she thought her wig would come off and she avoided dating for fear of opening up to a partner. In 2014, when she started seeing her now boyfriend, she kept her alopecia a secret for six months, even sleeping in a wig to prevent him finding out, and he only found out when she eventually made a Facebook revealing all.
In 2015, Abby started a YouTube channel discussing alopecia and wigs, which helped her feel more comfortable talking about those topics in person, and she gradually became more comfortable switching to different wigs. Now, Abby regularly posts wigless photos on Instagram and has even found that they make a good conversation starter on dating apps.
“I developed alopecia when I was two years old, but no one in my family had alopecia,” said Abby.
“The best explanation I ever got to this day was that it could have been triggered by stress, but how stressed could a two-year-old be?
“I don’t remember my hair falling out. In a way, I feel lucky that I lost my hair at such a young age because I wasn’t aware of what was going on, nor did I care. My parents were initially concerned that my hair falling out meant that I had other health issues, so they took me to doctors and tried a few different treatments.
“I remember taking pills for a while, and a few different shampoos and conditioners that didn’t work. Once they realised that it wasn’t a sign of a more serious health problem, they treated it like no big deal.
“My hair fell out gradually, but it reached a point where the bald spots were larger than the patches of hair, so my mum shaved my head. I don’t think I totally understood why she was shaving my head, so I was a bit upset at the time.
“I got my first wig when I was seven and thought it was fun. I tried to trick my brothers into thinking I was someone else! My first wig was a shoulder length, blonde wig with a fringe.
“After getting my first wig, I started wearing that more until I got to a point where I wouldn’t leave the house without it. I was on a swimming team back then but quit because I had to take my wig off to swim and didn’t want to be seen without it.
“By the age of 10 I started to treat my wig like it was my real hair. I never switched up hairstyles or hair colours unless I could believably tell people I dyed or cut it. The only time I changed to a really different wig was over summer, so it was more believable that my hair changed over the holiday.
“I built up a hard exterior and kept to myself. I treated it like it was a big secret and it made me feel like an outcast, but in a way, I brought it upon myself.
“I always wanted to be open about it but was too scared. I loved the idea of being someone who changed wigs and tried out new styles, but the thought of facing all the questions about it made me so scared to go through with it.
“Moving to university at 18 was a turning point because I knew it was a chance to start again where no one knew me yet. I told my roommates straight away, but it took me a few months to tell my other friends. I didn’t accomplish the level of confidence I truly desired.
“When I started dating my first boyfriend, I kept it a secret by wearing the same wig every day. I started hanging out with him in March 2014 and I was too scared for him to see me without a wig for six months. It usually meant sleeping with my wig on if I stayed over at his!
“In August 2014, I had enough of the secret and made a Facebook post announcing that I had alopecia and that was how my boyfriend at the time found out. I was afraid of how he’d react then next time I saw him, but he told me it was cool that I opened up.
“In 2015, I started my YouTube channel talking about alopecia and wigs which helped me become more comfortable. I felt nervous talking to people in person but YouTube was a starting point.”
After years of avoiding dating, Abby now feels able to tell dates about her alopecia straight away and feels that her wigless pictures act as a natural filter to avoid those who are shallow.
Abby is now comfortable telling people about her alopecia and is becoming more comfortable leaving the house without a wig. She hopes to show others that having alopecia doesn’t make you look sick, ‘undateable’ or give you a lower quality of life.
“Alopecia held me back for so long – I quit the swimming team because I depended on my wig, I was too afraid to do gymnastics because I didn’t want my wig to fall off and as I got older I was scared to date because I didn’t want to open up to someone. I pretended I was afraid to go on roller coasters when in reality I was afraid my wig would fall off,” said Abby.
“I’m still working on getting comfortable being out and about without a wig, but I have made a lot of progress over the years. The biggest thing that scares me about going out without a wig now is people staring or asking questions.
“For a long time, I avoided dating because I knew that if I started dating someone, I would have to open up to them. When my boyfriend saw my Facebook post about my alopecia he really didn’t care, and I realised that being bald didn’t make me ‘undateable’.
“I learned that most guys don’t care, and I even tried out dating apps and included pictures of myself in different wigs and a picture without a wig. I got plenty of matches, and for most guys, it turned out to be a conversation starter.
“Some guys said it was inspiring to them and they thought it was cool. Having alopecia almost works as a filter to get guys that are going to be shallow about it out of the way. If a guy thinks it’s weird that I have alopecia, I wouldn’t be interested in him anyway.
“All alopecia does is make us lose our hair, which we can’t control, but we can control how much we allow it to affect us emotionally.
“Life’s too short to stress about hair. I wish I had been open about alopecia sooner, I can’t believe all those years I missed out on switching up wigs and letting myself have fun with it.”
To see more, visit https://www.instagram.com/abbyandrew.yt/ or go to https://www.youtube.com/abbyshaffer