In terms of ‘banter’, hair loss tends to be one of the go-to subjects – and from a surprisingly young age.
A primary school teacher in Los Angeles recently shared a ‘Burn Book’ she discovered some of her pupils had put together. It included examples of how to ‘roast’. The very first extract listed under Rule 1 – ‘Do not roast someone if you are ugly’ – was, ‘Example: ‘”Boy yo hairline look like a rainbow” – That’s a no no if you don’t have a hairline’. Although the children’s ages are not provided, they would be between 5 and 10 years old.
Whilst the Burn Book also includes the advice, “…don’t get mad and want to fight. Roasting is just a fun game but also can be taken too far”, it is easy to see how this type of unkind behaviour can become normalised – and even develop further. Something which Premiership footballer Jonjo Shelvey is currently dealing with on a much larger scale.
Opposition fans’ hair loss taunts
Shelvey was born with the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata. This caused patchy hair loss on his scalp when he was a child, and developed into complete baldness. It is unclear whether the Essex boy, who went on to lose his eyelashes and eyebrows too, has Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis. Totalis causes total hair loss from the head, including facial hair, whilst Universalis leads to complete baldness with no hair on the head or body.
Most footballers are, at some point, the subject of chants from opposition fans. Since appearing in an advert for some anti-dandruff shampoo, England and West Ham goalkeeper Joe Hart was on the receiving end of chants such as “‘Flaky, give us a wave, flaky flaky give us a wave” and “He’s got a dry scalp, he’s got a dry sca-alp, Joe Hart – he’s got a dry scalp”. But not all chants are as good humoured.
The FA found Shelvey guilty of making racist comments to Wolves players in December 2016 – a charge the midfielder still disputes. Since then the abuse he has been receiving – specifically targeting his autoimmune hair loss – is said to have worsened significantly.
‘If I had said it then I would have deserved every punishment I got, but I didn’t say it,’ Shelvey told the Daily Mail in an interview about the insults being levelled at him.
Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot recently spoke out about the abuse his teammate receives from opposition fans, which is centred on his baldness.
‘Jonjo gets abuse from all the away fans every time because of a condition he’s got. Everybody laughs about it because he’s Jonjo and he’s a white lad or bald skinhead. But he’s not, he’s got alopecia and it’s a condition,’ he told local Newcastle newspaper, The Chronicle.
‘And it does get to him (abuse). I’m not saying it gets to him badly. But what you have to realise is that he’s still a young man and he handles the pressure really well… He gets abuse everywhere he goes.’
Shelvey, who decided to start psychological counselling for anger management earlier this year, told the Daily Mail, ‘It was unusual to see a bald nine-year-old so I would play football in hats. But over time I realised I had to get over it. I realised that you are what you are and if I have alopecia then so what? Deal with it. That was the attitude I took.’
‘With the upbringing I have, my dad and grandad would just say: “F**k it. Who cares what people think about you?”… I think that’s where I have got that streak from. That’s what I have become.’
‘I am not tough in terms of fighting and stuff but I think I am quite mentally strong and it all goes back to that.’
Not alone in receiving baldness abuse
Jonjo Shelvey is not the only high profile alopecian to experience name-calling taunts centred around his hairloss.
American basketball star, Charlie Villanueva is an ambassador for Alopecia Areata, working closely with hair loss charities in the US to help children in particular come to terms with going bald so unexpectedly.
Whilst Alopecia Areata treatment can be effective in people aged 16 and over who have the scalp-only phenotype, children with this condition and both adults and children with Totalis or Universalis currently have extremely limited and ineffective treatment options. This lack of hope can make hair loss especially difficult for children to deal with given the lack of widespread alopecia awareness, coupled with typical naïve playground behaviours.
The inspirational New Yorker, who is making a movie about his life, recounted his story of growing up without any hair in an open letter to his childhood bullies. He also spoke out against a Boston Celtics player who hurled on-court abuse, allegedly calling him a ‘cancer patient’. Being mislabelled as having cancer is something many people with autoimmune baldness have said they identify with.
The extreme types of autoimmune alopecia both sportsmen have is not currently treatable. However, research into potentially promising treatments for Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis is making rapid progress. The first medications – one topical and one oral -are thought to be close to release, assuming all necessary safety and efficacy requirements are met and the drugs receive the necessary MHRA and FDA approvals. These drugs are still in the clinical testing phase and are not yet available [October 2017] but updates are recorded as soon as they become available on Belgravia’s hair loss blog.
In the meantime, the visibility of sporting heroes, actors and other notable public figures with alopecia, especially those who work with the community to actively promote alopecia awareness, is incredibly important. This, along with the work of supportive charities such as Alopecia UK, the Little Princess Trust and Hero by LPT in the United Kingdom and the NAAF in the USA, helps those affected to feel like they are not alone and that not having any hair should not stop them from chasing their goals.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.