Rugby Australia CEO, Raelene Castle arguably has a lot on her plate due to having the tough job of running the sport's governing body, especially in a largely male dominated industry. So it is understandable that she wouldn't want any additional distractions - such as a constant dialogue regarding her hair loss
In an interview with ESPN Australia, Castle expressed sentiments echoed by many with the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata
by sharing her story to raise awareness so that, by educating people, she can focus on getting her notoriously tough job done.
Empowering women in business
"When I talked about it originally, I was concerned about three things: one, I didn't want people to think I had cancer. Secondly, it's not stress related -- sure I could be healthier and do more exercise, but fundamentally that doesn't make any difference -- it's just an autoimmune issue that my body has. Thirdly, I want to share my experiences with some young females in the business environment who are struggling with Alopecia,
" Castle told ESPN AU.
As a woman, she understands how she can be judged somewhat differently to her male peers, with women's appearances being far more significant to others - and harshy critiqued - than men in similar positions. As her particular type of autoimmune alopecia
- which affects the scalp only - involves patchy hair loss with cycles of hair regrowth and relapse, she often covers her head with a bandana or scarf. This in itself has led to awful criticism and ignorant abuse from the rugby community, particularly on social media.
"I think as a female you do get judged differently for what you wear and your appearance. People can be really cruel. At the end of the day I understand the issue, but people judging you for your appearance, saying 'what are you, a pirate or a Muslim' and those sorts of comments when they are uneducated to the issue that I face, is just one of those things
However, with a sensible head on her shoulders, Raelene Castle is getting on with the job in hand, not letting this deter her from the business of rugby. She is thrilled to have been able to inspire and empower other women in business who also have to deal with hair loss conditions
"I've had 40, 50, 60 women reach out to me and thank me for sharing my story, they've told me how it's really helped them to think about how they might deal with it and how they can be honest about it -- it's been a really positive thing for me to do, to share my story and to help some other young women
Genetic element to Alopecia Areata
What is particularly interesting about Raelene Castle's insight into having Alopecia Areata is that both she and her brother have the condition. Whilst hers is the mildest form and only affects her scalp, her brother has Alopecia Universalis
which means he has no hair on his body from head to toe. This is the most extreme phenotype of Alopecia Areata.
Alopecia Areata treatment
is available for the scalp form which Raelene has but there are no effective solutions for the form her brother has, as yet.
Whilst a number of triggers have been identified that can spark off Alopecia hairloss, including sudden shock and allergies
, what is yet to be discovered is the condition's precise underlying mechanism and what actually causes it. A genetic element has been suspected for some time, following various studies
, though it has not been widely proven enough to be properly confirmed.