Brixton-based Scot, Ruth McPherson is one of the two per cent worldwide who has lost their hair to Alopecia Areata.
During the summer she left school, aged 18, Ruth developed Alopecia Totalis - a more severe type of Alopecia Areata which causes complete hair loss from the head. Within three months she was completely bald and has worn a wig every day of her life to hide the fact ever since.
By wearing wigs to cover her baldness, the advertising sales manager and Living With Alopecia blogger has always chosen to keep her hair loss a secret. However, now aged 27 and after a decade-long struggle, Ruth made the brave decision to open up and go wig-free for a whole week to raise money and awareness for the charity Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK (AAR-UK).
The results of her Wig Free Week, which ended on 1st November, were truly inspirational and she has also raised over £8,000 so far via her My Donate page which is still open for donations as she is hoping to reach her target of £9,000.
Belgravia is proud to bring you a searingly honest account of Ruth's journey in her own words, in this exclusive guest post written for us by Ruth McPherson.
"Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease which occurs when the immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, often causing permanent hair loss. Although not damaging to physical health, alopecia can have severe effects on quality of life and emotional health.
Doctors can unfortunately do very little to help, as there is no known cure or effective treatment for alopecia totalis or universalis, so alopecia sufferers are left to get on with it as best they can. I decided to do the Wig Free Week because I believe more research into alopecia needs to be done.
AAR-UK is a fantastic charity run by two inspirational women with alopecia, who are working to set up the UK’s first bio bank for autoimmune alopecia research. The data they collect will prove invaluable to finding out what causes alopecia areata and may one day help find a cure to help sufferers across the world.
Losing my hair was an extremely traumatic experience as I didn’t know or understand what was happening to my body, and was unable to control it. I kept finding clumps of hair in my hairbrush and all over my pillow, and then one day I realised I had a bald patch at the front of my head.
I initially wore headscarves to cover up the patches but, as I lost more and more hair, I decided that it was time to look into getting a wig. It seemed strange at first to have to wear a wig and it took a while to get used to it. Wearing a wig can be hot, uncomfortable and restrictive because it is difficult to do things like sport whilst wearing it.
My first wig was acrylic, but I got rid of it after a week because I didn’t like the look or feel of it at all! Over the years I have experimented with wigs of various colours, lengths and shapes, from auburn and heavily fringed to peroxide blonde to my current darker tone. The quality of my wigs has gradually improved as I have found out more and more about what is available, where to source them and how to get them cut.
These days I wear a custom-made real hair ‘Freedom wig’, which is fitted to my head, so is secure and comfortable and I can move around, dance, go out in the wind etc. without worrying about it falling off or looking too ‘wiggy’. It looks and acts like real hair, and there are people I have known for years who never realised I was wearing a wig!
I have always chosen to wear a wig, because I feel safer and more comfortable hiding my alopecia behind it. It seemed easier to blend in and try and look as ‘normal’ as possible. Putting my wig on in the morning is now just a part of my everyday routine, and I have almost forgotten what it is like to have my own hair. Continues below
I was very nervous and emotional before my Wig Free Week because it was the first time I was ever going out in public without my wig for an extended period of time and the first time that I was sharing photos of my bald head. Going wig-free felt like leaving my comfort blanket behind and I was terrified that people that people were going to have a negative reaction and judge me for being bald.
However, I have been so pleasantly surprised by how positive the week has been! I have had incredible support from colleagues, friends and family who have encouraged me along the way. And despite my fear that strangers would stare at me in public, I actually found that people haven't really paid me much attention! I guess the advantage of being in a busy city like London is that there is so much diversity that people don’t really notice when someone looks a bit different to everyone else.
Throughout the week, I arranged lots of 'wig-free' activities to do. On the first day my employers, Rhinegold Publishing, arranged a charity Bake Off to raise money, and then my boyfriend Tim took me out to Bounce, the table tennis bar for dinner and ping pong. On Day 2, I went to the opera with a friend as I wanted to try being bald in a more formal environment. A few people did give me a second glance, but it often seemed more out of curiosity than judgement.
On Day 3, I went wig-free bowling and on Day 4 I went to a pub quiz at our local pub, who kindly organised a raffle in aid of AAR-UK. On Day 5, I went spinning at BOOM Cycle in Holborn, who held a charity spin class for me with all the proceeds going to charity. It was great fun, and a very exhilarating way to end the working week!
I started the weekend with a park run on Day 6, followed by wig-free Boris biking and then a Halloween night out. I had been debating what to go as since being wig-free slightly limits your options! In the end I went for a skeleton and face-painted my head to look like a skull. On the last day, I was pretty exhausted so I spent most of the day in a onesie, but ended the week with a party at our flat to say thank you to everyone who had helped and supported me.
I can feel a huge change in myself already in only 7 days, and have found the week so much easier than I thought I would! I am also starting to question my own choice to wear a wig, as going bald is so much easier and less hassle. I don’t have to worry about brushing or styling my hair in the morning, I just get up and go. And it is also a lot cheaper than wearing a wig! I don’t know whether I would want to go wig-free all of the time, but I am certainly realising that not wearing a wig is a nice option to have.
I am so delighted at how successful my Wig Free Week has been, as well as raising over £8,000 for an incredibly worthy cause. The other wonderful thing that has come out of the week is that I have been able to raise awareness of an often very taboo condition, and encourage people with alopecia to feel more able to embrace their insecurities. I have had messages and comments on my blog from other alopecia sufferers, and I hope the blog will ultimately become a place where people can share stories and advice and offer support to each other.
I knew that going wig-free would be a big challenge, but I never imagined that it would be such a positive and liberating experience!"
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