Rebecca Brown has a selfie obsession. But, instead of showing off her manicures or iced coffee orders, Brown takes photos to record her struggle with trichotillomania: a complex disorder that compels her to tear her hair out, strand by strand.
21-year-old Brown, from Essex, U.K., joined YouTube in 2007 with the username “BeckieO.” Five years ago, searching for an outlet for her pent-up fear and anxiety, she started posting videos in which she discussed her disorder. “I didn’t know there were millions of people (watching); it was just me talking about how this condition affected me,” she told BBC Trending. “I was very alone.”
Brown began to share her journey not only through video but also through photographs. From September 12, 2007 to March 12, 2014, she took a selfie nearly every day — totaling some 2,100 photos. Brown assembled them into the video on the next page, which chronicles the progression of her hair and life over those six and a half years. Pop-up text describes what was happening at the time she took the photos. Typical teen milestones (“Exam Period,” “First proper boyfriend,” “New cat,” and “Drunk for the first time!”) appear alongside “Lost half my hair,” “Diagnosed with depression,” and “Started wearing wigs.” The implication: Rebecca is not her disorder. Since she began wrestling with trichotillomania, she has been a student, a girlfriend, a cat-owner — a normal teenage girl — whose life experiences have been colored by trichotillomania.
While Rebecca currently has a full head of hair, she says she’s gone bald multiple times as a result of her condition. Trichotillomania leads sufferers to pull hair from their scalps, eyelashes, and eyebrows. It’s a type of impulse-control disorder (ICD); ICD is characterized by an inability to resist self-harming urges. Possible complications of trichotillomania include skin damage, infection, and permanent hair loss, as well as the isolation and shame that afflict many sufferers.
Rebecca, a.k.a. “BeckieO,” has continued her project, snapping a photo every day since she posted her six-and-a-half-years-of-selfies video. And, she works as an advocate for those who suffer from trichotillomania, sharing her own experiences and responding to reader letters as she navigates the lifelong disorder. “Every day is a struggle not to revert back to baldness,” she says.
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