Once upon a time, very few hairstyles were considered 'acceptable' for women, but progress has been made on the road towards full "hair acceptance". Today, we see natural hair being celebrated, some women are giving up on costly, time-consuming straightening treatments and tools and there's a warmer embrace of different lengths, textures and colours.
But one group that's been left behind is those without hair. There are eight million women affected by severe hair loss, medically known as alopecia, in the UK alone, according to 2017 figures from NHS England. Yet they are paid little attention by the fashion and beauty industries.
Now, there's a new campaign seeking to change that. The #AlopeciaIsFashion movement, founded by the Hair Heals Organisation and the Liverpool Urban Hair Show, is pushing to make alopecia more visible (and consequently more accepted) in fashion, particularly among black women, and give models with hair loss a platform.
Claire Namukolo, the director of Hair Heals who has also suffered hair loss, said in an interview with BBC News: “I have lost hair several times through hair straightening, using hair relaxers and pulling my hair with braids, the shame and isolation associated with losing hair and my experience within the fashion industry propelled me to start a movement."
Nichola McAvoy, 25, a Manchester-based model and ambassador for the movement, began losing her hair at age 10 and has had zero hair growth across her whole body for almost 15 years. She told Refinery29 she got involved with #AlopeciaIsFashion to spread awareness of the condition and put a "positive spin on things".
"Yes, there are struggles that come with being a female with no hair. For me, they're born out of anxiety about how people will react to us because we don't feel we fit general beauty standards for women," McAvoy said. "If we continue to do campaigns like #AlopeciaIsFashion then we're tackling the root of the problem, by showing everyone with or without Alopecia that it is beautiful. That it is fashionable!"
She hopes this will inspire more people with Alopecia to feel confident enough to choose to not wear a wig if they want, "because they can see how well people are reacting to people with Alopecia as models in the fashion world."
💃🏽HUMP DAY💃🏽 • Confidence is something I need to try and find more in my own personal life! There are a lot of different things that make me anxious or stressed and I lose confidence and I always doubt myself! I even doubt other people’s views/opinions on me and play things over in my mind of “are they lying or not?””is that true or not?... do they want something from me?!” And it is not healthy! BECASE WHO REALY CARES? As long as you are happy then everything else follows.. • The work I have been doing through @liverpoolurbanhairshow @hairheals is helping me through taking photos to build my confidence, to encourage building the confidence of others! It is important to give yourself some self love and feel happy in your own skin 😁✨ •makeup by @hcarson_mua dressed by @heatherseenthis and photos to come from @dee_jay_togg @kennyclaytonphotography @bbc5live #baldisbeatiful #nohairdontcare #alopecia #alopeciauk #alopeciawigs #alopeciaareata #alopecianbeauty #bald #baldbeauty #baldwomen #selflove #empoweringwomen #thebaldierevolution #thebaldys #thebaldiemovement #headtat #liverpool #liverpoolmua #hair #humpday #happyhumpday
Another #AlopeciaIsFashion champion is Evangeline Betts, 23, a self-employed beauty therapist living in South Wales, who also has also modelled and acted as a spokesperson for the campaign. She once appeared on Channel 4's First Dates to "spread the message that bald is beautiful".
"Showing anything out of the ordinary in a beautiful photograph will help somebody with that particular issue," Betts told Refinery29. "Seeing others look beautiful and strong will show others that they can do the same. We're all so quick to judge ourselves compared to others when really, we're the only ones like us, so why not just embrace it and forget everything else? This is one main thing we're trying to do through the campaign."
We're all so quick to judge ourselves compared to others when really, we're the only ones like us, so why not just embrace it?
Betts lost her hair at three years old and says she didn’t come to terms with it until she appeared on First Dates. "I’d cry often and down days where I couldn’t even look in the mirror. Recently my eyelashes and eyebrows have fallen out again, which is really difficult for me to even mention at the moment."
Like Betts, for the first ten years of living with Alopecia McAvoy was "terrified" of people discovering [she] had no hair or seeing her without a wig on. But nowadays, she rarely covers her head and loves the way she looks, although she admits it's "taken a long time to get here".
Looking back at her childhood, she realises that having a close friend with Alopecia was hugely beneficial in helping to gain her confidence, so she has now created Ally, a friend-finding app for people with Alopecia, which launches this autumn. The app already has pre-registrations from across the world. "Our aim is to make finding a friend with Alopecia easier than ever before. We're also hoping to grow the global Alopecia community to access more people who need help coming to terms with their condition."
For Betts, self-acceptance came from directly from within. "The thing that has helped myself overcome my personal battle with Alopecia is myself. It took me 20 years to have the guts to go on TV and take my hair off – even then I didn’t tell anybody. People need to find their own self love before seeking approval or love from anyone else," she continued.
"When that happens, you become involved with others in the same situation and do amazing things, as I’m starting to do through this campaign, and love yourself more and more until the weight has lifted from your head. Literally!"