Saturday 8th August 2020
"What mattered was that I was happy, felt like “me”, and had some level of control"
Guest Blog by Olympic Gold Medallist Joanna Rowsell
Hello everyone, as we enter into Hair Loss Awareness month, I wanted to take this opportunity to write a bit about my perspective of the psychological impact of hair loss.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Joanna Rowsell and I am a reigning Olympic Champion in the sport of cycling. I’ve had alopecia areata for as long as I can remember and I lost all my hair from my head aged 10. Since then it has grown back a few times but never stuck around for very long, so normally I might have a few patches of regrowth at best.
A common phrase I’ve heard since experiencing hair loss is “it’s only hair”, which of course has always been spoken by someone not going through hair loss themselves. Many people define themselves by their hair, or use hair to define others. Often just simple phrases like “the blonde girl” when identifying someone, which is fine and people do this without even realising it. But it’s not until you experience hair loss that you realise quite how much it can be an identifying factor, either by others or by ourselves internally.
As a child I kept asking my parents why? Why was it happening? Why me? Why wouldn’t it just grow back? I think the lack of control is the most devastating thing – waking up each morning to seeing hair on the pillow, fistfuls of hair coming out in the shower, and not being able to do anything about it.
As tough as this was as a 10 year old, I’d say it was even tougher again aged 16 and then again aged 19, both times my hair had gradually grown back, only for me to then loose it again.
At the third time of loosing my hair I decided I wanted to take back control and investigate wigs. Another phrase I have heard a lot is “but you look great without hair”. I know this is well meaning and I appreciate it. But what I realised was it didn’t really matter if other people thought I looked great or not, what mattered was that I was happy, felt like “me”, and had some level of control.
My first experience of Trendco was visiting their London salon. I was nervous about the staff seeing my hairless head (of course they didn’t bat an eyelid) and privacy when trying on (of course there are plenty of private areas for trying on). I had a lovely time trying on a variety of styles and colours - I tried all sorts of different lengths and each time was amazed at the transformation. At this stage I was probably still too concerned what other people thought and kept asking the opinions of the stylist of what suited me best. I came away with a couple of different pieces and was delighted that these were placed in a plain carrier bag (I was needlessly concerned I’d have to walk down the street with a branded bag drawing attention to the fact that I wore wigs!).
What I’ve realised now when it comes to wigs is that the most important thing is that I feel confident with whatever I’m wearing. I’ve had amazing feedback from people about certain styles but I just haven’t felt right. I think that has a knock on affect to confidence and body language.
For me wigs are all about giving myself control over alopecia, to feel like me, and this in turn gives me confidence to go out and face the world.
Over time my openness about alopecia and wearing wigs has helped me a huge amount when dealing with hair loss. One of the best pieces of advice I was given is that when communicating with someone is “you’re like a mirror”. If I’m shy, awkward and unconfident, this can make others around me respond in this way, and in turn I will feel more awkward. When I’m confident and openly talk about alopecia and wigs, I have had 100% positive responses. Most people know very little about hair loss and how many people it affects, and even less know much about wigs, the different types and how versatile they are. I now love raising awareness and understanding and I truly dig the wig!