In January, when getting a haircut, I found out that a patch of my hair was missing. I was truly devastated, and feared I was on a downward trajectory towards irreversible change. This made me reflect on how important towards my identity, my confidence, my sense of self and my pole dance practice my hair is. Most importantly, it was a wake up call: it showed me that this busy, globetrotting persona that a lot of my friends and followers praise comes at a cost – in this case, my hair was that cost. Now that, it seems, the issue has been solved (I’m very superstitious and didn’t wanna talk to soon), I decided to finally talk about this discovery, about what was behind my hair loss, the fears it triggered and what it taught me, as a form of closure and in the hope that it will help someone going through the same thing.
This post is very personal, and may be triggering to people who have gone through similar experiences. It also comes from the perspective of someone who’s incredibly attracted to people – and especially women – with shaven heads or close cuts: I’m thinking Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, Doja Cat and a series of gorgeous Black women who absolutely rock that hairstyle. Sadly, I don’t have those features, and I’ve always been quite attached to my long hair.
I’m also fully aware that my hair loss experience has been fairly minor, and that so many people have it much worse than me. But this was still shocking, especially when I found out the reason I was losing my hair. So that’s why I’m nervous when talking about it, but feel it’s important to share it, as reading other people’s stories made me feel less alone.
Losing my hair: how I found out
It was just an average day in early January 2023. I’d popped to my local hairdresser for a trim near home in Olbia, Sardinia, where I was visiting my parents during the Christmas break. I do this twice a year, and it’s usually uneventful: my only even remotely dramatic experience there are extended delays. But this time it was different.
After washing my hair, my hairdresser sat me down in front of the mirror, where she parted my hair in the centre to get ready to trim it. I was messing about on my phone and initially didn’t notice, but when I looked up I saw this bald oval, a few centimetres long, bang on in the middle of my centre parting, at the front of my head.
My hairdresser, who is quite discreet, had said nothing. But I suddenly panicked: “What is that? Have I lost my hair?” I asked. She said: “I thought you knew, I didn’t wanna say anything in case you didn’t wanna talk about it.”
I just hadn’t realised. In December, I’d noticed I was shedding more hair than usual, but I never thought it’d end up like this. I normally part my hair to the side, and hadn’t experienced this the last time I had a trim, in mid-September. I was crestfallen. The colour drained from my face, and I couldn’t think straight: it was like someone was squeezing my brain, and I already imagined myself with thinning hair, bald patches or having to shave it all off.
I was googling what might have caused this already from the hair salon, during the blow dry. The hairdresser reassured me that it was probably stress, and that the hair follicles were already growing back. I, however, wanted reassurance from a specialist to put my mind at ease, to rule out any serious conditions and to start doing something about my hair loss.
While my father – who is a far worse hypochondriac than me and who gets even more worried when I’m concerned – panicked, mum booked her trusted dermatologist for the next day. I, meanwhile, couldn’t sit still, and kept furiously googling (which I never usually do when I’m ill, but I must have been at a really low point). I was unable to deal with any basic request: the planning of a friend’s birthday, my social media brand partnerships, even just normal communications with friends and co-workers seemed difficult. I’d been catapulted back to the days when my anxiety stopped me in my tracks.
My relationship with my hair
The bald patch wasn’t… like… huge. You couldn’t really see it without a centre parting, although I then realised you could see a darker strand of hair on the front of my head, which was the strand below the one I’d lost. I was very lucky that it wasn’t visible. Still, I’d never had to worry about my hair – it was always just there. I’d always given it for granted. I didn’t need one more thing to worry about! But those days worrying about whether it was ever going to be the same made me reflect on my relationship with my hair and on how devastated I’d be to lose it.
When I send rounds of NGL.Link anonymous questions stickers, I often get people asking me about my favourite body part. I usually say my ass or my abs, but while you can’t exactly call your hair a body part… it has always been something I liked much more than other bits of my body.
In hindsight, I’ve always loved my hair. Growing up as a nerdy girl in a small Sardinian town in the early 2000s meant that a lot of things about me were too much, or not enough: I was never happy with my weight or my skin, I felt awkward, I wasn’t one of the popular girls. But my hair was always long, shiny, smooth and very easy to deal with. It was the one thing I have never felt I had to ‘work on’.
Looking back, I’d always been so happy with my hair that I’d never really changed it: apart from a very unfortunate bangs experiment in my teens, and a failed ombre, my hair stayed the same. Part of me has always wanted to dye it bright red, but I’ve never given in because my hair was healthy, it didn’t require much maintenance (especially for someone who trains as much as I do), and I could count on it to make me look effortlessly put together.
My hair has always made me feel powerful, whether when headbanging during metal gigs or my favourite metal songs, or when I translated that love for rock and metal into a pole dance style that is all about head rolls, hair flicks and whips.
Hair flicks and whips have been something other polers complimented me on. They are central to my performance style and to the way I express myself, and while you can do them without long hair, I just love the way they look on me with my current length.
My hair has also somehow always been something partners complimented me on, whether they noticed its shine or stopped to breathe in its scent before they kissed me. It has always been a marker of womanhood, a way to express my femininity, even at times when I didn’t or don’t want to perform femininity. It’s that one thing that keeps me in touch with my feminine side. This is, I realise, very binary: I’ve always been attracted by people with long hair, regardless of their gender; and it is, of course, devastating and painful for men to lose their hair too.
But somehow, these social expectations and constructs about hair played a part in my identity, in my relationships, in my pole dancing style and in developing my self-confidence. It seemed devastating and impossible to shed all of these memories to adapt to a new life, where my hair wasn’t something I could count on.
Why I lost my hair
When I saw a dermatologist the following day in Italy, he confirmed that my hair was growing back and that, most likely, I had lost it due to stress. He identified the falling time period as September-October, which checked out: it was when I’d realised I was burnt out by teaching pole, and was panicking about leaving my regular studio slot. It was one of the most stressful times of my life, which I covered in a different post, because the thing that kept me sane (aka pole) had stopped bringing me joy due to my multiple work commitments.
We ran a series of blood tests and, despite a minor iron deficiency that was fixed by tweaking my diet, it turned out I had no other health condition that could have triggered hair loss. So it was stress. As a result, my dermatologist gave me some tablets, a specific shampoo and a growth gel. I have also gotten rid of my over-the-counter shampoos in favour of more delicate, natural products. Three months later, my hair has now fully grown back.
What losing my hair taught me
I was very lucky to have been home in Sardinia when I found out about my hair loss. I’m so glad I had the support of my parents, and the chance to pay for and see a specialist as soon as possible without having to go through the NHS’ waitlists. I was also incredibly grateful to my friends, who stepped in at a very difficult time with advice or just to listen to try and calm me down.
Of course, I went into overdrive and catastrophised, a classic anxious response that I’ve mainly eradicated but that resurfaced this time. And of course, as I said, I had a minor case of hair loss that is hopefully a one-off and related to accumulated stress, but a lot more people have been in way more challenging situations than me. Still, what this instance of hair loss taught me though was that I was taking my time, my ability to cope, my physical and mental health for granted.
I am extremely lucky and privileged: I have a roof over my head, a full-time job that feels meaningful to me, hobbies that make me happy, lots of loving people in my life. But, looking back, I’ve had a difficult few years: a year of post-PhD precarity and over-work when freelancing as a pole instructor; a heart-shattering break-up which dragged on throughout the last lockdown; I’d lost a friend after a few issues in our relationship; there has been ongoing drama with the house I own that have made my living situation stressful; the platforms I manage make me feel always on, constantly available and pulled in a million directions; I receive daily requests to help de-platformed people recover their accounts, so much so that I feel like an undeserving arbiter of who gets to work and exist online – and have to manage tricky conversations with Meta and creators as a result. Getting my postdoc position was a big relief, but instead of taking less on, I’d kept taking on more, without leaving the things I could no longer manage. I was giving too much of my energy away.
The person you see online comes at a cost. This was the cost.
So this brief instance of hair loss was a wake-up call about doing LESS this year: I’m only taking on projects that I truly care about and that benefit me personally or professionally; I’m protecting my energy by making myself less available to people online; I’m trying to communicate clearly and directly with my loved ones, and avoid stressful situations and/or those who do not communicate or respect my boundaries.
Most importantly, I’m asking for help more often. I’ve started working with the amazing Helena at Lover Management to take my work (academic and non-academic) to the next level, and to know that someone has my back and can help me by taking on some of the outreach and negotiation work I used to have to do all the time with brands, events and collaborations.
It’s been a stressful few months.
But this experience has made me feel like my physical and mental health are too important to keep overworking myself into the ground.
I’m still paranoid about losing more hair, and sometimes have to have check-ins with my mum where I show her different bits of my head to make sure my hair isn’t looking thinner or less than usual (sorry, mum). On the plus side, this has been an excuse to put my hair through less crap, to use better products and to try heatless curls instead of heat rollers, giving me a bombshell look I’ve always struggled to achieve because curlers made me look like a poodle. I now love my healthier curls, and my hair is still long, thick and shiny. ????
Keep your fingers crossed for me that this episode was just a one off ????
People can face hair loss for disparate reasons at any point or time in their lives. It can be alopecia, alopecia areata, or a condition triggered by other issues such as hormonal changes or some more serious illnesses. Here are some useful links, but don’t do what I did – speak to a doctor and stay away from Google!
- NHS information about hair loss
- Hair loss influencers to follow
- Alopecia UK information about alopecia
- Offline support groups
- Online support groups