Why Women Don’t Talk About Hair Loss

Why we avoid the topic but we shouldn’t if we are to either treat the problem early, or find ways to support us emotionally.

Why we avoid the topic but we shouldn’t if we are to either treat the problem early, or find ways to support us emotionally.

When men go bald, they shave their heads and are pronounced cool. But there is no such role model when women start losing their hair. This discrepancy in social acceptance and understanding of female pattern hair loss has created reticence around the subject.

While men do consider androgenetic alopecia or male pattern hair loss an unwanted and stressful event that affects their body image (studies indicate 50% of men with mild hair loss and 75% with moderate to severe hair loss report concern [Cash 1992]), society tends to regard hair loss in men as expected and normal due to the greater visibility of the condition among them. There is also a better understanding of male pattern hair loss compared to female pattern hair loss which normalizes the conversation around it. In contrast, women’s hair thinning is not largely visible which makes it difficult for those affected to talk about it or try to find a solution.

Societal norms dictate that hair is an essential part of a woman’s sexuality and gender identity. We are constantly reminded of this through billboards, advertisements and social media. There is no enviable role model of a woman with obviously thinning hair. The association of a full head of flowing locks with femininity, beauty, youthfulness and vigour makes women more conscious of even subtle degrees of loss, and causes sufferers to exhibit higher social anxiety and less life satisfaction.

A study showed that 52% of women were very-to-extremely upset by their hair loss, compared with 28% of men (Cash 1992; Cash et al 1993). The distress results in lower self-esteem, a poor body image, feelings of guilt, problems with sleep and restriction of social activities. A 2001 study of females with hair loss by Schmidt utilized by Hairdex showed participants experienced a comparable level of impairment to patients with atopic dermatitis and psoriasis in the areas of emotion and functioning. Highly visible hair loss led to a more negative effect on functioning, emotional regulation, self-confidence and feelings of stigmatisation. The term ‘bad hair day’ further attests to the psychological importance given to hair. Personal and social pressure causes a woman with hair loss to go through psychological stress that’s out of proportion to the problem.

The emotions around hair loss are sometimes so overwhelming they start affecting the woman’s daily routine life. It may lead to limiting social activities, avoiding family occasions and spending a lot of time and money on hair grooming. Studies by Hunt and McHale have shown that around 40% of women with alopecia have had marital problems and around 63% claimed to have career-related issues.

More women with the condition also suffer from depression compared to men. A Spanish study found that 55% of female patients experienced depression compared to 3% of men. It doesn’t help that many women find their doctors unsupportive. A 2001 survey by Williamson to quantify the effects of hair loss on quality of life reported that 40% found that their doctors had been dismissive or unsupportive about their condition.

The stigma and negativity that surrounds the perception of women with thinning hair has stifled their ability to express their feelings about it. The most damaging part of this is that the prospects of treating this condition becomes more remote if no one is talking about it. Most hair specialists and medical professionals agree that the earlier you treat hair loss, the higher the chance of regaining your hair. This is supported by science too: as hair quality diminishes, each individual hair gets progressively finer. Finally when there is no more hair sprouting from that follicle, the follicle itself gets further miniaturized. Intervention at this stage, while not impossible for results, becomes more difficult.

So the underlying message would be: hair loss is common among women, 50% of women over 40 would have experienced it at least once in their lives. You would have a friend out there who would be interested to find out more about this topic, discuss the treatments that have worked for them, share what they are doing to help support them emotionally, recommend doctors who have helped them. Let’s open this topic to everyone. It’s the first step to articulating your distress and mitigating the discomfort around women’s hair loss.

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