Thursday, 30 April 2015

The significance of hair...

As you might have spotted in this blog post about alopecia, and this one about my own hairloss, I've had some very diverse experiences with Trichologists, and whilst they can't cure all forms of hairloss, they do really understand it, and know what's going on...

A few weeks ago, I started tweeting with Iain Sallis, a trichologist with a particular fascination for the psychological impacts of hairloss, and he certainly has some interesting things to say. Here he kindly guest blog's for us here at Pretty Bald, giving insight into his own experiences with patients that he's met along the way... Enjoy!

So what! You're not going to die from going bald or loosing a bit of why are you worrying! It's not life threatening
These types of statements are all too common if you speak to some misguided (and lets face it ignorant) people about hair loss; the medical profession has a tendency to dismiss hair problems as frivolous or people having a ‘slight case of vanity’. This, coupled with the socially awkward problem of talking to someone about it in the first place can leave sufferers upset, vulnerable and confused as to their problem.
As a Trichologist my job is to help people with hair loss and scalp problems; I see the devastation it can cause in a person's life almost daily and it always amazes me how attached people are to this dead fibre that serves no physical purpose to our lives! More so than our nails or skin, our hair seems to have become a manifestation of our psychological well being. People know how important hair is to them (especially if they have suffered hair loss or thinning) I just think people do not realise why hair is so important to us socially and psychologically.
The importance of hair is ingrained into our history and our psyche from us being little... just think of stories such as Rapunzel, Samson and Dahlia, these stories teach us that beautiful princesses have beautiful hair, and a man with a full head of hair denotes strength and power (much like a mane of a lion). Through the ages ‘hair’ has denoted social standing:
  • It told us who the warriors are in a tribe (the Mohawk) or who we should be ashamed of; socially the cutting off of a woman’s hair used to be a punishment for promiscuity in some parts of the world until the mid 1900s... of course the men never had their hair cut, just the women!
  • Even the colour of hair has a large affect on us; red hair used to be the sign of a fiery temper, blondes are supposed to have more fun but may also be seen to infer a person to be dizzy or dim? 
  • Many women (and men) change their hair colour and cut when something significant has happened in their lives; it is a signal to them and everyone else that says I have changed or moved on...I’m a new person!
  • Grey hair is now seen as a sign of ageing, however, when we were more of a tribal animal, grey hair may have been a rarity (as we would not live for very long) so grey hair would denote the seniority and wisdom that would come with being around for so long! Again a positive unfortunately turned into a negative.

The lack of knowledge of hair disorders makes for very frustrated and worried people who quite easily fall into the hands of companies who tout their ‘miracle cures’ at a great cost (both emotionally and financially) to the sufferer. Hair loss on its own is not life threatening, but in many cases it acts as a ‘red flag’ to an underlying problem that need to be addressed. The psychological effects of losing your hair usually far outweigh the physical effects though!
  • Men - Usually feel as though they cannot talk to friends or family about hair loss as they shouldn't be bothered about it...just one of those things, right? If you’re worried about your hair, you’re classed as vain and it’s definitely not masculine to be worrying about your hair (the average bloke down the pub will have little sympathy with a mate who starts talking about his worried hair line).
  • Women – To admit that you're losing your hair can subconsciously feel like you're losing your femininity, youth, looks and in turn your self confidence...not exactly the easiest subject to bring up with friends or family!

We live in a world where perfection is rammed down our throats through every media, magazines, T.V and Films. This only serves to isolate the person with a hair problem as you very rarely see women suffer with hair problems in the media (unless they’re unfortunate enough to suffer from it in whilst the glare of the media spot light, and be strong enough to confront the problem in the full glare of the supportive but fascinated media). The common disguise is hair extensions, which can mask thinning and fine hair, but which can also lead to exacerbating the very same issues they are trying to cover. Hence every now and again you will see a drastic hair change as the hair would have got so bad it cannot hack it any more…fortunately for them, they also have a army of stylists to cover the problem in a different way!
With men the last resort is the shaved look, frowned upon until the past couple of decades, but thanks to celebrities such as David Beckham this look hit the mainstream and all of a sudden a shaved head is cool…not strange; a guy who shaved his head before this were looked upon as a thug (a bovver boy). When I was growing up the only bald guys on TV were Kojak and Yule Brynner (and Duncan Goodhew of course!) all of which stood out due to their complete lack of scalp hair. Other follicularly challenged men such as Bruce Willis decided to go down the toupè route until he decided to shave his head too…then he became hot property again?!
A New scientific study show that men and women who tried to hide a hair problem were rated, less confident and less attractive by a survey group, whereas people with a shaved / bald head were rated more confident and so more attractive; why? The scientists behind this social experiment concluded that the survey group subconsciously realised the subjects in the first group were trying to hide something, which then transferred to a lack of confidence in the person's mind. The group who did not show the tendencies to hide, were rated more confident…hence more attractive!
For women, the cultural change of “fashionable baldness’ has not taken place as hair and ‘beauty’ are far more intertwined in the female psyche than the male!
Take all of the above then focus it through the lens of medial consumption, the obsession with ‘whoever’s’ new hair cut, colour, style…we are consumers and we CONSUME our idols, celebrities (for want of a better word)...They are not allowed a ‘bad hair day’ therefore, (sub-consciously) neither are you!
It’s only when our conscious brain takes over, which argues the fact that “you are not your hair”, you can be feminine, beautiful and worthy WITHOUT this strange ‘dead’ fibre growing out of your scalp that you can place hair loss into perspective….so why does it still niggle you, prick the back of your mind??
I have been told that our subconscious is not logical; it is there to keep us alive, so, if in the past the females that ‘looked’ healthy (i.e.: fit, good skin, healthy hair etc) made our brains think they would make good mates, they henceforth had a better chance of perpetuating our species…this may be the reason why we ‘feel’ hair is important, the same way good teeth and good skin are, as a marker of ‘health’.
So, how important is hair really? Well, in truth the answer is “it is as important as you make it”  as the lack of hair has no significant health implications. Hair is all important to our psychological health and well being, so what happens when you have to learn to live without it, to re-program your brain to let go of this superfluous fibre!...maybe you can tell me?
Iain Sallis M.I.T A.I.T Twitter: @PrettyBald

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