A How-To Guide For Boyfriends/Husbands Of Ladies With Alopecia

Psst: This post about dating a bald girl is brought to you by my better – and much hairier – half, Mr Alopecia! Also known as the lovely Andy. Take it away, Andy! 😉 

If you’d asked a teenage me whether I would date a girl with alopecia, I probably would’ve made a terribly crass joke, like “yeah, maybe one with alopecia from the waist down!”

(If that joke offended you, blame comedian Tim Minchin. He came up with that one, not me. I would never say anything like that, I’m far too woke.) 

Nope, dating a bald girl isn’t something I had as part of my life plan… but then again, I never had a life plan. So it’s technically not not part of my life plan, either.

andy face
This is me. Apparently, I'm surprised to meet you.

Hi, I’m Andy. Lady Alopecia’s hairier half. Nice to meet you all.

Why am I talking to you? Well, just like Emma wishes she’d had someone to guide her through her alopecia journey, when my girlfriend’s hair started falling out, I definitely could’ve done with someone to ask for help, too.

So, below is a guide of sorts for boyfriends or partners of Alopecians. Less of a how-to guide and more of a “what not to do” guide when you’re dating a bald girl.

Alopecians, you are welcome to use this as a window into your partners’ brainscape. Hopefully, it might explain their weird behaviour.

Start at the Beginning: Our Origin Story

Explosion at a red slinky factory!

When I first met Em, she had a great big curly mop of red hair – like a much better-looking lady version of Sideshow Bob. 

It’d be safe to say that her hair was a big part of what attracted me to her. Her bouncy hair matched her bouncy personality, her bouncy way of talking, her hilarious bouncy walk and… well, other bouncy things.

Within a few weeks of “courting”, whilst enjoying a rooftop beer on a small island off the coast of Kenya, she opened up about her “patches”, pulling a handful of ringlets aside to show me a shiny temple. At the time, she had so much excess hair that I hadn’t noticed until that point. Plus, we had been drinking and she had boobs, so my mind was elsewhere.

Long story short, I fell hard. A holiday romance turned into a long-distance relationship which, within just over a year, transformed into us living together in Edinburgh.

The Dark Years: Living with The Shedder

“The Shedder” I said, not “The Shredder” – that’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Anyway, I digress.

It was in Edinburgh that Em’s hair really took flight. And a small part of me still thinks it had something to do with the excess wind in that town. This was the year of Hurricane Bawbag, after all – if anyone remembers that. Any Bawbag fans? Just me? Oh well.

The hardest part to watch, as each clump swirled down the drain, was not the loss of her bouncy ringlets – but how the bounce disappeared from the rest of her life. When her hair really started to go, Em shrunk back from the world, and the fun and silliness drained out of her. It was like a light being dimmed.

Her self-confidence disappeared completely and she was depressed, not that I knew what depression was at the time. Depression was not something that my life experiences to that point had prepared me to deal with.

So I dealt with it pretty badly.

em with one side hair
Emma in her Gabrielle phase.

What not to do when your girlfriend’s hair falls out:

As Em lost more and more hair, I tried a number of strategies. None of which were very helpful. Some of which probably hindered. 

Here are those “helping” strategies I employed – which might be wise for you to avoid if you’re dating a bald girl!

1) Ignore it:

This was my first strategy. It might sound like a terrible idea but my intention was to brush off the seriousness of Emma losing her hair, simply by pretending that it wasn’t an issue. No big deal. The downside to that plan is that it made me seem a little callous. Like I didn’t get what was going on. (Which of course I didn’t, as I’m a hairy man.) But still… I did get it, more than I let on.

2) Be overly jokey about it:

This was another technique I tried early on. Probably too early, with hindsight. I made jokes. Lots of jokes. I thought that if alopecia was something we could laugh about, then it couldn’t be too bad. Which meant that at times, I was the only one making jokes about something I didn’t have, and couldn’t fully understand. Which is never good.

3) Downplay it

Getting perspective is always great in life. But telling someone else to get perspective doesn’t always go down too well. Informing your rapidly balding girlfriend that “it could be worse” might be factually true. But when have facts ever worked on a girlfriend, fellas? Ya with me on this?! Perspective only comes with time and distance.

4) Drive to Mongolia:

Admittedly, this might only be relevant to a very small number of you – but if your girlfriend’s hair is falling out, don’t leave for four months and drive to Mongolia. Or if you do, take her with you.

yurt love

Getting her bounce back

tigger bouncing
Orange hair, excitable. Emma and Tigger are basically the same thing.

It took a long time to get from those dark days in Edinburgh to today. To the point at which Em happily cycles around our adopted home town of Hoi An (in Vietnam), rocking her floppy mohican for all to see, wearing deliberately mismatched feather earrings and a bright yellow t-shirt that boasts “bad hair day”.

Now she has bounced way back beyond that bubbly character I first met in Kenya. She is on a whole new planet. If anything, Emma is more herself now that she has ever been.

And it’s because of her alopecia.

How she got to this point, well that’s all her. All I did was hang around in the background and tell her I thought she was beautiful. It took years until she started to believe me again.

My most successful strategy to date: Hugs… and lots of them!

Just because Em’s out and open about her alopecia, doesn’t mean there aren’t “down days” from time to time. Especially when she goes through another round of shedding. My – more effective – approach now is simply to say “that’s shit” and “do you want a hug?” And if she does, then great. If not, also great.

So if you’re dating a bald girl, you should probably be a hugger. Or learn to be one.

10 things dating an Alopecian for 10 years has taught me

hair on beach
I've enough hair for the both of us!

Lesson #1: Don’t pretend to understand what it’s like

Now, I am about as hairy as a man can possibly be. If I didn’t shave around my eyes semi-regularly my head hair would quickly join forces with my beard and carry on to blend with my body hair. 

Think Hairy Jeremy; a niche reference, but one that some of you might get.

hairy jeremy
Andy
hairy andy
Hairy Jeremy

The older I get, the hairier I get. I have no idea what my body thinks is going to happen when I am older but it clearly thinks that I need a lot of body hair to survive it.

Why am I telling you this? Well, the point I’m making is that if you saw me on the street, you’d think I’m about as far away from a bald girl as you could get. And well, you would be right. I am.

But even if I was a completely bald man, I would still have no idea what it’s like to be a bald girl in this world. Because standards are different.

One of the biggest (and bestest) films of this year/ever, Hobbs vs Shaw, had two actors in their forties who are completely bald and have been for many years. The Rock and Jason Statham. Oh, how their glorious heads shone. And we loved them for it.

Sexy eggs!

But when was the last time you saw any film with an actress who didn’t have immaculate hair? (And no, Anne Hathaway in Les Mis doesn’t count.)

Remember when Britney shaved her head? The world lost its collective shit.

It’s just different. So as a boyfriend of a baldie, it’s your job to be empathic and supportive… but don’t pretend you actually understand. ’Cos you don’t. And definitely don’t compare them to a bald man, no matter how legendary The Rock is. They won’t appreciate it.

Lesson #2: Be proud, and vocal… but not too vocal!

I love it when people at a party or in a pub ask me who I’m there with and I can point across the room, saying “the bald girl over there”.

Like I said at the start, I never thought I’d end up dating a bald girl. But I never thought I’d end up with someone boring and normal, either. And Emma is definitely neither of those things.

That said, even if I’m 100% comfortable talking about Emma’s alopecia, she doesn’t want every situation to be about her hair loss. Sometimes, especially on nights out, she just wants it to be that – a night out.

She doesn’t want to get in “deep” conversations about female identity with a random stranger I’ve met at the bar. As with everything, there’s a time and a place. Which is fair enough.

Lesson #3: Know that wigs are complicated… really complicated!

Emma in a wig
Lovely hair... wonder who it belonged to first!

Em wore clip-in extensions and wigs for a couple of years, and they were a vital part of the “bounce back”. They gave her the confidence to get out and about until she was ready to unleash her bald head on the world.

Before seeing Em with them, my knowledge of wigs was limited. I thought of wigs a lot like Legoman hair. As in, you could have a box of them and just pick one up, pop it on and leave. That the whole process would take 15 seconds max.

Nope. Most wigs require the same amount of styling as normal hair – at least, the one Em chose did. This is because, as I came to learn, the “good” wigs are made out of human hair.

So, if you’re dating a girl with alopecia and she wears wigs, you’ll have to develop levels of patience akin to those of a Buddhist monk waiting for the sweet release of Nirvana. It’ll take her a loooooooong time to get ready. And you must not rush her.

To help you foster this patience, keep one thing in mind: leaving the house when you have alopecia is a big deal. So better she takes a long time than she doesn’t leave the house at all.

Lesson #4: Don’t underestimate the power of a supportive group

The lovely ladies (and gents) of the Line-Up Choir

What probably helped Em most in getting her bounce back was joining an amazing community choir in Dublin. A bunch of ladies – and a few gents – from very different backgrounds, who came together once or twice a week to sing. It sounds very simple but the confidence she gained from those couple of hours a week soon became apparent in the rest of her life.

Big shout out to The Line-Up Choir for that – thank you!

Now obviously, not every girl with alopecia can or will want to join a choir – but finding a safe and supportive environment, somewhere they can express themselves, is worth a billion dollars.

Whether it’s a knitting circle, a capoeira class, a book club or a Dungeons and Dragons night, encouraging your balding lady to get involved – in anything where they can be creative and express themselves – is something I fully recommend.

Lesson #5: Be open to “cures”… but not too open!

Legendary words from legendary Carl Sagan.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia. Only treatments. So you should always be wary if your girlfriend or partner bounds through the door, claiming she needs $7,000 to fly to Paraguay because she’s just read about a native frog that you can lick to trigger hair growth.

Emma would describe me as a cynic when it comes to “cures”; whereas I prefer the term “open-minded rationalist”. I like facts and science. I very much believe vaccines are a good thing and that the world is round. Still, I appreciate there are a lot of things which on the surface can seem a little “woo woo”, but which can work for lots of people. The mind is a hugely powerful thing and the placebo effect has been proven to be highly effective.

Reiki, energy healing, numerology, aromatherapy, rune stones and salt lamps all seem completely bananas to me. But if people genuinely believe they work for them, I fully believe they can. Maybe not for the reasons they think. But hey – if it works, it works!

Em has tried a lot of fixes for her hair; some more “woo” than others. I sometimes cringe at the cost of these treatments – but the only one I was and am 100% opposed to is cortisone injections. (Which, ironically, is the science-backed one, and the procedure which would probably help her hair to grow back quickest.)

Why the opposition? Well, the idea of voluntarily injecting powerful hormones directly into your head to grow some hair seems crazy to me. And if this is something you’re thinking about – or someone you love is thinking about – I would implore you both to think again. Sure, the hair might grow back but what happens if it falls out again? A lifetime of harmful injections? No, thanks.

Lesson #6: Hair isn’t sexy. Confidence is sexy.

Now, this is definitely something my teenage self wouldn’t understand. What attracts you to someone in the first place is often superficial – boobs, bums, bouncing hair – but what keeps you attracted to someone, in the long run, isn’t.

Hair is just a thing. It’s just strands of keratin. And hair isn’t sexy on its own. If it were, there’d be lines of pervy teenage boys hanging outside every wig shop in the land.

It’s how the person with the hair holds themself that’s sexy. Confidence is sexy.

Your job, if you’re dating a bald girl, is to help your follicley challenged lover to rediscover their confidence – not to help them grow their hair back.

Lesson #7: Educate yourself about alopecia. And think outside the box!

Before I met Emma, I was aware of what alopecia was – but what I knew wouldn’t have filled a matchbox. I grew up watching Shooting Stars so I knew and loved Matt Lucas. The Baked Potato Song is one of my all-time favourite pieces of absurdist humour. (The following video contains extremely British content. You have been warned.)

I also grew up looking at pictures of Gail Porter… so I knew Gail Porter, too. I won’t include a link to the pictures I looked at. Remember, I was young!

So when Em’s hair started falling out, I did what anyone would do. I took to the internet and devoured input like Johnny Five. My mistake, however, was only sticking to dry medical websites and even academic journals. Basically, I thought like a boy.

My advice now is this: think like a girl. Think less about the facts and more about the emotional impact. What I didn’t do back then was to delve into the amazing communities of alopecians online, or even contact anyone to ask for more human advice. That would’ve been the smart move and would’ve provided me with a far more realistic perspective on female hair loss.

Alopecia is not life-threatening – but it is mental health-threatening, which is in turn quality-of-life threatening.

Lesson #8: Remember, everyone has something going on

This is something Em talks about all the time, and it is so very true. Every single person on this planet has something they worry about far too much. Usually something physical that they think makes them stand out from the crowd. In a bad way.

Reading this, you’re probably thinking about your own thing. We all have one… and guess what? It isn’t a big deal. The thing is, most of us are so busy thinking about ourselves to even notice a big nose, a wonky eye, a hairy back or a funny walk. And the list goes on.

being a human in dubln
Being a human in Dublin, picture credit to Humans of Dublin.

Lesson #9: You can use people's reactions to "your" alopecian to judge their character

I often get to see people’s reactions to Emma’s bald noggin, reactions that she herself misses. Partially because she’s not the most observant type, and partly because  people don’t always know I’m attached to her.

So when we walk down the street, or into a room, it’s usually me that catches people’s second looks. Those cartoon moments when someone on a bicycle does a double take and almost crashes. 

I also get to see when people point and make comments, or sometimes even point and laugh. Now, anyone who has met me knows I am not about to swing fists into battle but judging how people react to Emma is a very easy way for me to judge their character. 

Frankly, I don’t care what people think. And while Em has met some pretty nasty characters along the way, I’ve seen that the vast majority of people on the planet are good-hearted. And that warms my cockles no end.

Lesson #10: Dating a bald girl is never dull!

festival times
Festival faces!

Hey, guy with a normal-haired girlfriend! Yep, I’m talking to you. Has your girlfriend ever come up to you at festival in Myanmar and said, “that guy over there just licked my head”? 

Well, has she?! No. Didn’t think so. Dating a girl with alopecia is never ever dull. It certainly has its very low low points but it also has its very high highs. And once you get past the superficial fact that your girl looks a little different, you’ll find that in fact, life on the other side is far richer than you could ever imagine. 

So my final piece of advice is this…

Life is short and soon we will all be dust again. So why the fuck would you want to waste your days with someone normal and boring?! Lads, I recommend you all go out and find yourself an alopecian.

Love your body, whatever it looks like; as long as you can move your limbs you should go out and dance like a loon. Live everyday like it’s a festival. It’s a strategy Em and I try to employ most days. And we’ve never been happier – even as the two misfits we are, the bald chick and her hairy companion.

Got a girlfriend, wife or partner with alopecia? If you need advice, fling me an email: [email protected]

Now, I am by no means an expert and I definitely don’t have all the answers. I have only ever had one girlfriend with alopecia, and guess what, all alopecians are very different. So what works on my bald girlfriend might not work with yours. But if you have a question, I will try and answer it. Thank you.

Andy (mr lady alopecia) xxx

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1. Female celebrities with alopecia – ladies who rock the bald spots
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3. Global reactions to alopecia – how the rest of the world views a baldie

Queen Pinkett