Guess the secret all these women share
There’s no cure. It can make them too depressed to leave home. Some even hid it from their husbands. Now — over the page — they courageously reveal all...
The youngest is just 14 and the oldest 64. These ten beautiful, confident and strong women have different life stories — but they all have in common one devastating experience: hair loss.
It affects around eight million women in the UK and is believed to be an increasing problem. And yet the psychological impact of hair loss (or alopecia) can be underestimated by the medical community.
Often, women are left to struggle in silence with the stigma and shame that comes with what they perceive as a loss of femininity.
Now, a brave group of women are determined to bring alopecia centrestage and prove that being bald doesn’t mean you are any less beautiful — and that those who suffer are far from alone.
These are some of the ‘Women Warriors’, members of a support group that started after teenager elisha Appleby posted online a heartbreaking film of her mother shaving off the last of elisha’s hair.
The video was spotted by Jolene Casey, who owns a wig company in the North east. She was so moved that she offered to give elisha, then 15, a makeover, to help her feel good about herself again.
Surprised by the difference she made to the teenager’s self esteem, Jolene appealed for other alopecia sufferers to come forward, through her local newspaper. And out of this, the Women Warriors support group was formed. Jolene, 40, a motheroffive from Sunderland, says: ‘Seventeen ladies
turned up to our first meeting, all with very different stories. Some were withdrawn, sad and hated their bald heads. Some had gone through cancer treatment and were very weak. We wanted to help them get their zest for life back.’
Eight of the women recently appeared on This Morning, where they revealed their bald heads live on television. Jolene says the response has been so phenomenal that there are now plans to find a permanent meeting place, where anyone suffering from hair loss can meet others in the same situation and get support.
The causes of hair loss are often unclear. It can be genetic, the result of extreme stress, which leads to the body’s immune system attacking the hair follicles, or a side-effect of medical treatment. The contraceptive pill may be a trigger in some cases, and diet can have an impact, too.
It’s more common after the menopause, but can even affect very young children. There’s no reliable treatment and, although some women find their hair grows back — either with the help of medication or by itself — others have to come to terms with the fact that they will be bald for the rest of their lives.
Here, Femail speaks to some of the Women Warriors about why hair loss doesn’t have to define you . . .
MUM HAD IT TOO, BUT I WASN’T PREPARED
Hannah Cranston, 14, lives with her mum Julie, a receptionist, dad rob, an NHS worker, and sister Emily, 12, in Dudley, in the West Midlands. My Mum has suffered with alopecia throughout her life, so I knew what it was, but nothing can prepare you for when it happens to you.
I was about seven when my hair started coming out.
We think it was down to the stress of appearing on stage in a panto, but genetics are thought to play a role. Six months later, I was bald. I was very secretive about it: at first, I wore bandanas, but from the age of ten, I started wearing wigs.
Taking off my wig on live TV was one of the scariest, but best, experiences of my life. Having all the girls with me gave me the confidence.
I’m the youngest of the Women Warriors: it means I can help other youngsters feeling lonely. We’ve had so many messages from people who say we inspired them. I hope we can go on to help so many more.
I HID IT FROM MY HUSBAND FOR YEARS
nikki Smith, 40, lives in Benton, newcastle upon tyne, with husband Paul, 52. she is a full-time mum to their children, amber, ten, and twins Lily and Logan, six. THE Women Warriors were the first people outside my immediate family to see me bald. Even Paul, my husband of eight years, had never seen me without a wig, headscarf or hat before then. After I lost all my hair aged 15, I struggled to accept my alopecia. In my teens, I was desperate for a cure. I saw doctor after doctor and tried every remedy that I could find. I even took a course of steroids, which just made me gain weight, further damaging my self-confidence. My family were incredibly supportive and my mum and dad bought me a wig. But, at the end of the day, I still had to take it off and face my reflection in the mirror. Joining the support group and finding myself among other women who know how it feels has made such a difference. I now feel I owe it to my children to be a good role model when it comes to accepting how I look. I’ve started going out without my wig. I do get stared at when I walk across the playground on the school run, but now I hold my head up high. I want my children to see I’m bald and proud. Paul is so proud of me, too. It’s only strengthened our relationship.
MY HAIR HAS BEGUN TO GROW BACK!
Shannon Peacock, 23, lives in Farringdon, sunderland. she is a carer and has a baby son, robert, with partner owen, 23. Growing up, my ambition was always to be a hairdresser and I even started a hairdressing course after I left school.
But it was so bittersweet, styling other women’s hair when I had none of my own. My confidence was at rock-bottom and, sadly, I gave it up.
I lost my hair when I was 14. I had a difficult home life and doctors told me the stress was the cause. I moved in with my grandmother, who was so supportive, but my hair didn’t return.
until this year, I wouldn’t have even hung washing out without my wig on. It took me a year of being in a relationship with owen before I let him see me bald.
Even then, it was very hard to do, as I worried that he might find me unattractive. But he insists that I’m beautiful with or without my wig.
The solidarity of the Women Warriors group has boosted my confidence — so much so that I was happy to appear bald on live TV — and, in the past month, my hair has begun to grow back.
I’m convinced that my body is responding to this newfound positivity and it will certainly be wonderful if my hair continues to grow.
However, if it falls out again, I know now that it doesn’t make me any less of a woman.
IN THE POOL, NO ONE JUDGES MY LOOKS
Danielle Gilbert, 20, lives in stanley, County Durham. she is a full-time law student at Durham University. Swimming at a national level has been a lifesaver for me. I can’t swim with a wig on but, in the pool, I’m judged only on how well I perform, not what I look like.
I was only two when my mum noticed a penny-size bald patch on the top of my head.
Alopecia can start at any age and, by primary school, my hair had fallen out.
I was teased and people called me ‘baldy’.
Mum brought me up to be strong, but I’d be lying if I said the taunts and stares didn’t hurt at times — especially after I turned 14, when my eyelashes and eyebrows also fell out, too.
The worst thing was feeling so alone. But now, I’m part of this incredible group of women who all understand each other — and those feelings have completely gone.
IT ALL FELL OUT IN JUST TEN DAYS
Carole Cavanagh, 64, is a compliance administrator and lives in Lobley Hill, Gateshead, with her husband Paul, 57. she has a grown-up daughter and two grandchildren. Over ten days this January, I went from having thick, silver hair to being bald. I believe that it might have been caused by a reaction to antibiotics.
At first, I felt guilty about being so upset.
It was ‘just’ hair — but I now know that it’s understandable to feel devastated. It felt like I’d lost a piece of myself.
When I saw a dermatologist, I hoped I’d meet women like me. I craved solidarity, but there was no one. So I leapt at the chance to join the Women Warriors.
Whipping off my wig on TV was so liberating. It needed to be done, to bring female baldness out of the shadows.
I FEARED NO ONE WOULD FIND ME SEXY
shannon Holme, 23, is a receptionist. she lives with husband Jack, 25, who is in the army, and their daughter olivia, three, in newcastle. When I was pregnant with Olivia, my hair started growing for the first time in ten years, probably due to the hormonal changes.
And, while I’d longed for it to grow back, when it did I didn’t like it. It felt greasy and odd. I’ve been wearing wigs for so long, I now enjoy experimenting with them.
My hair started falling out just before my tenth birthday and coincided with my mum and dad’s divorce. I’d always been a daddy’s girl and the stress of it all got to me. Within two years, I had no hair on my head.
Psychologically, it was very tough. I was just about to hit my teens and wondered if a man would ever find me ‘sexy’.
Jack and I met when we were both serving in the Army. We were friends before we got together and he knew about my alopecia, yet I always wore a wig with him.
Then, one night, my wig came off and I woke up bald next to him. I dreaded his reaction, but all he said was: ‘It’s OK.’ Now, he tells me how sexy I am all the time and says he prefers me without a wig.
Becoming one of the Women Warriors has been wonderful. I was sick of hearing: ‘you’ve got a pretty face for a bald person,’ so it’s great that we can prove it’s possible to be beautiful and sexy with or without a wig.
PEOPLE ASKED IF I WAS DYING
Elisha Appleby, 16, lives in sunderland with mum Kelsie, 35, and brother Jackson, ten. When I feel nervous about going out wigless, I remind myself that if I can do it on This Morning, I can do it anywhere!
My strawberry blonde hair began to fall out last April, on my 15th birthday. I believe it’s linked to immune system problems. By December, I had only a few patches left. At school, people stared and asked if I was dying of cancer. I’d hide at home after classes.
eventually, I made a film of my mum shaving off the last of my hair, which I posted on Facebook. Jolene casey saw it and invited me to try on some wigs. The Women Warriors group was born after she realised what a boost it gave me to be around others with alopecia.
Thanks to her, I’ve met so many amazing women. I do have days when I think: ‘Why me?’ — but I’m increasingly finding the courage to be wig-free and proud.
I WEAR BIG EARRINGS INSTEAD OF A WIG
hannah McKay, 30, a sales adviser, is single and lives in south shields, Tyne and Wear. This time last year, I had thick, dark hair, which stretched half way down my back. It was my pride and joy. But, in July 2017, a tiny bald patch appeared at the front of my scalp. By December, I was bald. I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder, which had killed off my hair follicles.
People think once you have a wig, the problem’s solved. Or that because you don’t have a serious illness such as cancer, you don’t have the right to be devastated.
But they don’t see the impact it has on mental health. Before meeting the Women Warriors, I’d spent six weeks too depressed to leave the house. I didn’t even speak to anyone on the phone.
Now, I go out without my wig, using dramatic make-up and big earrings to help me feel glamorous. I’m tired of being labelled ‘the girl who lost her hair’. Being bald is a part of me, but it’s not who I am. Kay Fisher, 31, works in customer services. she lives with partner Ryan, 29, a selfemployed driver, and their son Leo, 14 months, in sunderland. After I started losing my hair, aged nine, I tried every treatment in a bid to get it back. I’d always thought hair is what makes a woman look feminine. I was bullied so badly about it that I was even home-schooled for a while.
In 2013, my dad passed away and I realised I needed to worry about my mum, not hair loss. I accepted I’d just have to live in wigs.
When I started dating Ryan, I was terrified of revealing the truth. But he couldn’t have cared less.
I’m always showing our son my bald head. I want to teach him to be respectful towards everyone, no matter what their appearance.
Thanks to the Women Warriors, I’ve come to realise there’s more to femininity than having hair.
I CRIED WHEN I MET THE OTHER WOMEN
Liann Lindsay, 39, is a full-time carer for her youngest daughter, who has autism. she lives with her fiance Damon, 34, a factory manager, and four children, Josh, 18, Daisy, 15, William, 12 — from her first marriage — and harmony, four. Nearly ten years ago, I went through a traumatic divorce and ended up homeless with three young children. The stress of trying to manage it all — along with my floristry business — meant I ended up in hospital. I was diagnosed with stomach ulcers, arthritis and a thyroid condition. My hair was also falling out.
even though I have since turned my life around, in times of stress I still lose my hair. Joining the Women Warriors was life-changing. When I first saw so many women who knew exactly what I was going through, I burst into tears.
Now I have friends I can text or call when I’m feeling down. I hope to take a counselling course, so I can support others. If I can help just one person, it’s worth it. BULLIES FORCED ME OUT OF SCHOOL
HANNAH C, 14 CAROLE, 64 NIKKI, 40 DANIELLE, 20 SHANNON P, 23 ELISHA, 16 SHANNON H,23
HANNAH M, 30 LIANN, 39 KAY, 31