ONEAfter Shaily Malik discovered a bald spot on her head three years ago, the mornings became harsh when she woke up and discovered bits of hair on her pillow. The thought of washing her hair became awful when she knew she would only lose more. She grew reluctant to have her picture taken, and when she looked at herself in the mirror, she struggled to identify with her mirror image.
As a 32-year-old business analyst born in India and living in Brighton with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes spotty hair loss, Malik understands the strength it takes to dress up, go out and be yourself. She has endured that people stared at her in the street and others have accused her and asked her to wear hats or wigs in the park where she takes her three-year-old son with her.
On Sunday, when Will Smith beat Oscar presenter Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke at the expense of his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, Malik remembered his experiences and realized: “If it can happen to Jada at the Oscars ., it can definitely happen to us on the street. ”
For Malik, the impact was enormous. “People actually talk about it. They consider that people are actually being bullied because of their visible difference, ”she said. “I’ve experienced it myself.”
Pinkett Smith, who shaved her head after “battling alopecia”, is far from the only person who has been ridiculed for her visible difference. British comedian Matt Lucas, who is also outspoken about living with alopecia, said recently he finds it “so strange” that a newspaper always refers to him as an “egghead.”
TV host Ranvir Singh also shared his experience of living with alopecia this week, saying, “It started when my dad had a heart attack, and when he died when I was eight or nine, it never came back. so I understand a little bit. a little bit of the real discomfort you live with having it. ”
Others talked about the emotional strain of living with different types of alopecia that has resulted in isolation, depression, and loss of identity.
After Malik was diagnosed with 80% hair loss in November, she decided to shave her head in January. “It has certainly not been an easy journey, for I am one who has always had very good hair,” she said.
After some time, and with the support of her husband, Malik decided to get it together, she said, “I realized that if I can not accept myself with that hair loss, or how I look right now, I can not learn my children the same. ”
While the Oscar-winning unscripted slap incident has aroused awareness, for some “dealing with unwelcome remarks and being the butt of jokes is sadly an overly real part of having alopecia”, said the charity Alopecia UK. Other organizations have called for the erasure of “stigma, discrimination and societal barriers”.
Alopecia is a loosely given term that refers to hair loss. It is commonly caused by an autoimmune condition that attacks the hair follicles. In almost 20% of cases, there is a family history. While there is treatment, there is no cure.
For Dr. Anita Takwale, a consulting dermatologist and hair specialist in Gloucester, said the Oscar incident has become a topic of discussion with patients. “I have patients who just wanted to stay home, parents who are completely desperate, and then it has somehow made it mainstream,” she said. “If anything comes out of this, it’s consciousness.”
But for Helen Rowlands, 33, it’s more complex. Although she did not see the Oscars live, she said as someone living with alopecia that she felt empowered to see Pinkett Smith participate. But the day after the video went viral, Rowlands felt self-conscious in the gym with her own shaved head, paranoid that her eyes would be on her.
“It’s amazing that it brings consciousness, but it almost brings it out there for the wrong reasons,” she said. “The joke should never have been made.”
After living with alopecia from the age of 10, Rowlands has found herself a target for bullying. As a child, she wore wigs and hats, only to have other children steal them and throw them in gardens. In adulthood, people often assume she is ill or have cancer, and ask what phase of chemotherapy treatment she is in. On one occasion, a stranger stroked her head at a nightclub.
“Although I do not want people to treat me differently because I have alopecia – I think many people with alopecia want to be seen as the same as everyone else,” Rowlands said. “But in the end, hair is an important part of many women’s lives, so losing it is a loss of identity.”