It’s hard to pin down the hardest part of being a woman living with alopecia. For one, it absolutely decimates your self-confidence. Whether you typically wear your hair long or short, struggling to cover those maddening bald spots where your tresses have fallen out in clumps sabotages your self-esteem like the worst kind of schoolyard bully. Then, of course, there’s the stress. The frustrating, life-consuming stress that is female hair loss – which, by the way, only creates more hair loss in a messed up perpetual cycle of stress, shedding, stressing about the shedding, and then even more shedding. My struggle as a woman with alopecia began after the birth of my daughter. After six months of breastfeeding, what started as light shedding quickly turned into full-blown balding. At first, I chalked up the hair loss to post-partum hormones, but such a large volume of hair fell out with each brush stroke that I soon realized that I wasn’t dealing with typical post-baby shedding. Covering up the bald spots became my prime objective and one of my biggest stressors right along with coping with first-time motherhood and going back to work as Property Manager of a bustling multi-million dollar residential complex. And while I tried a variety of short hairstyles to cover the patches, I eventually settled on wearing wigs to cover the tremendous hair loss. For me, that feeling of having to put on a wig everyday was one of the hardest parts of being a woman with alopecia. I just didn’t feel like myself. To be completely honest, I missed myself. I would look in the mirror and wonder where Nikki went. What happened to the confident, vivacious woman who used to model and was always the first to sign up to audition for school plays? I knew she in the was in there, somewhere, it was just hard to see her underneath the wigs. Being a modern woman means living with contradictions. We’re supposed to care about our appearance, but also not be defined by it. But when it comes to our hair, there is definitely a lot of significance attached to it. Society teaches women that our hair is integral to our beauty and that the best thing a woman can be is, well, beautiful. But it isn’t enough to just have hair, we have to have the right kind of hair. The powers that be have a hair hierarchy to hold up, after all. And while that hierarchy may be completely arbitrary, we all know how it goes: Straight, European hair types are on top, curls of color are on bottom. I have felt this acutely as a multi-racial woman of color with African-American roots. (Pun very much intended.) I don’t think I can ever recall a time when I wore my natural curls to a job interview; I always made sure my hair was straightened or pulled into a sleek ponytail. Call it a pre-emptive defense mechanism. I never wanted to put my interviewers off with an “untamed” and therefore “unprofessional” hairstyle. Growing up, I was always praised for having “good” hair, which always struck me as strange. Sure, my loose ringlets were beautiful – but so were afros and braids and all of kinky-curly textures that black hair comes in. The hierarchy strikes again. This time, dividing the black community based on how closely its citizens came to meeting European beauty standards. My experience is based on living as a woman of color, but one thing I know for sure? Women of all ethnic backgrounds are unsatisfied with their hair because we are all taught that we fall short of perfection somehow. Blondes may have more fun, but they’re also never mistaken for rocket scientists. Brunettes are more serious, academic, even – but wouldn’t they have more fun and be more desirable with yellow hair? Women with unconventional hair colors are often seen as rebellious and alternative. And women with short hair are often advised to grow it out long. Women with curly hair wish it were more manageable and straight; women with straight hair envy the natural volume that comes with curls. The grass is always greener, I suppose. Society tells us that our hair is an essential component of our femininity, but when you are living with an alopecia diagnosis, it’s hard to not view baldness as the loss of your feminine beauty, even when you know that it’s not. Realizing that you’re still you – that you’re still that beautiful, vivacious woman and that your hair does not define your essence or your beauty – may be the hardest step to take in your journey to recovery, but it’s absolutely essential. The moment that I realized that I was still Nikki was the moment that I knew I had to be more proactive in managing my condition, and it was the first step that I took towards creating what would ultimately become the Awakening Hair Care Management System. To the woman reading this who is struggling with the hardest parts of female hair loss, I want you know that you’re still you. Beautiful, charming, worthwhile you. The woman that you were always were, even the woman you always wanted to be – she’s still in there. And it’s important you know that, because that realization just may be the first step in your journey to regrowth and recovery.