Interview: Chrisy Parsons Having had Alopecia for eight years, Chrisy Parsons, was first diagnosed with Alopecia Areata which later developed into Alopecia Universalis. Although there's been many phases of acceptance and lack of confidence, focusing on the positives with alopecia has made it easier. Fashionabald: When did you first notice the change in your hair? Chrisy: I first noticed my alopecia when I was about 16 years old, at school doing my GCSE’s, I felt some very small bald patches at the back of my head. The patches grew in size, noticeably quickly, probably exacerbated by how fine my hair was. Luckily, as the patches were at the back of my head, it was very easy to hide, although I was still quite conscious about it, especially in windy conditions. Things stayed that way for several years and it wasn’t until my first year of University that things suddenly got a lot worse. I went from just having the bald patches on the back of my head, to losing virtually all my head hair. What was left just made me look ill and was hardly worth keeping, so I decided to shave the rest off. After that, the rest of my body hair fell out, which was manageable. But not long after that, my eyebrows and then eyelashes also went. It all seemed to happen so quickly, looking back, it was probably over several months. Do you remember how your family and friends responded? When I developed AA it was fairly easy to cope with as it was easy to hide. Initially, when I was first diagnosed, it was quite a shock and I was quite worried. My parents and friends, those I told, were very supportive. When it was only just the patches at the back, I relaxed a bit more about the condition. During my time at University I made many friends and started my first long-term relationship. After about 6 months or so, the rest of my hair started to go. Although my boyfriend at the time was really supportive, I think it affected him more than he let on. All my friends and family were great and really helped me through everything, as I took things quite badly to start with, I am grateful they were all there to support me. So how do you think it affected you then compared to now? I really struggled to accept the hair loss and I bottled up a lot of my feelings, and put on a brave face. I managed to accept my condition slightly more from wearing wigs and bandanas to help with my confidence. When my relationship with my boyfriend at the time ended, I became more self-conscious about my alopecia again. I felt like I would never meet anyone who could accept me for who I was, even though friends and family tried to tell me otherwise, my confidence was at an all-time low. At the end of 2014 I met Tom. I had always worn my wig when we met up and wouldn’t accept him on Facebook because of my pictures in a bandana. I was dreading him stopping seeing me if I told him, but I didn’t want to hide it from him for too long. Luckily, Tom was amazing when I told him. “We have both been there to support each other in different ways and having Tom helps me to accept my alopecia more than I have done in the past.” He was so supportive and even asked to see what I looked like without my wig on, something I wouldn’t have thought he would even want to see. Ever since, he has been amazingly supportive about my alopecia, and I couldn’t ask to be with anyone better. Tom is currently undergoing chemotherapy and as a result he has lost his hair. Having me there to support him has really helped him feel less self-conscious about his hair loss. Also, from my perspective, although the circumstances are obviously not ideal, Tom losing his hair has given me some confidence about not having any myself. We have both been there to support each other in different ways and having Tom helps me to accept my alopecia more than I have done in the past. In terms of pre-conceptions, society has a lot of them about how we should look. Have you ever been in any situations where you have had to deal with that? Well, as most alopecia sufferers probably know, the majority of people automatically assume we are ill as we have no hair. The most common question I’ve been asked is “how far are you through your treatment?”. People almost always assume its cancer, as being bald is generally associated with being ill and many people are not even aware of alopecia. Personally, this is really the only sort of situation where I have had to deal with the pre-conceptions about having no hair. What would you say is your idea of beauty? Personally, I would define beauty as more of a personality trait than an appearance, even prior to my alopecia, I have always judged people on their personality rather than looks. Obviously, people can be beautiful looks-wise, but I think beauty in the personality sense is someone who is genuinely kind and is open minded about other people, as well as accepts them for who they are. What were your thoughts prior and during your photoshoot with Fashionabald? Prior to doing photoshoots with Fashionabald, I was quite nervous. I was not sure what to expect, as I am not very confident at all. It was my family and Tom who encouraged me to volunteer in the first place and said it would be good for me. I helped out on several occasions and after everything I felt much more relaxed. I am really glad I had volunteered, as it has given me more self-confidence about having no hair, especially seeing photos of others who also volunteered. Plus, the photos themselves have been complimented by family and friends, which has given me more confidence in how I look. “One less obvious benefit with having alopecia, is that it helps you find that one person who loves you for who you are.” How do you think Alopecia have benefited your life? Having no hair does come with its up-sides, particularly having hair-free legs and armpits 24/7. Not to mention the amount of money you save on not buying hair removal products. It’s also great being able to wear wigs, I mean, I loved my natural hair, but being able to change my hair colour whenever I want is pretty cool. Equally, sometimes when hair just gets in the way, I can just wear a bandana and not have the hassle. I also stay quite cool when it’s hot, which is the complete opposite of what I was like prior to my alopecia. One less obvious benefit with having alopecia, is that it helps you find that one person who loves you for who you are. If someone doesn’t want to be with you because you don't have any hair, then they are obviously not worth it. I know it’s hard, having no confidence and just wanting to find someone, but ultimately you can use alopecia to your benefit to find that person who really loves you for who you are and is worth having by your side. What advice do you have for other people dealing with hair loss? Do not try and bottle up how you feel. Talk to someone. It doesn’t even have to be a friend or family, even speaking to people on alopecia Facebook groups can help massively. I of all people know how hard talking is, but in the end, it makes all the difference. Just focus on the benefits of alopecia and use it to your advantage, especially on the relationship side of things.