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Charity Manager Jen features in new dating TV programme

11th January 2015

Alopecia UK Charity Manager, Jen Chambers, is featured in upcoming controversially titled dating series, ‘Too Ugly For Love?’. Having made its way around the world, the six-part observational documentary series finally airs in the UK on Wednesday 14th January 2015 on Discovery-owned channel TLC. The show is about people looking for love however it differs from the usual dating shows. It features people who have physical conditions that have somehow changed a part of the body from the ‘norm’ but which are not necessarily outwardly obvious. Conditions which people typically might keep secret on a date, making the dating experience a bit more difficult as they then must decide when to reveal this hidden aspect of themselves. The show is causing quite a stir because of its controversial title. Here we ask Jen, aged 31 and who started with alopecia aged 11, about her experience and her decision to take part.

How did you get involved with the show?

It’s a bit of a long story but in 2013 I was dealing with a lot of the charity's ‘front face’ work, such as media enquiries and general emails. At the charity we get a lot of media enquiries and we try to find people who are prepared to tell their story in order to raise awareness of alopecia amongst society. This helps to increase understanding and reduce stigma, hopefully making life a bit easier for those with alopecia. We had quite a few TV shows approach us in 2013, including dating shows, ‘First Dates’ and 'The UnDateables’. In both instances we found someone wanting to take part in the programmes. In both instances the producers didn’t go ahead with them. Having taken part in a national magazine shoot that didn’t go ahead due to the magazine being pulled from market, I knew how difficult and disappointing this could be. You psyche yourself up for sharing a very vulnerable aspect of yourself and to have your voice heard, only to be left disappointed when it doesn’t go ahead. 

While we did find someone who wanted to take part in the 'The UnDateables', we had originally said no due to the controversial title. Additionally, we didn't think it was appropriate for alopecia to be featured in a show that covered other conditions and disabilities that might typically be viewed as more severe than hair loss. This was in anticipation of feedback being along the lines of, "It's only hair, get over yourself", which is in no way helpful to anyone and a personal bugbear of mine. As such we went back to the TV company and suggested that if there was a show that had more comparable conditions, whereby the physical appearance of the body might be changed, such as vitiligo or psoriaris for example, then we would be happier to support this. Funnily enough we were then approached by producers with an idea for such a show. Media enquiries are always quite frantic and they always want someone the next day (slight exaggeration but not far off!). When speaking with the casting producer (who needed someone as quick as possible), as she was describing the show I knew what the next question would be as I’m sitting there thinking “she’s pretty much describing my life” so it was no surprise when she said hopefully, “are you single?!”.  After a bit of deliberation, knowing that it was only a pilot and wouldn’t be seen by anyone and still feeling guilty having put another lady forward for two filming experiences and neither of them being used, I decided to just do it myself. It was only a pilot after all and no one but the commissioners would see it. It might not even go ahead anyway…

Cue a few months later in 2014 when I’d all but forgotten about the whole thing and I got a phone call which immediately sent my stomach in to turmoil as they said, “Great news! The show has been commissioned and they really liked you and they’d love it if you would take part.”

Why did you get involved?

Time and time again over the last few years I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone in relation to my alopecia. The first time being when I was photographed for Daniel Regan’s ‘Alopecia Project’, which led to me sharing a picture of myself without my wig on Facebook (prior to this I wouldn’t even ‘like’ the Alopecia UK Facebook page for fear of people becoming suspicious I might have alopecia!). In 2013 I then ran the Mersey Tunnel 10k without my wig on which was my first time out in public without my hair on in nearly 20 years of having alopecia. Later that year I co-ordinated the Liverpool Alopecia Flash Mob which again was a surreal experience being outside in such a public place without my wig on. Each time I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone it has been a positive learning experience for me that has helped me heal the hurts of younger selves. I strive to make the difference for others that would have helped make life a bit easier when I was younger with my alopecia. 

This was the final aspect of my life that alopecia was getting in the way of – dating. I figured it was time to face this head on too and just see what happened; achieving this through a TV show, well… if I’m going to do these things I like to do them in a big way! I’d like to think it will raise awareness of alopecia too but I’m in no way trying to represent alopecia generally. It's not possible for one person to do this. We all deal with our alopecia in different ways and the impact it can have on the lives of individuals varies considerably. This TV show is about me and my own personal experience and I’ve taken part for me. I’d like to think it will raise awareness of alopecia in a positive way but you never know how these things are going to go down! Life is a bit of a gamble!

What was it like taking part?

At first it was quite fun and it was actually quite an eye opener. It was a bit like therapy talking about myself so much and realising things about myself that I hadn’t previously realised. It was also quite surreal being filmed generally, especially out in public, even more so on a date! Towards the end it got quite stressful though just because it took up a lot more time than I was anticipating. Originally I’d been told it would take about eight days, which was nowhere near! I worked it out and in total it took up about a month of my life. This kind of time was quite difficult as I had to fit it around the work I do for the charity and so I basically had very little leisure time between April and September which doesn’t help stress levels. I’m pleased I took part though. It’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry and I’m the type of person that likes to make the most of life’s opportunities and see where they lead you. I can tick ‘taking part in a TV show’ off the bucket list now as well can’t I?! ;-)

What do you think about the title?

I didn’t know what the title was going to be until a few months ago as, being a new show, it wasn’t decided until then. I knew it would be something that would be controversial. It was never going to be something bland or tame was it?! But I don’t mind it actually. I’ve seen some of the comments on Twitter from people who haven’t actually seen the show and are merely commenting on the title. They don’t seem too happy about it! But as I’d say don’t judge a book by its cover, I’d also say don’t judge a TV show by its title. These things are used in order to be controversial and get attention. But no one is saying anyone with any of the conditions featured are too ugly for love. The exact opposite in fact. The question mark is very important! I think it’s a challenging title. It’s asking the viewer what they think and hopefully people will watch and come to the right conclusion. In addition, hopefully viewers will come away from it having a bit more awareness of conditions that they previously might not have even considered, helping to have a more empathetic and understanding society. As well, in all honesty, there have been times when I have struggled with my alopecia and dating was always the area that I struggled with the most because as a teenager I did think I would never have a boyfriend because of my alopecia and I did feel ‘too ugly for love’. I never quite put it in those terms! But I hated my alopecia and I hated my appearance and felt that no one would ever fancy me if they saw it. So yeah, I quite like the title actually. I think its pretty apt. But I certainly don't think that anyone with alopecia (or any other condition) is too ugly for love!

Did you get paid?

No I didn’t. The production company covered my expenses only. As such if anyone does watch the show and would like to contribute to the support of those with alopecia who may be struggling, please consider leaving a donation on my Justgiving page to help Alopecia UK!

Was there anything you weren’t happy with?

Erm, I need to be careful what I say but put it this way after the commissioner/TV bosses or whoever it was were coming back for a fourth time saying they weren't totally happy with the ‘top of the show’ shots (the ones that are just nice shots for the introductions bit), you just want to get them off your back and give them what they want. As such some little things I feel perhaps aren’t representative of me. It’s not a massive deal but might give some people the wrong impression of me which I don’t like. All I’ll say is I don’t particularly like clothes shopping, I never really go clothes shopping and I certainly can’t afford the shops with the posh cardboard shopping bags I am pictured with in one of the opening shots! If only! ;-)

Did you find love then?!

You’ll have to watch and see!

You can see Jen in episode 1, 2 and 4 on the 14th and 21st Jan and the 4th Feb on TLC which can be found on Sky 125, Virgin 167, BT TV 413 & Talk Talk 413.

You can read more about Jen on the Alopecia UK website here.

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