Alopecia UK's Communications & Fundraising Manager, Amy Johnson, gives her thoughts on media organisations continually wanting to tell the story that hair loss is harder for women than men....
"As 2017 seems to be turning out to be the year of ‘Fake News’, I thought ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’ My ‘fake news story’ perpetuates a myth that I believe has gone on long enough; Hair loss is easier for men.
But rather than continue with this 'fake news' I’d like to suggest that this is a far too simplistic statement to make.
The reason I have decided to write this article is that so often Alopecia UK is invited to participate in media articles relating to ‘the issue of female hair loss’, be it alopecia areata in women or other types of female hair loss. It is the story of alopecia in women that the newspapers, magazines, TV and radio wish to report.
When I ask, “How about featuring a story about the challenges of losing your hair as a man?”, I'm met with responses of “But it must be so much harder for women” or “That’s not much of a media angle”.
But I want to discuss the idea that how easy or hard you find things when living with alopecia is not determined by gender. Yes, there are different challenges for women than for men but the difference in challenges works both ways. Let’s explore these…..
The views held by wider society about hair loss can have an impact on how individuals cope with alopecia. The idea of a bald man is one that is widely accepted by the general public. Society sees images of bald men in magazines, newspapers and TV. Society sees bald men in Hollywood movies. Society is accepting of bald men running large multi-national organisations. There is a wider understanding that many men will experience baldness in their lifetime. To sum up, society is perfectly comfortable with the idea of a bald man.
A bald woman on the other hand is something that challenges the senses. Bald women are not seen regularly in magazines, newspapers and TV. They’re rarely seen in Hollywood movies unless perhaps with a cancer story. And we’re not aware of any openly bald women running a large multi-national organisation (although we’d love to hear from one!)
I think it can be agreed that there is a larger societal pressure for women's hair to look a certain way. You only need to watch the huge numbers of shampoo, hair dye and other hair product adverts aimed at women to recognise this. Men perhaps don’t feel the same pressure from society for their hair to look a particular way. There aren’t as many adverts and media articles about male hair styling but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for men to lose their hair…….
Loss of femininity? What about loss of masculinity?
Many women with hair loss tell us that they struggle with feelings of losing their femininity. That must be a reason it’s harder for women, right? Wrong. Men who experience hair loss report similar feelings of losing their masculinity. Losing hair from the face, legs and underarms can pose a real challenge to men.
What it really comes down to is the fact that hair loss affects our sense of identity; whether that be identity as a woman or identity as a man. It changes how we see ourselves and that doesn’t have anything to do with being male or female.
Covering hair loss
If I was to suggest a factor that makes it more challenging for men to cope with hair loss than women, I’d propose that women have a far greater number of options for covering their hair loss than men. The choice of wigs and hair pieces for women is HUGE in comparison to the options available to men. Similarly with headwear. If men are looking for hats, they’re well catered for. Other options? Well they might struggle. On a similar note, women are often provided with assistance from the NHS with accessing wigs. This assistance is rarely afforded to men with hair loss.
Alopecia UK supports men, women and children affected by all types of hair loss. However, it’s fair to say that the charity's events and support groups are predominantly attended by women and children. The numbers of men who come to our groups and events are low (I’d LOVE these numbers to be higher!) Could the low numbers be due to the continued narrative from the media that hair loss is only difficult for women? Could men be thinking they’re not worthy of support? What I do know is that when I hear from a male, he is often struggling with his hair loss and finding it hard to get support from either his GP or family and friends.
Think about this, do you have any close male relations with hair loss? Have you ever asked them how losing their hair made them feel? If a female relation lost their hair, the chances are, you’d enquire how they were feeling. Male hair loss is just not seen in the same light. Obviously this is a bit of a generalisation but many men do tell us that they struggle to talk about their hair loss with others.
In addition, if a woman loses her hair it will be fairly rare for colleagues and family members to poke fun at the situation. Balding men on the other hand can still, in 2017, be the butt of jokes. This can only serve to make things feel so much harder for men.
Personality and support network, not gender
At Alopecia UK we believe how you respond to losing your hair depends greatly on your personality type and the support network around you and not so much your gender. Individual personalities play such a pivotal role in how a person copes with their hair loss; an extroverted and confident female may find hair loss easier to deal with than an introverted and anxious male. The support network that surrounds us is so important too
I think it’s fair to say there are slightly different challenges when it comes to male and female hair loss but it is unfair, and a sweeping generalisation, to suggest that hair loss is ‘easier for men’.
This myth does a great disservice to the many men who do struggle with losing their hair and an even greater disservice to boys who lose their hair at a young age. Let’s encourage the media to stop with this ‘fake news’ and let's support everyone with hair loss."