Woman who lost her hair bravely shows her bare scalp
Woman with alopecia who couldn’t look at herself in the mirror and slept with her wig on after losing her hair aged 17 finally plucks up the courage to bare her head in public – despite strangers asking ‘how chemo is going’
- Jess Newman, 25, from Colchester, lost her hair when she was 17 due to Alopecia
- She explained that she could not look at herself in the mirror after going bald
- After experimenting with wigs, Jess has embraced condition and rocks bald look
- Is one of Alopecia UK’s champions on the occasion of charity 15th anniversary
A beautiful woman who compared herself to ‘an alien’ when her hair fell out at 17 has abandoned her wig – painting her skull in unicorn colours and even applying to be a model – following positive reactions to a bald picture she posted on Instagram.
When administrator Jess Newman, 25, of Colchester, Essex, first started losing her eyebrows, aged 15, doctors put it down to puberty.
But at 16, after she met up with her father – who split from her mum Linda, 59, a financial administrator, when she was a baby – for the first time in six years, her hair fell out in clumps.
She found she was suffering from alopecia, a condition which is thought to be auto-immune and occurs when the immune system turns on itself, provoking hair loss.
Jess was so embarrassed by her condition that she would hide it from her friends and go as far as sleeping with a wig to keep the illusion going.
But she’s now learned to embrace her alopecia and rocks a bald look when she heads out.
On the occasion of their 15th anniversary, Jess became one of the champions of Alopecia UK and has been photographing herself sporting a bald scalp in various locations.
Jess Newman, 25, from Colchester, Essex, has embraced her bald scalp after losing her hair due to Alopecia when she was 17. Jess, pictured now, is one of Alopecia UK’s champions and is speaking out to mark Alopecia Awareness month
The administrator sometimes experiments with her bald look by wearing beautiful makeup and jewels on her scalp
Jess was devastated when her hair started falling out in clumps when she was a teen, but has now embraced her condition
Speaking out to mark September’s Alopecia Awareness Month, Jess, whose sister Kathrine, 36, and brother Andrew, 33, live in Australia, said: ‘At first, losing my eyebrows when I was 15 was gradual, until I was left with just half of one.
‘The doctor thought it was probably associated with puberty.
‘But, after the stress of meeting my father for the first time since I was ten – who I have not seen again since – the hair on my head started falling out, too.
‘I was left with bald patches around the bottom of my hairline and crown and it all started to recede.’
Jess wore wigs to disguise en Alopecia (pictured) and would keep them on while sleeping to keep the illusion going
Attending Chelmsford’s private Springfield Hospital when she was 17, Jess was referred to a dermatologist, who diagnosed her with alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition, where cells from the immune system attack hair follicles, stopping them from producing more hair.
She continued: ‘The dermatologist told me it’s related to how the body deals with stress.
‘It was really upsetting, because there is no cure and you can’t do anything to stop it. The more you stress the worse it gets.
On the occasion of Alopecia UK’s 15th anniversary, Jess, one of their champions, was challenged to rock her bald scalp outside on 15 consecutive days
When her hair started to fall, Jess was advised by doctors to shave her head rather than go through the stress of seeing her hair fall out
‘The doctors said I should look at the wig process, saying it would be better to shave my head, rather than deal with the stress of my hair continuing to fall out.
‘I was scared, as I didn’t know anybody else with alopecia and thought nobody else really understood how I felt.
‘Back then, there was not a big community online and not much support.’
Agreeing to have her head shaved by her hairdresser, Jess could not look at herself in the mirror at first.
She said: ‘I wore beanie hats.
Even if I wore a wig, I would wear a beanie hat over it, because I thought everybody was looking at me and could tell I had one on.
‘I was in my first year of college and started to avoid attending some lessons, or I’d go to one but go straight home afterwards, as I felt so self-conscious. I didn’t socialise, either, in case people found out about my wig.
As part of the Alopecia UK challenge, Jess was photographed in a summer dress and without a wig in front of Colchester Castle
Jess during the Alopecia UK Challenge on the grounds of Colchester Castle. The woman said she sometimes still struggles with her condition
For a long time, Jess struggled with her condition and would cry every night before she started her shift as a waitress (pictured wearing a blond wig)
‘I had a close friendship group, who knew I wore one, but nobody else did.
‘I worked part time as a waitress and would cry before every shift, because I was worried people would notice.
‘I wore synthetic wigs, which were not very comfortable, for six months to a year.
‘When I switched to real hair wigs, aged 18, it made a difference once my head had got used to them, after a couple of weeks.
‘I’d wear the same style – long and blonde – to stop people guessing they weren’t real.
‘And if I stayed with a friend, I’d sleep in the wig, refusing to take it off.’
Jess’s confidence has grown thanks to her support online, and her loving family, who told her that ‘bald is beautiful’
A teenage Jess, before her hair started to fall. She explained she struggled most with losing her eyelashes
Luckily, Jess’ supportive family kept her going.
She said: ‘My mum is my best friend and has been amazing.
‘She’s my biggest fan and always picked me up if I cried on the way to college.
‘My stepdad Richard was also brilliant if I was down at home. He always says, “Bald is beautiful”.’
Turning 18, not only was Jess bald, but she had no eyebrows, so it was a great confidence booster when she had brows tattooed on.
When she was 18, Jess had her eyebrows tattooed. Up until then, she had been drawing semi-permanent ones on her face, which vanished in water (Jess pictured now during the Alopecia UK challenge)
Proud mother Linda, 59, with Jess wearing a wig. Linda has been very supportive of her daughter’s journey
She said: ‘Before that, I would use semi-permanent tattoos that you get for children, but I couldn’t go swimming or anything, in case they came off.
‘I struggled most with losing my eyelashes though, which happened when I was 19, I could tattoo on eyebrows and wear a wig to cover my head, but I had to accept my bald eyelashes, because I didn’t feel confident with false ones.’
It was not until she was 20 that Jess, who is single, took the first tentative steps to go public about her hair loss, by revealing her bald head to her friends.
She said: ‘The first time I took my wig off, one friend started crying.
The 25-year-old said she would always wear the same type of wigs so that people couldn’t guess her natural hair had fallen out, but now proudly shows her bare scalp
She hadn’t realised I was completely bald.
‘Everyone was really nice about it, but it was what I thought of myself that was the problem.
‘I thought I was ugly and looked like an alien. I thought I looked really strange.
‘As a young woman, make up and doing your hair are big parts of your identity, so not having any made me feel a bit lost.
‘And I hated being complimented on my hair, as I knew it was a wig.
‘I only took it off when I was on holiday, because I didn’t know anybody there and didn’t mind so much what strangers thought.
‘It was what people at home thought that really mattered to me.’
Jess as a teen before her hair fell out, left. The young woman said doctors first thought her hair loss was due to puberty
The teen’s pictures documented her gradual hair loss, which saw her go bald aged 17. At first, patches of hair on top of her scalp fell off
Jess felt the confidence to post a picture of herself without a wig on social media during the coronavirus pandemic (pictured at Thorpe Park for her 15-day challenge)
Strangely, it was the spring lockdown, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that gave Jess the confidence to come out to the world by posting a wigless picture of herself on Instagram in March.
‘I felt braver, because I wasn’t going out and having to see people,’ she said.
‘I was nervous before pressing upload, but I had some lovely comments and people were very supportive. I haven’t had any negative comments. It felt so empowering.
‘I spoke to a lot of other girls with alopecia and we now have a WhatsApp group.’
Her positive reception online then inspired her to go out locally without her wig.
First, Jess lost her eyebrows aged 15, and started drawing them out. Her hair followed after he turned 17. Pictured left: Jess at her prom, with her natural hair
‘Sometimes I feel so confident and don’t care what people think and other times I want to run away,’ she admitted.
‘If I do go out bald, I prefer to be with my friends or with my mum for support, in case someone says something mean.
‘I’ve had a couple of boys shout “wiggy” at me. Children are quite bad for it, because they don’t understand. I heard one little boy ask his mum why that boy was wearing a swimming costume rather than trunks, but, thankfully, I’ve never been bullied for being bald.
Jess admitted she sometimes preferred to be with her family and friends when she headed out while bald, in case someone said something mean
Jess said she sometimes felt invincible and did not care about what other people thought of her scalp (pictured for the Alopecia UK challenge)
The 25-year-old, who has now applied to become a model, is pictured wearing a headscarf at home
Jess said that some people assumed she was ill when she rocked a bald look in public (pictured wearing a wig)
‘I’ve had people have asked me how my chemotherapy is going. I went to Orlando, Florida, for my birthday, people in the queue would ask me how my chemo was going. People sometimes assume I’m ill.
‘Sometimes, when you lose your hair, people will say, “Well it’s just hair”.
‘They say that whilst wearing a full face of make up and with their hair done, which makes me think, “If you lost your hair you wouldn’t enjoy it!”
‘But there are worse things that could happen and meeting other people online with alopecia has been very comforting.’
Jess was delighted in August when she was asked by Alopecia UK to become one of their 15th birthday champions after they saw her on Instagram.
Readily accepting, she agreed to go out 15 times without her wig and post the results on social media – raising almost £1,000 for the charity, so far.
WHAT IS ALOPECIA?
Alopecia, which causes baldness, is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. The immune system – the body’s defense system – turns on itself.
What are the symptoms?
‘Typically, one or more small bald patches, about the size of a 50p piece, appear on the scalp. The hair can start to regrow at one site, while another bald patch develops. Hair may also begin to thin all over the head,’ says Marilyn Sherlock, chairman of the Institute of Trichologists.
What causes it?
‘For some reason, the body’s immune system begins to attack its own hair follicles. Special white blood cells in the body, known as T-lymphocytes, cause the hair to stop growing,’ she adds.
Can worry make it worse?
Stress has been shown to prolong the problem.
Is it an inherited condition?
There is strong evidence to suggest that alopecia, like other auto-immune diseases, runs in families. About 25 per cent of patients have a family history of the disorder.
Who gets it?
Alopecia areata usually affects teenagers and young adults, but it can affect people of any age. It is just as common among men as women.
Is there a cure?
There is no known cure, although there are various treatments which may be effective for some people.
She has visited a swimming pool, a beach, a pub, a supermarket, Wagamamas, a park, a Post Office, H&M, a high street, Starbucks, Colchester Castle, a local arcade, Thorpe Park and a shopping centre. She still has one challenge to complete.
‘Where I live, everybody knows each other, so I did worry about doing it,’ she confessed.
‘There were times when I’d fret before going out, but I still did it.
‘I’ve even been to the pub without my wig.
‘The Post Office was the first place I went on my own. I was standing in the queue and could feel my legs shaking, as people were looking at me. I did get a bit embarrassed, as some people smiled and others stared.
Jess visiting an arcade for the challenge. Jess said taking part in the Alopecia UK initiative has boosted her confidence
The 25-year-old was challenged to visit a high street while rocking a bald head. She said she fretted about going out with a wig, but did it anyway
‘When I was challenged to go to a high street, I did feel my heart drop when I saw someone I knew, who hadn’t seen me without a wig before. But he came over and gave me a big hug and acted normal, which put me at ease.
‘As I’ve gone to more places, I’ve found it’s bothering me less – to the point where I forget I’m not wearing a wig.’
Her newfound confidence has also encouraged Jess to experiment with different looks – with her make-up artist friend Maisy Reiser covering her head in beautiful colours and jewels, to mark Alopecia Awareness month.
‘Maisy based the look on mermaid and unicorn colours like blues and purples. It took three and a half hours to do,’ she recalled.
‘I wanted to display my fun side and show other girls that it can be fun to play around and experiment. You can still have that sense of glamour with a bald head.
‘I don’t have a huge interest in make up, but Maisy has also been helping me to use false eyelashes, so I’m getting more confident.’
And Jess has now applied to be a model, as part of a campaign with Models of Diversity who are looking to recruit an inspirational person for a project with fashion brand Missguided.
‘If it wasn’t for the support I had on social media, I would never have had the courage to do that,’ she added.
Jess, whose condition has changed from alopecia areata to alopecia universalis, which is characterised by hair loss across the entire scalp and face is also sensitive to allergies.
She suffers particularly badly with hayfever, because she has no nasal hair.
She said: ‘Little bumps and mosquito bites can turn angry, as my condition means my immune system is fighting off its own hair follicles, rather than anything else that is attacking my body!
‘But I try and remind myself and others of the positives – like not having to shave my legs, having quick showers, saving money on hairdressing bills and being cool when everyone else is hot!
‘I’m on a journey and I don’t know if I’ll ever ditch my wig for good, but I feel proud of myself for finally believing that bald really can be beautiful.’
Follow Jess on Instagram @nevertooobold and to donate to her challenge fund visit Alopecia.org.uk.
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