Mind Games

Quarantine Helped Me Confront My Fear of Hair Loss

Now, I see my former trauma as an opportunity for growth

Amanda Oliver
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readMar 27, 2020

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A selfie photo of the author with short cropped hair.
Photo courtesy of the author.

FFor five years I’ve kept the bones of an essay about having alopecia on my desktop. That essay begins by telling the reader about the first time someone pointed out a bald spot on my head. It was Josh Pfolhs — the most popular boy in the fifth grade — loudly, during a spelling test. Then there are a few pages about my childhood and a few more pages about high school and college and a sort of log of each major flare-up.

Then I stop writing or editing it. Sometimes for a year or longer.

Because I have never been able to figure out what, exactly, I want to say about alopecia.

Alopecia occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles. The body fails to recognize its own cells, its own hair. It is commonly believed that alopecia is brought on by stress, though scientists still aren’t certain. The only thing they are confident about asserting is that alopecia, of any kind, is incurable. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come and go for some people, including me, but there is no guarantee of any final going.

I have some combination of alopecia areata — round bald patches on the scalp and face — and alopecia universalis — complete loss of hair on the scalp and body.

There are less than a dozen hairs on my arms, legs, and armpits combined. Previous boyfriends and lovers have tried to count the hairs sometimes — four on my left leg, three on my right leg (all of them on my kneecap), four in each of my armpits.

Sometimes, when new hairs came in, we’d celebrate, naked and laughing.

New or less attentive lovers often wonder out loud how I’m so soft and eventually I point out that I have no hair on most of my body. A search ensues — my arms are rotated, the duvet is pulled back and there is some crawling down the mattress to have a look, the back of the hand used to give my calves a once-over. The conclusion is always the same: I am hairless and soft and telling the truth.

The texture of an alopecia spot is different than a spot of bare or bald skin. It’s smoother, almost wax-like. There are no visible follicles…

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Amanda Oliver
Human Parts

Author of OVERDUE: Reckoning with the Public Library • writer, editor, teacher • amandaoliver.com