It’s not about changing who you are, it’s about changing how you feel about yourself
Laura Mathias on the journey to self acceptance, to self love
I’m writing this blog in my spare room, sitting by a large window. This isn’t particularly extraordinary apart from the fact it’s getting dark outside and I’m sitting in the spotlight of my desk lamp, next to a window that looks out onto my street, with no wig on.
It’s taken me 16 years to get here, sitting in this chair, with my bald head on display. I live in a quiet road so maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but a few months ago, I didn’t feel comfortable being bald in my home in case a neighbour saw me. So, for me, these little moments count as baby steps towards a much bigger change. The more I challenge myself to embrace scenarios that would make me feel uncomfortable or ashamed of my alopecia, the more I’m moving towards accepting myself.
When I talk about picturing the person I want to be, it used to always start with, “well, if I had hair…”. I don’t think I realised how far my confidence has grown in recent months until I stopped to think about the woman I want to be now. Today, the person I imagine is just me but with a strong sense of self-love. It sounds cheesy but I really don’t think we should underestimate how revolutionary the concept of liking ourselves is.
I don’t want to be ashamed of being bald. In fact, I don’t want any person, whatever age, whatever reason, to be ashamed of not having hair just because society has told us we should be. Alopecia is an autoimmune condition that I have no control over. I was 13 when I started losing my hair. Over the years it has taken my eyelashes, eyebrows, in fact all the hair on my body. For many years, alopecia took my confidence too. I let hair loss dominate my life. I have said, “I can’t do that, because I wear a wig” more times that I’d like to admit. Recently, I realised if I start embracing myself for who I am then I don’t have to wear a wig in situations I don’t want to. I don’t have to wear it to ‘hide’ my alopecia at all. I can choose to wear whatever wig as and when I want to, but know I am beautiful without it too.
So how did I get to this point? Well, I started sharing my experience of alopecia on Instagram when lockdown started. Maybe I had more time at home without ‘needing’ to wear my wig, maybe I was just bored. Either way, I started seeing amazing, beautiful women with hair loss on Instagram. Reaching out to these people and becoming part of this supportive bubble of baldies has been a gamechanger for how I view myself and beauty standards.
I can’t control my alopecia, but I am finally starting to control how I respond to it. Last month, I approached a professional photographer through Instagram and asked if she would like to take my photo, with and without my wig. It was a terrifying but brilliant experience. For years, I’d always been anxious someone taking my photo in case it was obvious I had no hair. I would also avoid letting anyone do my make-up because I didn’t want to acknowledge my differences. During this photoshoot I confronted both these fears. Clearly, when I just embrace the fact that I have no hair, those fears go away.
Now I want to grow my self-acceptance into self-love. I wonder if this goal would be more attainable if I didn’t have to go to Instagram for reassurance that I am beautiful and belong? I wish I could see myself in the media, fashion and entertainment world at large. Surely these industries should reflect all ages, all bodies, all people. It shouldn’t be shocking to see a bald woman, or any person celebrating what society brands as ‘flaws’; every single body is different and wonderful.
Models of Diversity are working to redefine society’s limited conception of beauty and that work should be supported by us all. The self-love message the charity and its ambassadors propagate is an essential one. They make me want to keep working towards truly enjoying who I am. I’m still working on it day to day, I think I always will be and that’s OK.
For me, picturing the person you want to be isn’t enough. The next step is to think “what can I do to be one step closer to that person” and just do it. My first Instagram post, that recent photoshoot and this blog are all milestones on my journey to self-love.
Ultimately, it’s not about changing who you are, it’s about changing how you feel about yourself. We’re all taught to chase a better, “more ‘beautiful” version of ourselves, but you are brilliantly beautiful already, just start believing it.