Candace Hoffmann's book, Breaking the Silence on Women's Hair Loss, was published the year before Bald Girls Do Lunch was incorporated. Candace had culled the experiences of women across the globe via an online survey and interviewed hair experts inside and outside of the traditional medical community. As word got around, her inbox filled with personal stories from women with alopecia.
We here at Bald Girls Do Lunch are huge promoters of Candace's work as the core themes of her book and blog echo our main message to women: you are not alone with hair loss. Candace is a friend of Bald Girls Do Lunch and I recently had the pleasure of catching up with her via email for this interview.
"If only I had thick luxurious hair, I'd be lovedIf only my hair weren't thinning, I could apply for that job.If only I didn't have to wear a wig, I could be a dancer."
Candace's "If Only's" align with comments I receive in the Bald Girls Do Lunch Inbox. It boils down to self-talk and how deeply you hold onto the belief that "If only other people would understand alopecia areata, then my life would be happier". As Candace clearly has a similar perspective and shares in our quest to improve the lives of women with hair loss, I checked in to get her take on shame, embarrassment and the fear of talking about women's hair loss eight years after the publication of her book.
Candace: The biggest fear for women with hair loss is going completely bald. For those with alopecia areata, as you know, this can be a very grim reality and when/if it may happen is anyone’s guess. For women with genetic hair loss, the fear is will it get worse than what it is now? I think fear of rejection by others is a top fear even if unexpressed. We live in an image-conscious age and for women there is an expectation (which we reinforce among ourselves) to be thin, young and have glorious hair.
Thea: How can we fix this?
Candace: We have to keep getting the message out that we are more than our hair, our body shape and our age. It’s a tough one to embrace, but if we can’t be a sisterhood to sell that message and instead we buy into the media hype of what we “should” be, then there is no fix. I am optimistic though that the more we break the silence, the more we talk, we can at least begin to feel more comfortable and confident within our own skins.
Thea: Are we seeing a shift in the public’s perception of hair loss as "just another way to look?"
Candace: Oh, I really hope so. I think organizations such as Bald Girls Do Lunch are really helping change public perception. Will women with thinning hair be able to one day just say “the hell with it” and shave it all off the way the guys do? I don’t know, but at least if people can get to the point of not viewing those with thinning hair or bald as somehow being ill, that would be a great step.
Thea: Is society moving forward while women are holding themselves back? While younger women would never have walked out bald years ago, I see the younger generation being more OK with it. A good sign?
Candace: Kind of the way braces became popular in the 80's. Instead of the teens covering up their mouths, there are now all kinds of flourishes and colors. It’s a riot! I cannot say I see it very often, but I do see it. I think the younger generation may actually embrace the 'look’ and be OK with it.
Thea: Is it women themselves who feel unfeminine and 'less than' or is it the social milieu that imposes it on them?
Candace: This is a tough one. I believe it’s a bit of both. In the workplace, women have to think about the way they are perceived. As I get older, I am more and more aware that I may be judged by my age and there are some days this really gets to me. Add not having the perfect figure and thinning hair - it can be pretty difficult to get up some mornings. That said, this is the self-view we need to talk about and fight against.
Thea: As advocacy for breast cancer awareness continues to expand not only into bald + women = cancer, but now adding the media component, cancer + bald = media-beautiful, is this creating an even tougher hill for women with non-cancer hair loss to climb?
Candace: Oh, this is a tough one and I wrote about it in my book. I think those of us dealing with hair loss day in and day out have a problem with this. Yes, women fighting cancer and showing their bald head during their fight are courageous and I would never take that from them. Losing their hair is a very visible symbol of the fight they are waging. That said, again, for those of us fighting the battle of hair loss every day, it is not a symbol necessarily of an illness. Many of the women I interviewed spent thousands of dollars seeking a diagnosis of an illness that could be cured and thus get their hair back.
There often is no illness, there is no magic cure; it is not temporary. I certainly don’t want to enter into marathon suffering as cancer is a pretty bad thing, but I do not think it’s helping those who are dealing with hair loss every day when we see the bald cancer fighter.
Thea: Nobody in real life looks like the people on the cover of magazines, but we still buy into it and compare ourselves. Is there anything we can tell ourselves so we don't feel so bad? It's not just women...men want the hair they had in the teens to last their whole life, too. What's a girl to do?
Candace: Again, this goes back to self-image and not buying into how we should look. I think Dove does some exceptional ad campaigns on real women. There is a wonderful one that has moms writing down what they like and hate about themselves and separately, their daughters do the same exercise. Amazingly, the moms and daughters have the same self-perception. Pretty eyes, fat thighs, thin lips – what have you. We have a sisterhood and a daughterhood of hair loss. We need to be the change of perception we want to see in the world.
About the author: Candace Hoffmann
Candace Hoffmann is a seasoned medical journalist and editor who has written thousands of articles appearing in WebMD, Reuters Health, Doctor's Guide and Physician's Weekly among many other medical publications and websites. Hoffmann currently works as a Public Relations director for a major health system. Her interest in women's hair loss has been nearly life long, and she battles female pattern hair loss on a daily basis.
You can learn more at her website: www.herloss.org