Hair is a curious thing, when you think about it. It sprouts from the top of our heads, and we colour it, shave it and cut it, all in the name of beauty. But these strands – whether they are straight or curly, black or blonde – provide a measure of comfort for most, making it all the more difficult for anyone faced with losing them.
Scrolling through Yasmin Taylor's Instagram page, it's hard to believe that just four years ago she wouldn't even allow her closest friends and family to see her without the cover of a wig. But now, at 26, she displays her bald head proudly, framed with words of encouragement for anyone struggling to come to terms with their own hair loss – an experience she's all too familiar with.
“I was 15 when I was diagnosed with alopecia,” she says. “My mum noticed that the back of my hairline had receded to the top of my ears and took me to the doctor.”
Initially unconcerned, the doctor diagnosed Taylor with eczema and prescribed her a cream. But her hair loss continued, and within two weeks, the hair around Taylor’s ears had completely gone. “I cried and called my mum, who decided to take me to a private dermatologist for a second opinion,” she says.
It was then that Taylor was diagnosed with alopecia areata – a disease that causes the immune system to attack the hair follicles, triggering strands to fall out in small patches. “When I found out, I was actually OK about it,” she says. “Even though I had lost a lot of hair, when it was down, you couldn’t notice – it wasn’t falling out in clumps or anything.”
'I hid behind the wig for three years'
For four-and-a-half years, Taylor was on a continuous cycle of steroid injections to stimulate regrowth in affected patches, using the remainder of her thick, curly hair to cover them up. But that stopped working for her when she turned 19, just before she was about to embark on six months of travelling.
“While I was away, my hair was falling out in clumps. It had never done that before. It got really, really bad. I lost around 60 per cent of my hair,” she says. “I remember Skyping my mum and showing her how bad it had got. She told me to come home early so we could start the injections, but I told her no, I didn’t want it to get in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
When Taylor returned home, the steroid injections didn’t work, and she decided it was time to buy a wig. “The wig was straight as that’s all they had. My hair was curly and thick, so I felt a bit uneasy. I thought people would know and I wasn’t comfortable telling them,” she says. “I hid behind the wig for three years. I felt so embarrassed about everything.”
It was during a trip to Australia that Taylor finally took off the wig and braved the world. “I decided to put a post on Facebook about my alopecia alongside a picture of me without my wig. I remember my heart was beating so fast and I instantly wanted to delete it, but I also felt a sense of relief knowing I didn’t have to hide anymore,” she says. “People were so lovely, I was overwhelmed. I remember not sleeping that night because I was just so happy, it was such a big step for me. I continued to wear my wig, but it helped me a lot that people know knew.”
The post came after Taylor spent days in the Australian sun sitting on the beach, while her friends surfed and played in the ocean – things her wig stopped her from doing. Once she found the courage to take it off, she says she has never looked back. “It was the best thing I have ever done. I felt free, people could see me for me,” she says. “It suddenly just didn’t make sense anymore to wear a wig for strangers when I was so unhappy in it.”
Helping inspiring others
It’s been four years since Taylor took off her wig, and now, living in Abu Dhabi and working for the British Embassy, she is helping to inspire the same confidence in other alopecia sufferers worldwide. “I started posting more and more bald head pictures to Instagram – it just felt natural,” she says. “People started messaging me to say I was helping them with their alopecia. That was amazing to me. I didn’t expect my posts to have an effect on people who were going through the same thing, but I was so glad it was helping them.”
Taylor’s following on Instagram of those who have alopecia is global, and she now considers some of them friends. Together, they share their experiences and offer each other words of encouragement, prompting honest conversations about the condition. “I do have down days, but that’s normal. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who knows what you’re going through,” she says.
“Living with alopecia can be hard, especially in a world that seems to care so much about a person’s looks. But I want to say to people, don’t let alopecia – or any other condition – control you. Learn to love yourself without a wig, without a headscarf. It will take time and it’s not going to happen overnight. But it will happen.
“Remember, beauty is only skin-deep,” she adds. “I’d rather have a great personality and a kind heart than be remembered for nice hair. Beauty fades, personality is what makes you, you. Do activities you love and don’t let alopecia dull your shine – you’re more than just your hair.”