Beauty

Losing My Hair Made My Self-Esteem Drop — Cutting It All Off Restored It

When I arrived at Spoke & Weal in New York City’s Soho neighborhood, I was initially intimidated by the number of chic people with perfect hair. And in my typical fashion, I couldn’t help but fixate on all the people around me with long, thick strands. As I changed into a soft cotton T-shirt (the salon has a stack of clean ones on deck at all times), I took a few deep breaths and forced myself to relax and to quit comparing myself to others. “You’re going to look cute as fuck with short hair, K. Don’t fret,” I told myself, before sitting down in the swivel salon chair.

My nerves were tied to more than just the outcome, though. You see, for the last two years I’ve been quietly struggling with stress-induced hair loss, so this haircut felt like my opportunity to finally get back some of the self-esteem I’d lost as a result.

When It Started Falling Out

Roughly two months after making my official foray into adulthood — aka starting a Big Girl Job and moving to New York City — I started losing my hair at a frighteningly rapid rate. One day it was a few more strands than usual sitting in the drain or sticking to my sweater, and then, just like that, bona fide clumps were falling out as if my hair just didn’t want to stay attached to my scalp anymore. I was devastated, stressed as hell (which only worsened the situation), and desperate to have my former hair back.

A few months went by without any improvement, despite my best efforts to give my hair tons of TLC. I tried weekly hot oil treatments, deep conditioned almost daily, slept on a silk pillowcase, and popped alleged growth-stimulating supplements, such as Viviscal and Nutrafol, like candy. Still, the stubborn fall out persisted, making it possible to see through sections of my hair when I wore it down. I resorted to wearing it up regularly because I was ashamed of its appearance: thin, straggly, and lifeless.

I obsessed over it — so much so that I started to avoid mirrors altogether, and, out of pure frustration, would get in ridiculous arguments with my twin sister and then-roommate over it. At the risk of sounding dramatic (actually, who am I kidding? I am drama), I felt like a shell of my once-confident, carefree self. When I saw a doctor about it, all I was told was, “Try eating a more balanced diet.” Cue my eyes rolling out of my head.

When I saw a doctor about it, all I was told was, ‘Try eating a more balanced diet.’

The thing is, I knew my hair loss had to be stress-related; I hadn’t changed anything else in terms of personal care, beauty products, or lifestyle — aside from moving to the city and starting a new job, that is. I was overwhelmed at work, had just ended a seven-year relationship, and, on top of it all, I was facing serious struggles with my skin, too. I have a rare genetic condition called Netherton syndrome, which is characterized by dry, scaly skin that’s prone to inflammation and adverse reactions due to a compromised skin barrier.

Please excuse the terrible quality of the photo on the left, but it shows what my breakage looked like two years ago versus a few months ago.

Please excuse the terrible quality of the photo on the left, but it shows what my breakage looked like two years ago versus a few months ago.

New York City-based dermatologist Neil Sadick previously told Allure that stress is the second-biggest culprit when it comes to reasons for hair loss, with scalp inflammation — which I suffer from, thanks to my super-fun skin condition — coming in at number four. I also have what’s known as trichorrhexis invaginata, or “bamboo hair” for us nonmedical professionals, which is basically an abnormality in the hair shaft that causes it to be weak and more susceptible to breakage. That being said, I had never before experienced such aggressive thinning.

I obsessed over it so much that I started avoiding mirrors altogether. I felt like a shell of my once-confident, carefree self.

After nearly a year of trying different treatments, including castor oil and scalp serums, and seeing minimal results, I knew in my heart (and my totally-consumed-by-hair-loss head) that it was time for a change. Or, rather, a major cut. I hadn’t had my hair short-short since middle school, so I was hesitant to take the plunge. But with several of my coworkers and countless social media influencers going for it, who all looked ah-mazing, I finally felt ready to do it.

Taking the Plunge

To help shed my hair-loss woes, I enlisted Spoke & Weal salon founder, Jon Reyman, who’s famous for cutting hair when it’s dry instead of wet, because, as he says, this allows him to see the hair in its full glory and give the best cut possible. This way, he can tell how dense your hair is, whether or not it’s damaged, and how much texture you have, all of which informs him on exactly how the hair should be cut.

The second I walked into the trendy salon, my anxiety skyrocketed. “Is this a huge mistake?” I wondered to myself while forcing a smile for the kind woman at the front desk. I couldn’t help but notice that she had seriously luscious hair, too. Thankfully, Reyman put me at ease instantly, walking me through his process and assuring me that a super-short cut would look “hella” on me. We then swapped haircut ideas — via Instagram, naturally — and decided on a blunt bob similar to the look below.

Then it was game time. Because I’m a baby, I closed my eyes as Reyman confidently began snipping away, saying things like, “Ooh, this is good, this is good,” without a trace of doubt in his voice. Five or so minutes later, I opened my eyes and scanned the salon floor, which was now scattered with more hair than I even thought I had. Well, there’s no going back now, I thought. But as I mustered up the courage to look in the mirror, I realized that I already felt less tense and anxious. It felt surprisingly good to shed the hair that had created so much stress and sadness in me over the last year and a half.

Once Reyman was done, he sent me to have my hair washed, before styling it straight with a blow-dryer and a flatiron. I told him this worried me a little since I never used hot tools and almost always air-dried my hair, but he promised it was all part of the plan and that it would look great whether I style it or not.

Sure enough, the next morning I went through my usual hair routine: washing, conditioning, and spritzing in some wave spray. Then I waited patiently (or not-so-patiently) for it to dry so I could get the full effect. Don’t get me wrong: I liked how it looked all straight and ultra-sleek, but it just wasn’t me. That and, I knew for a fact, I’d never go back to heat styling since my hair is so weak.

It was exactly what I’d hoped for and, to be honest, what I should have done a long time ago.

After an hour or so, my hair was completely dry and I was in awe. Awe, I tell you! My hair no longer looked thin and devoid of life and luster; instead, it looked bouncy, full, and healthier than it had in months. The best part: I couldn’t see straight through it anymore. It was exactly what I’d hoped for and, to be honest, what I should have done a long time ago. God knows it would’ve saved me a massive amount of stress.

Getting My Confidence Back

It’s a month later and I’m still l-o-v-i-n-g my new look. It couldn’t be easier to style — wash, spritz, and go — and, I kid you not, I’ve gotten more compliments on it than any cut I’ve ever had in my life. Peer approval aside, though, I can’t get over how much better I feel now that this (literal) weight has been shed from my shoulders. When I look in the mirror now, it’s not to obsess over every strand of hair on my head, but to pause and say, “Okurrrrr girl, you look good.” Self-love, folks. You know?

I’ll leave you with this: If you’ve been struggling with hair loss and thinning like I was, I can’t recommend enough chopping it off. It helped restore my self-confidence, reduced the stress I struggled with daily and convinced me that I might just be a short-haired girl for life. And for someone who’s had long hair since the eighth grade, that’s saying a helluva lot.

Disclaimer: The photo on the left was my hair at its best because it was a rare day I had it styled for a photo shoot.

before and after shot of kaleigh’s haircut
Disclaimer: The photo on the left was my hair at its best because it was a rare day I had it styled for a photo shoot.

Courtesy of author

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