Julia Crittendon lost her hair but found a love for herself. Alopecia affects approximately 1.7 percent of the population. More than 5 million people in the United States alone have it.

It’s so strange to be bald now because in eighth grade, I was obsessed with hair. Someone wrote an article titled “Why Is Julia So Obsessed with Her Hair?” I was always doing something crazy with it and was kind of conceited about my hair. Life changed for me at 28. I had my daughter, who is now 11. When you have a baby, your hair sheds. It grows during pregnancy, but afterward, you lose hair. It was shedding to a point where I had gobs of hair in my brush. One day, I was rolling my hair and felt a bald spot. I didn’t think anything of it. From January, when I felt the first bald spot, until March, I lost more hair. I needed to see a dermatologist. He looked at it and mentioned the word alopecia. Then he sent me to an endocrinologist to do a panel of blood work to check for everything. By that time, I had already begun the injections and the steroid shots in the hip and head that the dermatologist prescribed. [I got] from 10 to 40 cortisone shots at one time. The last time I went, I got 40 shots. I sat in that chair and cried and said I would never go back. I continued to use creams, steroid foams and $20 shampoosanything to make my hair grow back. I didn’t get answers and learn about the genetic makeup of this condition until I went to a conference sponsored by the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder and part of a person’s genetic makeup. I thought I was the ugliest thing in the world. I was depressed. My husband was my rock. With the little hair I had, I got a weave. That was the worst thing, because it took out my remaining hair. Then I completely cut off my hair. I would wear a wig. It was like having a double personality; I would walk out the house as someone else, but I would come home and be depressed. I told my husband, “You know you can divorce me, because I know that this is not [who] you married.” He said, “I didn’t marry your hair. I married you for the person you are.” When I wore a wrap, I got stares. I didn’t feel good about myself. The wigs never made me feel good. I didn’t accept me for me. I had 25 wigs at one time, but they never made me feel pretty. I still had to go home and face myself. That was my reality. For women with alopecia, a wig is like their security blanket. I visited Chicago in 2006 to see the play The Color Purple. That was the first time I decided not to wear anything on my head. I went to dinner and saw a lady at another table who told me to come meet her. I went over, and lo and behold, she said she had been dealing with alopecia for the majority of her life. She was a hairdresser. She told me, “I want to tell you how beautiful you look and how inspirational you have been just now by walking in here.” For her to say that on the first day I walked out without covering my bald head was confirmation enough. Make a great effort to find out who you are regardless of your difference. Now I know that my hair is not my identity.

Make a great effort to find out who you are regardless of your difference.