Sarah Vine: losing it - my hair loss struggle

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Hair loss is distressing, writes Sarah Vine, but it's not about vanity

There are many ways in which hair loss can shape your life. In my case, it changed me from a confident, ebullient teenager into an introspective, anxious adult. It stopped me from doing many of the things I loved. Swimming, which I was very good at, became impossible because the minute my head hit water, the carefully arranged strands of hair would part, exposing my scalp beneath. Dancing, and therefore parties, was out too, since any semblance of sweat had a similar effect. I avoided any activity that involved speed or wind (running, open-top cars, boats), and lived in fear of being caught in a rain shower.

It turned my focus away from my appearance, and made me concentrate on being interesting. Since I couldn’t compete on the hair front, such an important feature of a woman’s appeal, I tried to be clever and funny instead, not always successfully. My romantic life was virtually nonexistent: it was simply inconceivable to me that any man would be interested in someone with thin hair. And if, by some strange fluke, they were, I was pathetically grateful. As a result I wasted quite a lot of my twenties being a doormat.

Like most women who suffer from hair loss (and there are more than you think: about 30 per cent of the female population), I tried innumerable cures. Endless thickening lotions and potions. On the advice of the doctor I took iron and vitamin B. For a long while I was under the care of the brilliant Philip Kingsley, who, through a combination of diet, supplement and topical solutions, managed to slow down my hair loss considerably. I reckon he prolonged the life of my natural hair by at least ten years.

My two pregnancies brought temporary relief from the problem: all those lovely female hormones swirling around my body stopped the hair from falling out. I was delighted - fat, but with a full head of glossy hair. Needless to say, it all disappeared once the babies were born. After my second child it became so unbearably thin I bought my first (and last) wig. I hated it, and resorted instead to wearing scarves.

In some respects I was very lucky. I suit short hair, and because of my job I had access to the best hairdressers on the planet. The first, Joel Goncalves at John Frieda, was the man who managed to get my hair into shape for my wedding day, testimony to his incredible skill with scissors. Unbelievably, it rained; but in some of the earlier shots it looks nice. Later, when the wine was flowing and the dancing had started, it looked less good. When the pictures of our wedding party came back from the photographer, I cried. In almost every one you could see my bald patch. Sadly, it was in the days before Photoshop.

George Northwood was the last person to cut my own actual hair. One of the most creative and kind men in the business, he did his best. But following a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism, as well as a series of illnesses, my hair was becoming a real lost cause. Even his skills could not conceal the fact that there simply wasn’t enough coverage. The final straw was a photograph taken at a friend’s 40th birthday party. I looked like my dad (who has also lost his hair) in drag.

That glossy mane you see in my byline photograph? All fake. Well, not quite all fake: some of it is mine, but much of it is someone else’s, skillfully weaved in by the brilliant Lucinda Ellery and her team of technicians. I’ve had my new hair for almost two years now, and it has been transformative. Not just in terms of my appearance; but some of my old confidence has returned too.

I realise that some people will think of me as a vain, stupid woman. I realise that in order for me to have nice hair, someone else has to have theirs cut off. I know that hair loss is not a life-threatening condition, and that there are people in far worse-off circumstances than me. I understand all these things. And yet: the joy and relief I get each morning when I wake up and see a person with a normal head of hair in the bathroom mirror is indescribable. For once in my life, I do not feel like a freak. I only wish I had done it sooner.

For more information and advice about this topic, take a look at our hair loss SOS section.

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  • Sharon Mason
  • March 27th 2013

Hi Sarah
I too listened to your story on Woman's hour; I've now been Cinderelleried!
I feel so much more confident and strangely slimmer. It is very expensive but then so was going to the hairdressers - they still charged me the same as someone with 70% more hair so in the long run it's not such a huge amount more.
Thank you so much.

  • Jayne Leonard
  • January 28th 2013

Hi,
I heard you on R4's Woman's Hour last week and many of the things you said about thinning hair struck a chord with me. My locks started thinning during my finals at university and, apart from preganancies, have become increasingly pathetic over the years. Thank you for speaking out about this condition. Am seriousy considering visiting Ms Ellery now!

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