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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Being respectful of differences


Alopecia is more than not having a hair tie

If someone asks, “Does someone have a hair tie?” I will be the first to respond, “Yes.” My close friends know that I tend to make jokes about not having hair, like my own defense mechanism. Sometimes humor is a good way to cope with things that may make people self-conscious.

The adjustment process of college is notoriously full of many emotions. For some, it is not a problem at all, but for the ones that aren’t as lucky, it can be a really difficult time. I haven’t even fully adjusted yet, so I can’t quite pinpoint all the attitudes I feel towards the process. But I do know that I’ve had a little more of a difficult time because of unique distinctions to myself.

My anxiousness fills me with so many questions. When I introduce myself is, “I’m Regina, nice to meet you!” enough? Are they thinking, “Why is she bald?” Do I have to say, “I’m Regina, nice to meet you! Also I have alopecia, that’s why I’m bald, in case you were wondering.” I just think that would be a bad ice breaker.

I tend to hope that people are aware of what my disease is, but being thrown into a new environment accompanied by people’s natural curiosities proved me wrong.

Some think I shave my head for the look of it, which seems like an incredibly difficult task. Others, and most commonly the biggest misconception, think that I have cancer, and fortunately that is not the case either.

I’ve had alopecia since I was six years old. Frequently people ask if I have cancer, and as I’ve gotten older, a lot of the things that come with my disease have become easier. But this has not; It’s always a difficult topic to navigate.

I’m really lucky. I’m alive, healthy, have a really good support system in friends and family, and am able to attend a university.

I often face a really unique form of invalidation when people mistakenly assume that I have cancer. Several responses tend to follow the question: the initial overwhelming empathy that comes with the question goes away when I correct the person, or I become the audience to a story about a loved one the person has with cancer.

In the first case, my disease isn’t good enough for empathy. In the second, the misunderstanding of it puts me in a place where I feel bad that strangers misunderstand me because I am not in the position of those with cancer.

To put it in perspective, so far at college, I’ve been accosted about having cancer six times, asked if I wrote my college essay on my alopecia as a response to what disease I have (yes, I did, wouldn’t you?), have been told it was assumed I choose to be bald as a fashion statement, and have had blatantly unkind comments said to me. Remembering all the instances so specifically is indicative of the effect they have on me, the effect words have on people.

It might seem like a miniscule thing to not have hair, and in retrospect it is. Again, I’m really lucky. I often struggle to justify myself when talking about such things because I don’t want to sound ungrateful when circumstances could be worse.

However, I feel as though I am valid in addressing the feelings that come as a result of my disease.

When hair is such a defining attribute of a person, a symbol of femininity, of health, of expression, it can be really difficult to navigate a new environment when the one I was formerly in viewed my hairlessness with normalcy.

It would be so cliche of me to say don’t judge people, but I really think that’s something that needs to be emphasized. Based on my experiences, I can imagine how similar experiences reflect onto other people who are “different” in some ways as well.

Being cognizant and respectful of people’s differences goes a long way. I’m not writing this to ask for sympathy by any means. I am well adjusted to the side effects of looking different from others. In fact, despite all the negative aspects there are, I love my alopecia.

I just think it is important to highlight the importance of creating an inclusive community for everyone, through words and subsequent actions. I think (and hope) right now, more than ever, the St. Joe’s community knows that words have so much power.

Be kind; don’t set people apart for their differences.

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