Amber Rowan opens up about Hair Free - her new platform dedicated to spreading awareness about Alopecia
I’m a model, I’m an actress, and I have Alopecia. It’s a condition I’ve grown to accept since I was 15 – it’s very rarely spoken about in the mainstream, and when it is, it’s embellished to the max. That’s not my truth, and it’s probably not yours either.
It was my best friend who spotted the first small patch of missing hair on my head – we were in History class and I was convinced at the time it was a repercussion of getting my 90’s trademark blonde highlights (yes, I was that girl). I had no idea what this was, what caused it, or how it would develop, yet it had already made its mark on me - my eyelashes and eyebrows had also shed - and it was there for everyone to see.
By the next day, it had been given a name. The doctor advised Alopecia was normal, and that it was common for many girls my age. In fact, it affects eight million in the UK. I hadn’t seen any girls with it – but then again, I hadn’t been looking. The advice I received was useful but seemed almost too textbook (get some steroid shampoo and watch my stress levels…) My head was bubbling with questions I couldn’t bring myself to ask in that room, and questions the doctor was unlikely to know how to answer. How do I cover the patch before school tomorrow? What will boys think? Is this the end of the highlights?!
Within a year, I was completely bald. Hair free.
Stress and anxiety are said to be the main triggers for Alopecia, but I didn’t feel stressed or anxious at the time it first developed. I was unaware of it – as a teenager going through hormonal changes, I was naturally underweight and danced three to four times a week. I was also very fussy with food, which meant I wasn’t replenishing or nourishing my body the way I should have been. I was internally stressed, and I had no idea.
Becoming hair free was frightening - it made me feel insecure. I didn’t want anyone to know, and so I did my best to hide and beat it. I tried treatment after treatment. None of them worked for me, and so came my experimentation with wigs. I had a terrible fear that someone would find out, so wigs become a part of my daily routine. I made sure I chose the most natural-looking wigs at first (laced front wig are my hair pieces of choice), mainly because of a desire to want to fit in and be accepted at school and at home. I soon realised that actually, wearing a wig was liberating. I was the lucky one who could experiment with her look - I’d have thick brunette curls one day (my hair is naturally thin, so this was welcomed!), and a blonde bob the next. I had a slice of my confidence back, and I felt a little like the ‘old’ me again.
The only other ‘treatment’ that seemed to work was acting class. I joined when I was 10 years old, but at 15, it became my safe space. It was the one place where I completely forgot everything in the real world and felt no judgement from my peers. I could be whoever I wanted and having hair didn’t matter.
It was a couple of years later when I was scouted as a model through my acting agent. I was ‘peak-wig’ at this stage - I wore them (and still do) every day. An industry that is said to be riddled with physical judgement and to only cater to a very exclusive pool of people, wanted me. But, they hadn’t seen the real me yet. Would they judge me? Would they toss me out when they found out? Would they just use me to tick a diversity box?
The answer was no, no, and no. Modelling became the confidence builder I was craving. Having my agents believe in me, uplift me, and being booked for jobs at that time (early 2000s) when diversity and representation wasn’t seen as a core priority for brands, was crazy. Essentially, the very condition I had been hoping to ‘cure’ for years with oils and creams, didn’t matter much – maybe I didn’t need ‘treating’ at all. Maybe the images of girls with long, luscious hair weren’t the only ones who could be deemed beautiful.
"Hair loss affects the best of us in some form at some point, but why are we so afraid to talk about it?"
Ten years after my diagnosis, I still have an endless list of questions that are unanswered. I started www.hairfree.life to put all of these questions in one place for me and you. Hair loss affects the best of us in some form at some point, but why are we so afraid to talk about it? Why do we feel it needs to be ‘fixed’? Why are hair free men treated differently to hair free women? Why are we all so attached to our hair?
I sense I’ve grown the most in the past two years - I now know myself. There are of course days when I’m annoyed that I have to spend up to 30 minutes a day drawing on my eyebrows and using a glue to apply my eyelashes, and that I have to spend time looking after my scalp (I swear by scalp scrubs in the morning and 100% essential oils at night!) but that’s part of me and my condition. I also have days, like all girls, when I feel low and hormonal, and my alopecia seems to be the worst thing in the world.
However, in the last six months, my perspective on my condition has evolved and continues to. I have chosen to be more open about being hair free - to accept it, challenge it, and to encourage others to, too. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to be bald in all that I do for everyone to see (I’m still on my journey and I choose to wear my wig sometimes) – it means I want to start talking about it more.
I want to spark a conversation around Alopecia and hair loss generally until there are no more unanswered questions. I want to provide information and honest advice to everyone starting out in their hair free journey, like me. But most importantly, I want to build an empowering community of Alopecians and those experiencing hair loss generally, to help challenge our socially-constructed beauty ideals.