“I have alopecia! There, I said it!”

By: Tanya Barnett
Tanya Xchange

I have alopecia! There I said it! Five years ago, those three words stuck in the back of my throat. I could barely whisper them without tears streaming down my face.

Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles. What does this mean? It means I live with permanent hair loss. I am bald.

After all, I had shoulder-length locs that I patiently waited more than three years to grow. A dermatologist told me I was eventually going to be bald. She offered me pills, injections and creams in an attempt to grow more hair. I asked her to give me time to think about it, and she gave me a few pamphlets to read.

Living in a society that glorifies beauty, I was distraught when the doctor had the audacity to utter those words to me. Truth be told, African American women love our hair. Statistics verify just how much we value our hair. Sales of hair care products for African Americans reached $774 million in 2014, representing a 12 percent increase since 2009, according to Mintel’s Black Consumers and Haircare executive summary.

I cried all the way home from that doctor’s office. I was afraid to share with my husband the information. What would he think about having a bald wife? Would he be disappointed? Would he still see me as sexy once it was all gone? Would he want to be seen in public with me? All sorts of rejection thoughts ran through my mind.

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As I look back at that stressful time in my life, I can’t help but be annoyed that I didn’t trust my husband’s love for me. I didn’t tell him right away what the doctor said, but when I did, I was not prepared for his response. He embraced me and kissed me. He told me he loved me and would love me with or without hair. He held me as I cried over the reality that I would not have hair. We discussed the side effects of the medications, and he emphatically said he did not want me to risk my health for a 50/50 chance to grow hair.

A few weeks later, my hubby asked me if I was okay for the thousandth time. That particular morning, I had been moving my locs all over my head, trying to hide and cover the growing bald spots. I gave up and had a breakdown on the bathroom floor. He knelt down, rubbed my back and told me over and again how much he loved me. After my pity-party, I decided to just cut it all off. He offered to go with me for support.

When we pulled up to the barbershop, I was so nervous I felt like I was going to lose my mind in the car. He prayed for me to have strength before we walked in the door. As we walked in the barbershop that day, I knew my life was about to change.

I started Tanya’s Xchange to help women like me, who live with the shame of hair loss. I help them embrace it and then find their confidence to be bold and bald.