By Brynn Wooten
This is Reece Wooten’s story.
I got my first bald spot when I was 14 years old, and first found it while swimming at the beach with the girl I liked and her best friend. They were actually the ones who found it, and made it very clear that they saw it by pointing and laughing. What better way to find out you have a bald spot than getting laughed at. This hurt me a great amount and after that she wanted nothing to do with me.
Slowly after that point, I developed another bald spot, which then progressed into another, and eventually led to the entire back of my head, my hair then started thinning out altogether.
After a multitude of doctors appointments from several different offices, I eventually ended up at the leading alopecia expert in Michigan. That was the moment they told me I was diagnosed with alopecia areata and that my hair probably wasn’t coming back.
After this appointment I tried everything I could to get my hair back, starting with topical creams that burned my scalp and stained my pillow, appointments where I got upwards of 20 shots in the back of my head at a time, and various other methods, all to no avail.
So I gave up on trying new ways to get my hair back. I hated it so much that all I wanted to do was constantly cry. I would sit on the shower floor crying, asking God, why me? It was absolutely awful and extremely hard to endure.
Everyday I would wake up and have the same routine, I would look down and see a small layer of hair on my pillow, that I would then need to brush off. It became so bad that the only way to get rid of all of it was to vacuum the pillow.
Eventually I decided to try a wig, so I went to a program called Wigs 4 Kids. They told me they could help and I got my head fitted, and shortly after that I was given my first wig. I immediately hated everything about it, it was too light in color, it did not match my actual hair, and the change from thin hair to thick hair was way too obvious for my comfort.
After going through three wigs for three years, I still never grew to like it and how it looked. It felt like a winter hat because of how much heat it kept in, except the worst part was that I could never take it off. Summers were unbearable in it, especially once I joined the tennis team in high school. I’d get home and rip it off the second I got there because I hated it so much. Sleepovers were awful as well; to most people they were probably exciting; however, for me it was horrifying, I always thought I would wake up and it would be off and everyone would be staring at me because no one really knew about it.
However, there is one memory that has stuck with me throughout my wig journey. Upon leaving with my wig for the first time, I went to a 7/11 with my mom to get slurpees, on my way out a lady stopped me and told me that I had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. This memory sticks with me to this day because, at the time and even now, I look at it as the moment I realized my hair isn’t everything – although I didn’t embrace that until three years after my diagnosis.
Back in middle school, all of my classmates could tell I wore a wig, and I would put up with all of the weird looks and jokes people would say behind my back because of it. I thought of high school as a clean slate because nobody knew me or knew about my alopecia and wig; I kept it that way up until sophomore year. I only told one person before then, my best friend Kevin, and only because we planned to go tubing and you can’t exactly wear a wig while tubing.
Shortly after this event, I joined the swim team and did away with the wig altogether. It was the best decision I had ever made, but it was also difficult. This is because I was free of the wig and would never have to deal with it again, but I was held down by my self-consciousness about being bald. I would make hypothetical situations of being picked on, made fun of behind my back, and to my face, which caused me to develop the tendency to overthink practically everything, often for the worse.
The first thing I heard showing up to school the day I stopped wearing a wig was, “Woah, Reece, where’d your eyebrows go?,” “What’s with the hat?,” “Does he have cancer?,” and “Dude what’d you do to your hair?” Those words haunted me.
From then on I was free, but I always wondered what people were saying about me behind my back. I barely had eyebrows, I had no hair, I was pale, and I basically looked ill until my senior year, when my eyebrows came back.
The only reasons I made it through those years were because of my extremely supportive friends and family, and my sense of humor. Regardless of what I and others said I would always go along with it through humor. People would say jokes like, “Your hair looks nice today”, which helped people become more grounded about my lack of hair, and helped me embrace the fact that I was bald. This was mutually beneficial but deep down it hurt.
Now I joke about it confidently, but that’s only due to years of jokes from myself and others. At the beginning of senior year my eyebrows were coming back, and I was growing more confident. I developed a better understanding of who I am, I had great friends and was almost done with high school. Half way through the year I had my first girlfriend, which further boosted my confidence and helped me become a better version of myself – although we broke up about a year later.
I learned to not take things for granted because you never know how long something, or someone will be around, so appreciate it/them, while they’re still there. After that my eyebrows fully came back, I changed my style and started becoming the person I’ve wanted to be. I’ve been able to help others struggling with alopecia and offer them advice to give them confidence to get through it. A bad hair day is no reason to hate your hair, it’s something you can fix. An issue with a person is no reason to hate them, it’s something you can fix or work to fix. Now I love being bald, it’s my key feature and I wouldn’t want it any other way.