Gaining Hope and Hair Through Granny

When diagnosed with a rare disease as a young girl, Helen lost all hope for a normal life. After getting pregnant as a young teenager and living a rough life in the projects of San Francisco, Helen was losing sight of a bright future. But just one chance encounter with one older, wiser woman of the neighborhood allowed Helen to find her identity and learn to help others accept theirs, too.

By Helen Owens

I am an African American woman in my late 40s who was diagnosed with Alopecia areata as a child. Already a kid from the housing projects of San Francisco, and pregnant with my first child by the time I was 15, I also had to deal with the taunting and teasing of being called “the girl with the bald disease.” Even as I dealt with the challenge of being pregnant, the only thing that took a greater toll on my self-esteem was the idea that I would never grow into a beautiful woman with a full head of hair.

Living with Alopecia

Most of the kids in my neighborhood weren’t sure if they’d make it to their 21st birthdays, but at 15 I was going to be a mother so I knew I’d have to make a choice: either follow the path of failure that was pretty much laid out for me, or choose another direction altogether. It’s only when I began to accept that I was going to be bald forever that I found that losing my hair was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.

I got to know 'Granny,’ an eccentric retired woman who lived in my neighborhood, when she found me crying on her porch one day. When she asked me why I was crying I told her I was loosing my hair and that I was ashamed and embarrassed by what was happening to me. She told me this was the “blessing” she’d been waiting for – it turned out Granny was a wig maker for theater, and having had my father’s artistic hands bestowed on me, I knew I’d found a lifelong solution to my problem.

Today I am a successful hairstylist, specializing in servicing women like myself who are losing their hair to a variety of hair loss disorders; I’ve won numerous awards for my work, and have been featured in a variety of local and national media. My life’s work is to ensure that women experiencing hair loss have choices in their appearance. It’s because I chose to surrender to my own illness that I am able to help others.

About the author

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