Michelle Chapman was diagnosed with alopecia areata when she was just five. She now devotes her time to raising awareness of alopecia, supporting others with the condition, and designing a stylish range of wigs.
“I don’t know why, but I began losing my hair when I was just five years old. It started slowly at first, just circular bald patches the size of a 10p piece. When I noticed lots of hair on my pillow, I began to ask questions. Mum took me to a dermatologist, who confirmed that I had alopecia areata. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
“Over time, the bald patches grew larger and started to join together. By the time I was eight, I was wearing a wig.
“Then, just before I started secondary school when I was about 10, my hair started to grow back for no apparent reason. But I still had the bald patches, so I’d disguise these by strategically styling my hair. Before classes, a couple of friends would help to colour my head in with eyeliner pencils, otherwise my white scalp would shine through.
“I was 21 when my hair loss happened again. I was in the shower and suddenly ankle deep in water because my hair was clogging the plughole. I pretty much lost the lot in one go. I felt devastated. Just when I thought I was over it, it got me again. That’s one of the cruel things about alopecia.
“I eventually tried some wigs and chose a simple bob, just like the style I used to have. After a while, I began to get used to it and started to buy different types of wig.
“In 1996, I began my campaign to raise awareness of hair loss. When I was featured in a national newspaper, the response was incredible. Since then I was very fortunate to take part in a television documentary about Gail Porter, the television personality, who was diagnosed with alopecia in August 2005. It was wonderful meeting and working alongside Gail. Since then, the awareness for hair loss has increased dramatically.
“I’ve come a long way since those early years. I spend time as a volunteer for the charity Alopecia Awareness, which gives those experiencing hair loss the opportunity to communicate with others who understand the emotional trauma caused by the condition.
“To top it all off, I now work for a wig company. My time is divided between working alongside a number of NHS hospitals, where I attend specialist hair loss clinics, and designing a range of wigs. After all, I know how they should feel and what looks right.
“I now have around 50 wigs in my collection: red, brunette, blonde, black, long, short, straight, curly. The one I wear depends on where I’m going, what I’m doing, what I’m wearing and how I’m feeling. There is definitely life after hair loss.”