The first thing I noticed about Rachel was not the absence of hair on her head, nor the dramatic tattoo prominently placed just behind her right ear, it was a quick and brilliant smile, an effervescent energy and a peaceful confidence that told me I had come to the right place.
I found Rachel Vaden (photo above), and her shop Hair Peace, when a friend asked if I would go wig shopping with her. I was eager to explore the options myself having watched what I once called cowlicks expand and thin until I had become uncomfortable with my hairline – often donning a hat or headband to conceal it.
From the moment we stepped into the shop, surrounded by racks fully stocked with samples of beautifully coifed hair pieces of all varieties and colors, it was apparent how little I knew about the alternative hair market. But I soon learned just how broad and deep the choices run, as Rachel explained the process of selecting the right piece that she would then customize to suit a woman’s style and aesthetic.
My friend left that day with a topper on order, and I left with an appointment to have my thinning hair restyled and an interview with Rachel.
According to an article by the Cleveland Clinic, more than 50% of women will experience some form of hair loss. A statistic that shocked me, considering how little the women I knew were talking about their personal hair loss, and how absent the topic was from the media. I wondered if this was yet another topic, like menopause, that had been shoved into the closet to only be whispered about in private conversation.
So, when I met Rachel, I was very interested to learn more for my own edification, but also to share with others.
Rachel has been a hair stylist for 28 years, the past 13 honing her skills specifically as a Holistic Hair Stylist and Hair Loss Specialist – providing information and education on the topic of hair loss and guiding clients navigating through the new world of alternative hair.
She helps women decide if a hair piece will suit their needs, and if so, assists them in making a selection. And if not, shares with her clients some creative ideas on how to work with particular hair loss, utilizing advance cutting techniques which sometimes can make all the difference in how a woman feels about her appearance.
It was encouraging to discover how willing Rachel was to share her story, sensing she serves as a model for those just venturing into the new world of female hair loss.
She recounted for me how her story began one morning, while pregnant with her daughter, when she noticed a spot on the back of her head. She was shocked to find a significant circle of scalp showing through.
Her doctor diagnosed her with Alopecia. There was a chance it was associated with her pregnancy and that her hair would grow back once her baby was born. It did, several times, just to fall out again, taking Rachel on an emotional rollercoaster and the challenge of how to present herself to the world without hair.
She began to wear a wig and kept her condition to herself, shared only with her closest friends, associates and family. Until one day, the owner of the salon, where she was working at the time, asked Rachel to help a client who had purchased a wig and was frustrated with how it looked on her. The client told her it was hopeless, “since no wig could look as good as Rachel’s hair. Wigs just never look natural.”
The client was flabbergasted to learn Racal’s great hair was actually a wig she had styled for herself. In that moment, Rachel realized she had a gift she needed to share. The client left feeling confident in her new look, and Rachel took the first step toward a new professional focus, setting her sights on helping women find “hair peace” through the emotional and physical effect of hair loss. She knew first hand that a woman’s hair is tied up in her femininity and appearance.
Around the same time, she found herself feeling less comfortable wearing a wig and decided she wanted to shed her alternative hair and let the world see her as her authentic self.
It was a bold move at a time when very few women were seen in public with no hair. The first time she went out without her wig, she drove into San Francisco to celebrate the momentous occasion, fully expecting people to stare at her completely bald head. They didn’t. No one seemed to notice. Rachel realized she was completely free to make the choice for herself.
Over time, she found that being bald was in fact empowering. She felt more honest and liberated, representing herself without the façade of a hair style.
So, she composed a post on social media with the details of her hair loss, declaring her choice to be seen as she truly is and offering support to anyone who needed it.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple, nor always comfortable. People would sometimes make insensitive comments and there was a period of time where she grieved her loss that required time to process. But knowing her young daughters were watching and learning how to face adversity, she focused on accepting her condition.
I asked Rachel for some advice I could share and here are her suggestions.
I’ve learned a lot sitting in Rachel’s chair. I now know more about how to care for my hair and my scalp, and about the nutrients that support healthy follicles. On her recommendation, I’ve added Biotin and Collagen to my daily supplements and have started using a scalp brush to stimulate circulation.
We’ve also begun discussing what type of hair piece I might consider at some point, learning from Rachel that wigs can give a woman time to figure out how they feel about the change and what they want to do about it.
But mostly I’ve been reminded to have compassion for myself as I travel through life in this ever-changing body.
National Alocpecia Areata Foundation – https://www.naaf.org/
Scarring Alopecia Foundation – https://scarringalopecia.org
Do you or someone you know suffer from hair loss? How has that impacted your/their life? Have you decided to wear a wig – or nothing at all? What is your hair story?