We’ve all done it. Standing in the mirror, berating ourselves for that minor flaw or wondering whether a tweak here or there might make all the difference to our beauty. But what about when that beauty issue is your crowning glory – your hair. What about if you find yourself experiencing baldness, at the age of just 24?
For many of us, hair is a source of pride and joy – we spend time braiding it, colouring it, curling it, straightening it, wearing it up, wearing it down, trying to fold it into weird shapes to see what we’d look like with a fringe.
So imagine the feeling of losing your hair, and being told there is nothing you can do to save it.
That is exactly what happened to Katie Gardiner, who found herself going bald at just 24 years old.
“It was when I was pregnant for a second time that my hair started really falling out.
“It’s a common thing that can happen to pregnant women and I sort of thought it would grow back after I’d given birth, but it just never did.”
One of the few young women that experience female pattern baldness, Katie is frank about just how devastating this condition can be for women.
For ten years, pretty and bubbly Katie, now 38, didn’t leave the house for anything other than work, or engagements involving her children.
She and her husband, Andy, shied away from nights out and spent weekends in their home in Darwen, Lancashire and when invitations to parties dropped into her inbox, Katie would say she had plans.
“I do feel like I missed out on so much. Just because I felt so ashamed and so embarrassed.
“It had never occurred to me that I might ever have any sort of issue with baldness and to be honest, I don’t think I really realised that women could get pattern baldness – you certainly never hear about it.”
“So I felt totally alone with nowhere to turn.”
Female pattern baldness actually affects fifty per cent of women over the age of sixty, so discussing it in public really shouldn’t be as difficult as it is.
But most magazine execs wouldn’t exactly be fighting over a story about a pensioner losing her hair, and in this selfie-conscious age of Instagram beauties who spend hours upon hours perfecting, airbrushing and filtering, anyone younger who does suffer from hair loss would most certainly feel the pressure to hide it.
At 24 and losing her hair, Katie found the lack of voices left her feeling isolated.
“I didn’t even go to a GP about it for years because I was scared. I’d googled it and researched it myself but couldn’t see anyone like me talking about it.
“I was worried if I went to tell someone about it, they’d just tell me that nothing could be done. “Which is what happened in the end.
“A dermatologist said the NHS couldn’t help, and my best bet was just to try some regain for men.
“They told me it was genetic, it was hereditry. But my parents and grandparents all have full heads of hair so I was really shocked.
“I’d so wanted them to say, it’s hormonal, take this pill and it’ll all grow back. But they didn’t. I was just devastated. I had female pattern baldness and there was nothing they could do.”
“I focussed more of my energy on hiding it, and I think I did it pretty well. I’d grow my fringe long and kind of swoop it up and clip it back so there was a bit of extra hair covering where I had a bald patch and the front of my hairline.
“But my confidence was all gone. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and you just feel so self-conscious.
“I didn’t feel like a woman. It affected my relationship with my husband because, although we always had a great sex life, there were times when I just thought, ‘that’s not me. I don’t feel sexy. I’m not doing that.’ And we didn’t go out on our own, like on a date, for ten years. It’s insane how much it can affect your life.”
Mother of two, Katie also experienced hurtful comments from strangers.
“I was asked if I had cancer, people would comment on it. I work in a jewellers and if I bent down in front of a customer to get something out for them, they would obviously see my bald patch and some made remarks like “you’re thinning on top!”
“It was hurtful and embarrassing and it annoyed me, because we often see men losing their hair and nobody would say anything to them. But because I was a woman, then it was alright.”
But Katie is in the midst of experiencing a new lease of life, after her husband saved up and bought her a special weave for her birthday.
Slice hairdressers in Katie’s hometown began specialising in a unique hair extension that covers up bald patches called a mesh integration.
Hairdresser, Kelly said: “The system works by fitting a piece of mesh to the clients head and attaching it using a little of the clients own hair and micro rings.
“This forms a base for a silk closure to be stitched too so it gives a new thicker fuller parting and covers up any bald patches.
“The system needs to be tightened approximately every 8 weeks.
“It is proving to be very popular and each week as word spreads, I have more enquiries about them so we understand that female pattern baldness is a very real issue many women face.
“It is such an amazing feeling to be able to give woman their confidence back and to see how happy it makes them.”
Katie says she felt instantly more confident after the treatment, and bravely shared her before and after photographs on Facebook.
“I did it just for my own empowerment really. I felt like saying, this is what I’ve been hiding all these years and it’s not just a stupid thing, it’s not just something you can get over – it really affects you.
“And to say, there are young women who experience this and we are here and there are things you can do.
“It felt amazing already and I found out that someone I knew also had female pattern baldness so now I’m able to support her.
“As soon as I looked in the mirror and saw myself with hair again – I cried. I honestly cried. I never thought I’d feel that good about myself again and there I was.
“My husband took me away for the weekend and as we were driving, I just said: “Andy, I’ve got hair!” like as if I just couldn’t believe it.
“I would say to anyone struggling to just get the weave. It doesn’t make you less of a woman and yeah it’s expensive but it’s worth it. You’re only here for a short amount of time and anything that gives you confidence, makes you feel good and lets you enjoy your life is so worth it”.