The GuardianThe Guardian

'I’ve got a drawer full of wigs – brown one day, pink the next': living with alopecia

By Caroline Bannock

14 Mar 2020 · 16 min read

It’s like a gun going off, and once that’s happened there’s no going back.” This is how Guardian photographer Graeme Robertson describes the onset of alopecia. Robertson developed it 17 years ago. He was 23 and covering the Iraq war, during which he witnessed the 2003 bombing of the UN building in Baghdad that killed 22 people. “I was having lunch opposite, then there were bodies everywhere,” he recalls. A few days later, “I was in the shower, when I got out, I shaved, and a 50p-size clump came off my beard.”

This was the start of a dramatic physical transformation. Before his hair loss, Robertson had a thick beard and a body covered in dark hair. It took time for him to accept that he had alopecia. An umbrella term for hair loss or balding, it is commonly caused by an autoimmune condition that attacks the hair follicles (those with it often cite stress as a trigger). In around 20% of cases, there is a family history – and there is no cure. For Robertson, one of the hardest aspects was the growing disconnect between his appearance and his internal sense of masculinity: “One girl whom I went out with said it was like kissing a doll, because I’ve not got any stubble. She said, ‘If I close my eyes, it’s like I’m kissing a girl.’”

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