Those of you that have seen me within the past few years may have noticed that I have been experiencing hair loss.

In a beauty-obsessed culture focused on the status quo, this can be an anxiety-inducing source of shame. I refuse to be embarrassed by or apologize for hair loss, and I believe we should all do likewise.

For such a common condition, it’s remarkable how much we stigmatize people that experience hair loss and balding. According to the Men’s Journal, more than 50 percent of men older than 50 experience male-pattern baldness; however, I feel this terminology is too narrow as it neglects to mention the large number of women that experience hair loss and balding.

While people like me are a bit younger than the ages this statistic encompasses, all of us are the intended prey of a massive industry. The hair loss industry is a multi-billion dollar empire that gladly feeds upon the insecurities our culture instills within those of us who experience balding and hair loss. While great advances in hair transplant surgeries have been made, these treatment options still cost thousands and are only an option for wealthier individuals.

While a variety of factors can contribute to hair loss and balding, genetics are the overwhelming cause of the condition. Therefore, hair loss could be placed in the same category as height, skin color, eye color and body type — things a person cannot control or change about themselves. To find a person unattractive or even repulsive for having hair loss is narrow-minded and ignorant.

I first began to notice changes in my hair during the second semester of freshman year. My previously thick and wavy hair had been an important part of my identity in high school, as I grew it long and styled it specifically to express myself. Now, I had come to feel nothing but hatred and embarrassment for the hair I was once proud of.

Because my balding started at the crown of my head, I wore hats constantly at the start of sophomore year. Whenever I would slip on a hat, it was as if I was able to escape my hair for a while. I would do my best to arrive early to classes so I could sit toward the back, alleviating my imaginary fears that the people behind me were staring at my bald spot in disgust. I tried vitamin supplements, used special hair wash gels and ate fruit obsessively in the hope that I might magically return the hand I’d been dealt.

As with most things in our world, men enjoy certain privileges when it comes to balding. While the onset of hair loss has been a largely difficult experience for me, it would be significantly more harmful if I were a woman. Even more than men, women are defined by their hair, and any sort of hair loss can be a source of 
extreme social anxiety.

Today, I am in a much better place regarding my hair and its relationship to my identity. My hair loss has taught me valuable lessons about humility, feeling attractive, and being honest and more comfortable with my body — all things I wouldn’t trade for any transplant or hair therapy on the market. I refuse to feel defined, limited or lesser because of my hair, and I believe we should all to do the same.