Moira, a stunning red shorthair with black roots, made her YouTube debut in September. Next step: stardom. Jessica Ward’s eyes gleamed the first time she showed off Moira, her new, shimmering synthetic “wig baby.”
“I think I’m rockin’ it,” Ward said.
Welcome to one of the most fun, powerful, and uplifting channels on YouTube.
Ward is sassy, smart and engaging. She tries on wigs. She talks about her favorite recipes. She is the charming, sociable friend you want at all your parties. The powerful part? Ward’s YouTube channel shows an alopecia patient living her best life.
September was Alopecia Awareness Month.
Ward, a Los Angeles-based author/blogger/vlogger/baker, used the occasion to send a powerful message to others with her condition: by being yourself, you are beating the disease.
“I’m trying to normalize wigs,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s so different from their actual hair, people think they’re going to look like a clown. It’s fun. You can be a different person—be you, but dressed up. You don’t have to hide it. Look at drag queens. Celebrities. It’s common. People play with wigs because it’s fun. Have fun with it, because I do think wigs can bring a sense of confidence.”
Alopecia patients are at risk of losing more than just their hair.
Self-esteem, social lives and sanity are all prone to plummet. Ward makes the journey look easy, but her story is far from breezy. She lost plenty of hair before she was finally diagnosed at age 23.
“My hair just started thinning,” Ward recalled. “It’s weird because I don’t have a memory of hair coming out in the shower. I thought it was normal. It wasn’t an alarming amount, but it wasn’t growing back in. When I was 12, my doctor told me ‘it’s just hormones … your hair will grow back and it’s fine.’ The internet was just coming about, so it wasn’t something I could Google.
I went through college parting my hair on the side, trying to hide it, hoping it would grow in. When I moved to Los Angeles, my co-workers would ask ‘what’s up with your hair?’ ”
When she started a new job in a new city eight years ago, Ward said she wanted a fresh start.
From Day 1, she wore a wig.
Other than close friends, no one was wise to the fact that Ward’s hair was not her own. Not dates. Not co-workers.
One day, Ward said, she could no longer bear the burden of keeping up appearances. “I felt trapped,” she said. “It overwhelmed me. I was literally depressed.”
Ward did something we might not associate with Alopecians: She came out.
She came out on her social media accounts.
She came out in her personal life.
She shaved the sparse strands of hair from the top of her head and showed up bald to work. “The feedback,” she said, “was really great.” Ward said she didn’t wear a wig in the office for another six weeks.
By her own admission, Ward is fortunate. Her specific flavor of alopecia—diffused alopecia areata—does not rob a person of all their hair. There were no random bald patches on Ward’s scalp before she shaved her head. Her eyebrows remained intact.
Many alopecia patients are not so easily able to hide their condition, and this might be the big takeaway from Alopecia Awareness Month: the effect of the disease on a woman’s appearance stabs at the heart of her identity.
- To conceal the disease can be suffocating.
- Coming out can be liberating.
“I know guys with hair loss,” Ward said. “It’s a jab to the ego, but women look at our hair as a sign of feminity. To lose that, you feel like you’re losing a part of your assets. You’re not as feminine when you lose hair. It’s convincing yourself that hair is an accessory.”
In April, Ward volunteered with the Children’s Alopecia Project (CAP), at a three-day camp for children with alopecia.
In May, her first book was published. “What to Bake and When: A Baking Handbook For the Basic Bitch” is available in hardcover and electronic versions.
A recipe book might seem like an esoteric nod to the Alopecia community, but it’s actually one of the most organic ways Ward could give something back—literally and figuratively.
“Baking was my escape,” she said. “I found it therapeutic. It was my way to feel creative and good about something when I didn’t feel like I was fitting in in life and society.”
For another alopecian, the creative means of escape might be different. Though their symptoms might be the same, Ward said it’s important for each person diagnosed with alopecia not to compare herself to anyone else.
Another valuable lesson was something Ward didn’t do:
“Always get a second opinion,” she said. “I didn’t for 12 years. It’s nice to know what you’re dealing with.”