“Clutching my mobile, I felt sick with nerves. I’d just hit send on a text to Jon, my boyfriend of three months, telling him my biggest secret: I was bald.
Until that moment I’d never revealed to him that my long blonde hair was really a wig, and I was so scared of how he’d react.
I was only eight when, in 2002, patches of hair started falling out at the back of my head. It was upsetting, but Mum helped me put in a low ponytail to hide it.
A few months later I was diagnosed with alopecia areata multilocularis – an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the hair follicles.
Doctors said my hair may grow back, but it would always fall out.
I’d never have a full head of hair again. It was devastating to hear, and I went home in tears.
I was prescribed special shampoos and tablets, but they were all useless. I tried to cover my bald patches with side partings and more low ponytails, but by the time I was 12, my hair was thin and wispy on top with just two long bits on either side.
Desperate, I even tried dyeing my scalp black in a bid to disguise my baldness.
But it clearly didn’t work, as the school bullies would taunt me, saying I looked like a boy or an alien. I always pretended I couldn’t hear them, but once I got home I’d cry to Mum, heartbroken.
As I hit my teens, my friends started to get boyfriends – but I knew it would never happen to me. I just wanted to hide away.
Some days when Mum drove me to school, I’d sit in the car and refuse to go in. In the end, she arranged that I’d attend for two days a week and do the rest of my studies at home. By 16, I had almost no hair on my head and no eyebrows or eyelashes.
While my sister Hannah, then 13, would curl her hair like any normal girl, I spent hours painstakingly pencilling on eyebrows and gluing on lashes.
As school prom approached in 2010, I was sure no one would want to take me. But then my friend Josh asked me to go with him. I was so excited, but I didn’t have the courage to turn up bald, so Mum took me wig shopping.
I’d always refused to wear one, believing a bad wig was even worse than showing off my bald head. But we found some really natural looking ones, and when I was fitted with a dark bob, I burst into tears – I finally felt like a girl again.
On prom night, I put on my wig and a purple dress and felt pretty for the first time in years. Some of the kids who’d been horrid in the past said I looked lovely, while others sniggered behind my back. But I felt so incredible, I refused to let them get to me.
After my GCSEs I got a job at a supermarket and always wore my wig to work. With it on, no one stared and I kept my hair loss a secret. It was such a breath of fresh air to be known simply as Charlotte and not ‘the bald girl’.
I even felt confident enough to start dating, and in 2013 got together with a friend of a friend. For eight months, I kept my wig on whenever we were together, before finally plucking up the courage to tell him.
But he callously told me he didn’t want to see me without it. It was such an awful thing to say and really dented my confidence, but I was convinced I wouldn’t find anyone else to like me, so I stayed with him for another 18 months.
After that, I lived in fear that people would find out my secret. Any time someone said my hair looked nice or asked where I got it done, I’d quickly change the subject.
But keeping quiet also left me feeling isolated. I could never get ready for nights out with friends. They’d spend hours doing their hair together over glasses of wine while I stayed home alone with my ready-styled wig.
By October 2015, I was ready to start dating again and signed up to Tinder. I wore a new long blonde wig in my headshot and on my profile didn’t mention the fact that I was in fact totally bald aside from the odd wisp.
After two months, I matched with a 27-year-old guy named Jon Peat, a project manager for a housing company, and we arranged a date at a local restaurant. We spent the whole night laughing, and I didn’t think about my big secret once.
My wig was so convincing that I even kept it on when we spent the night together three weeks later, and Jon never suspected. Whenever it seemed like he was going to touch my head, I gently took his hand instead.
We’d been dating just three months when he moved in with me at my parents’ house. Mum let me hide all of my wig stuff in her room so I could tell him when I was ready.
But keeping my secret was horrendous – I loved Jon and felt he deserved the truth. I just had to hope he didn’t react like my last boyfriend had.
That month, I finally found the courage and sent Jon that terrifying text while we were both at work. I was convinced he’d dump me, but he replied straight away saying that it didn’t change how he felt about me.
At home that evening, Jon confessed that a mutual friend who’d known about my wig had accidentally let it slip weeks earlier. However, he’d decided not to confront me but wait until I was ready to talk about it.
I was so bowled over, I couldn’t even be angry at my friend for telling Jon. Even so, I was reluctant to show him what I looked like without my wig – what if he took one look and realised he’d made a mistake?
For the next month, I slept in a headscarf until we went for a long weekend away and I forgot it.
Flustered, I got into bed with a hoodie pulled tightly around my head. But as we lay there, Jon gently took the hood down, kissed me and told me I was beautiful.
With his support, I did slowly start to feel pretty again – with and without my wig. Sadly, though, not everyone was so kind.
I started getting nasty Facebook comments from random people, calling me ‘Baldy’. In November, a troll posted that I had to stop hiding. In that moment, I realised enough was enough and decided to post a public picture of my bald head in all its glory.
For 20 minutes, I paced up and down the living room, scared of what people might say. But when I looked there had been over 100 likes and so many amazing and supportive messages. Of course, the bullies left insults, but I ignored them.
They couldn’t hurt me any more.
Eventually, the post got more than 700 Facebook likes and was shared over 200 times on Instagram. Since then, I’ve learned to go out wig-free and feel confident about the way I look. I’ll happily be bald on trips to the shops and even went on a girls’ weekend to the Isle of Wight in June.
It’s been liberating. People may stare, but I’ve stopped taking any notice.
My eyebrows and eyelashes have now grown back, but if I lose them again, I won’t be devastated. I finally realise that while hair can be beautiful, you don’t need it to be beautiful. I still wear my wig sometimes, but only because it’s a great accessory. I certainly don’t hide behind it any more, and I never will again.”
– For information and support, visit Alopeciaonline.org.uk.