When They Ask About My Hair, What Should I Say?
Our hair is one of the first things that people tend to notice. Every society and culture has certain norms and ideals related to hair and its appearance. In some cultures, hair is even intricately connected to religious practices and beliefs. So, when someone’s hair appears different in some way, curiosity is usually the result. And, if you’re living with trichotillomania, commonly referred to as hair pulling, you probably get your fair share of questions about your hair, especially if the places you pull are visible to others.
Trichotillomania is a disorder characterized by compulsive pulling of the hair resulting in hair loss, emotional distress, and impaired functioning. The most common sites for pulling are the scalp, eye lashes, eyebrows, and pubic hair.
When someone’s hair is unexpectedly different, it draws attention and sometimes, questions. Just why does hair matter so much? What’s the right thing to say when someone asks about your hair loss? And just why does hair matter so much?
Why Hair Matters So Much
Hair’s most basic function is to provide warmth and protection. Eyelashes and eyebrows protect the eyes from light and particles of dust getting into the eyes. Body hair (including the hair on your head) helps to maintain body heat and protects the skin from injury.
But there’s more to hair than just its biological function. Hair has cultural and social significance and plays a role in how others perceive us and even how we perceive ourselves. Historically, hair has been associated with youthfulness and beauty in woman, and masculinity and virility in men. Hair that meets cultural or societal expectations is viewed as attractive or preferred. Hair that is different is viewed as less attractive or less desirable.
Hair also plays a key role in how we perceive ourselves. It’s an essential part of self-identity and body image. In many ways, it is both a personal and public statement reflection of ourselves. Style, color, length, adornments can all reveal something about us. Our hair also serves as a marker of life stages. For example, hair begins to gray or thin as we age.
People living with body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) like hair pulling and skin picking tend to struggle with a significant amount of guilt and shame. There is a fear of being judged by others. They often go to great lengths to cover up the damage or avoid social situations where someone may call attention to their hair. But you can’t stay hidden at home and venturing out means that sometimes people might ask.
Tips for Responding to Questions About Your Hair Loss
Inevitably, someone at some point is going to ask. The important thing to know is that you, and you alone, get to decide how you respond or if you choose to respond at all.
Knowing what to say isn’t always easy. A number of people living with trich have shared their experiences publicly in various forums. A look at some of the online discussions reveals some ways people living with trich deal with the questions about their hair loss.
In one online forum, participants shared their ways of dealing with questions:
- Some people choose to be very direct. “I have trich.”
- Others choose to respond more generally or state that they have a “condition”.
- Some admit to using “an excuse” when they don’t want to be pressured into sharing more than they want to.
- Humor was a tool that some found helpful. One person shared their successful use of an unexpected humorous response: “Um … I have pet piranhas. I try to pet them. They don’t like that.”
One poster noted that offering a measured response instead of avoiding or denying an issue served two important purposes:
- It acknowledges that they are not embarrassed and yes, their hair looks different.
- Responding in a general way tends to satisfy the question without having to share more than they want to.
When dealing with questions, you may get a variety of people who are asking. How you respond may depend on who is doing the asking.
Most people, especially people you know, will probably mention your hair out of concern. They may not know that you’re dealing with hair pulling. Some will be quite sensitive and cautious in their inquiry. Others might be more direct. Just to note, kids tend to be very direct. They tend to be quite curious and depending on their age, may not have learned the “art” of asking a personal question. Of course, there will be a few folks who are insensitive.
How you respond can shape how the other person responds to you. Responding thoughtfully, rather than simply reacting paves the way for meaningful communication. Thoughtful response also shows respect for the other person and creates a path for safe, open and honest communication.
One poster noted that attitude when responding can go a long way in successfully navigating the questions. They described their approach this way:
“If you’re visibly embarrassed or scared they’ll probably be less accepting (for some sad reason). If you act like you are at peace with it and it’s something that doesn’t affect who you are as a person, they’ll act like you and shrug it off. I guess it’s a charisma thing. I don’t know man. But even pretending you’re okay with it helps you ACTUALLY be okay with it.”
When it comes to questions about something as personal as your hair, you can decide how to respond. If you feel comfortable, you may choose to give more information. If not, you may choose to keep it light, offer a minimal response, or none at all.
Learning more about navigating life with trich from others who live with it offers insight, hope and connection for those living with trich. Learning how to navigate the social impacts of hair loss from trich is also an important part of treatment for trich. If you’re struggling with how to respond, there is help and support from peers and professionals.
1. Dhami L. (2021). Psychology of Hair Loss Patients and Importance of Counseling. Indian journal of plastic surgery : official publication of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India, 54(4), 411–415. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8719979/
Anderson, S., Clarke, V., & Thomas, Z. (2022). The problem with picking: Permittance, escape and shame in problematic skin picking. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 96(1), 83-100. https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/papt.12427
2. Reddit. (n.d.). Reddit - Dive into anything. https://www.reddit.com/r/trichotillomania/comments/17jcw0s/whats_your_excuse_when_people_ask/
3. Reddit. (n.d.). Reddit - Dive into anything. https://www.reddit.com/r/trichotillomania/comments/17k4rq7/response_to_people_asking_about_your_hair/