Women, Hair and Identity: The social Processes of Alopecia
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Hair plays an important role for women as a marker of their gender. How does society's emphasis on hair affect those who have lost it due to an auto-immune disease called alopecia areata? The historical and societal significant of hair have informed notions of beauty and are a testament to its connection with identity. l examine how women redefine themselves and their understanding of femininity. In the course of three months, I attended the 24th annual National Alopecia Areata Foundation conference and utilized the social networking site Alopecia World to speak with a total of twenty-three women. The focus of this project is identity, which incorporates the theories of Erik Erikson and Arthur Frank. I use Erikson's crises of wholeness to evaluate the role of age in which alopecia develops on identity. I also use Frank's narratives of illness, in which women use to attempt to make sense of their situation. Frank proposes three narratives: restitution, chaos, and quest. Women develop and reconstruct their identities as outlined by Erikson, and Frank's narratives help them make sense of themselves. Although all three narratives are applicable to alopecia, I argue that Frank's narrative lacks a fourth narrative entitled empowerment. Women do not necessarily find a purpose through helping others as Frank suggests through the quest narrative. Rather, through empowerment they claim their inner strength and arrive at sense of self which goes much deeper than anything they were socialized to believe was a· person's identity.