Hey Rebooters! It’s the last episode of Season 2 – doesn’t time fly? We’ve got a corker for you to end the season on a high – we’re talking with the wonderful Laura Mathias about embracing who you are!
This week’s guest is Laura Mathias, who has been using lockdown to start embracing her alopecia and sharing her journey on Instagram. She’s very inspiring and we’re excited to find out more about her journey!
Living alone and working from home during the pandemic hasn’t been a bunch of fun – especially when your role is usually in a big office full of people. During the 2020 lockdowns, Laura was spending more time on social media, and decided to start talking about her alopecia – which she’s lived with for over 16 years, but never really spoken about to colleagues or even to friends.
She shared her first ever bald selfie in June 2020 – jumping in at the deep end! – and it evolved from there, talking, sharing pictures and videos, and sharing her experience of living without hair as a woman. We think she’s amazing!
There wasn’t a particular moment, and there was no “this is it, I’m going to whip off my wig today” trigger. She tells us how the disruption of routine from lockdown, which I think we can all identify with, was the first part. Not having to get up, get dressed, makeup on, hair on and out the door.
Apart from Zoom meetings, she was free to not wear her hair and spend time in her natural state. And without the office kitchen, watercooler moments and chat, we’ve also all spent more time on social media for human connection. Laura also enjoyed the break from wearing her wig, and spent less time dealing with eczema on her scalp.
Although Carla has eczema too, neither of us knew it was something alopecia sufferers often suffer from, and we winced at the thought of eczema under a scratchy wig.
Laura describes alopecia as “an autoimmune condition – basically my body attacking my hair follicles because it thinks they’re an alien coming to invade my body” which we think is the best description EVER.
Chronicling the crap with no limits
She talks about alopecia, but really her account is more about her experience as a person, who happens to have some conditions – with no limits on what she can talk about and share there.
We’d like to also emphasise that, in her words, she doesn’t have all the answers – she’s just sharing what she experiences and chronicling the crap. Like days where it has impacted her ability to work – days where her skin has been really bad, but she’s still felt she has to put a wig on to go to work because leaving the house wigless wasn’t an option.
Laura’s alopecia story started when she was 12, which is already a stressful time trying to work out who you are and what your body’s doing, starting to develop self-image – and her first bald patch was found by a hairdresser in a routine appointment.
It developed fairly quickly, and there were times when it affected her attendance at school – traumatised at the idea of anyone seeing her bald patches. She came out the other side, but as a 13-year-old it was very tough.
We were amazed to discover that Laura’s lived with hair loss for 17 years, but 2020 was the first time she’d ever left the house without a wig. Mainly because she comes across as gloriously confident and comfortable in her own skin – we recorded the podcast wigless!
Feelings and stretchy trousers
Although it wasn’t deliberately a lockdown project (and all of us have the stretchy clothing as a testament to the side effects of lockdown!), she’s now showing up consciously every day to share something on Instagram. If she doesn’t have much going on or feels like she has much to share, then another bald (fabulous!) selfie is always an option.
Stopping and taking stock – recognising your achievements. This is something we love and applaud and encourage in everyone – so often we forget to acknowledge what we’ve achieved and how far we’ve come.
The very first selfie came after someone had drawn her without her hair – and shared it, the very first bald image of Laura in the public, and both she and his followers loved it. A couple of weeks later she took some selfies, and, heart pounding, posted one – then left her phone on the other side of the room and couldn’t look!
We love her honesty – and that first post is still her most engaged post.
Where we get a bit emotional
Thinking about what 12-year-old Laura would have thought – would she have believed this was possible from 29-year-old Laura. She tells us her 25-year-old self wouldn’t have believed it, never mind 12!
Given that she used to hide from the postman if she didn’t have a wig on, this is some kind of progress.
And neither of us have ever really thought about this stuff, the small-big things that go with having alopecia. This is why awareness is so important.
She made us laugh with her descriptions of her 14-year-old self and her first wigs – no one teaches you how, and nobody knows. This is not a sob story – quite the opposite – but it is hard enough being a teenager and this would have made it so much harder.
People are generally curious, rather than wanting to be mean – but learning the little ways to approach it and turn it into something positive, dealing with people’s looks and comments – all these things are still hard to deal with in adulthood, but no 13-year-old is going to have the confidence to know how to cope with that.
Normal is overrated
Laura and her journey are incredibly inspiring, but even she says things to herself that she would never dream of saying to a friend. And as Sarah points out, we’re raised to notice things about ourselves that aren’t normal – and things that we never see in the public eye.
Comparison is a painful thing when the role models and the people we see don’t reflect who we are and our experiences.
You might be the “only bald girl in the village” (Laura, we love you!) but on Instagram, you can find some of the other 8 million women going through some form of hair loss – some postpartum, some hormonal, some permanent.
Men also suffer from alopecia – but women don’t really talk about it and it’s more socially acceptable for a man to be bald.
In more moments that make us a bit tearful, she talks candidly about how she worried, as a teenager, about what would happen if she had children – giving birth without a wig, and the photo after birth – her hair loss has dominated so many things.
Connection & progress
From that first bald selfie has come connection with lots of other beautiful bald women, and men, who are going through alopecia and struggling with the same kinds of issues. Confidence, self appearance, self-love and mental health are common themes.
Her first ever wigless photoshoot was an unexpectedly joyful event – and we love this: “I don’t know which came first. It was either I was having a photoshoot, therefore, I was taking my wig off, or I was going to take my wig off. Therefore, the photo was going to chronicle the moment I don’t know which order it was in. But it all kind of wrapped up in one” – a massive milestone!
We talk about taking her wig off at the end of a long day, much like we take our bras off when we get home, and how the wig becomes a public-facing uniform.
Progress isn’t necessarily linear, but she makes a wonderful point that applies to so much – that selfies on social media are one thing, and going out without her hair is another. Going out for a photo shoot without her hair, or chronicling her wigless pop to the shop is one thing, but just putting phones & cameras down and walking down the street having a chat without a wig on – that’s another.
The gleeful rebellion of liking yourself
You get to spend your whole life with yourself – so it’s helpful to like that person. To enjoy your own life and your own company, get comfortable in your own skin and be your own true love.
Laura does some wonderful reels & stories on Instagram where she shows the “show” selfie, and then blasts apart the smoke & mirrors and takes the same image from different angles, in different lights, and shows the truth behind the scenes.
As photographers, but also as humans, we think this is hugely important – social media is great, and a wonderful platform, but can also become a breeding ground for comparisonitis, and you can’t compare your real life to edited highlights!
And as Laura points out, sharing the nice polished pictures is lovely, framing bald as beautiful. But she is still beautiful when holding her phone underneath her chin!
Strength in your differences
Differences can be a massive strength – and often what is hard when you’re young, makes you stand out brilliantly when you’re older. And difficult times build strength and resilience – so you’re going to shine!
And from all of this has come an approach to be featured in an advert!
Laura’s advice to you? Stop worrying about what other people think, it really doesn’t matter – keep embracing who you are, stop hiding your differences.
Get more Laura in your life
We loved our chat with this wonderful, inspiring human – here’s where you can find her:
And she’s had all kinds of fab press including Stella at the Telegraph and UniLad since we spoke, so have a nose here for links to those: Laura’s Linktree