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The Quest for Perfect Hair

The quest for perfect hair 

*Today our blog writer, Kristi, wanted to share a personal story relevant to today’s topic. 


Way back in my grad school days, this friendly, neighbourhood medical blog writer embarked on a fun hobby that got her away from her microscope and into the gym. Fitness competitions! 

Fitness competitions combine acrobatic dance routines with body building, so there’s a big skill component. I figured out pretty quickly however, that the women who placed really well in rankings had a certain… look. Giselle-worthy cascades of beautiful long beach hair. 

Not to be dissuaded (I was competitive in my youth) I embarked on a mission to grow my own mermaid cascade. It didn’t go as planned. My hair was determined to reach my shoulders and grow no farther. One day, while chatting with a pro competitor backstage, I mentioned how I was desperately trying to grow out my fine, wavy hair into a mermaid cascade just like hers. 

I’ll never forget the expression on her face. She looked at me as if I was a kid and she was about to reveal that Santa Claus didn’t exist. “Oh…sweetie, no,” she told me with a pitiful look. “You don’t grow hair like this. See!” 

She flipped her head over and quickly removed a mass of clipped in hair extensions which she deposited before me in a pile. The pro competitor’s ‘natural’ hair was no longer than mine and probably finer. 

I still consider that day a huge turning point in my own self-esteem journey. As soon as the illusion that ‘good’ fitness competitors simply ‘grew out’ perfect manes of mermaid hair was burst, I stopped coveting it and felt world’s better about my own fine hair. 

So, let’s talk about some of the illusions out there that contribute to hair we covet. 

Is it real? Are the images we see aspirational or clever smoke and mirrors.

Chasing a beauty standard

First off, health and beauty are multifaceted spectrums. You do not need hair to be beautiful or fit any standard. However, if voluminous, thick hair is something you identify as beautiful (or you’re a K-Pop star or subscribe to those beauty standards) it can feel more like an essential. 

A point of contention when it comes to all beauty standards is that we often only see the highly curated, airbrushed versions. There’s a great example on the show The Boys, where female superhero, Starlight, takes off a hair topper revealing a much thinner, earthlier head of hair than her superhero alter ego is supposed to have. The show makes a point of showing us that Starlight’s amazing, voluminous hair is an illusion – and it’s a really important point. How much of what we’re seeing of these global ‘beauty standards’ is real? A well curated hairstyle can appear natural, when it’s anything but, and the algorithms that churn them onto your screen don’t know the difference. 

The final results we see, not the hours of work and hairdressing expertise.

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But it’s not just about beauty

Sensitivity about hair takes on many forms (we spend a lot of time and effort helping people feel better about themselves), but let’s be clear – there are many reasons why someone can be self-confident about hair loss. Though fitting a beauty standard is one aspect it’s not the full picture. 

There can be a lot of stigmas around thinning and balding hair. Our hair can affect quality of life and importantly how others treat us. A Korean study in the International Journal of Dermatology found that balding men were considered older and less attractive than non-bald respondents. In Asia, baldness can have profound effects on your job prospects, prompting men and women to go to extreme lengths to mask hair loss and improve career prospects. In 2018, National Human Rights Commission of Korea had to step in and urge employers not to discriminate against hairlessness after one management company was accused of asking an applicant to wear a wig during an interview and rejected him anyways on account of baldness. 

Ideally (and ethically), we shouldn’t be judging people entirely on looks. Unfortunately, it’s all throughout history, and not just with hair. The Economist recently ran an article titled The Economics of Thinness, about how it’s economically rational for ambitious women to try to be thin. It’s a shame and it’s pretty daunting stuff. No wonder people try to hide hair loss. 

Which leads us to camouflage.

Wigs and camouflage

We don’t often talk about wigs and hair pieces here, but it’s true they can be an option for people who don’t want surgery, are advanced in male patterned hair loss, and/or don’t have great donor supply. Women wear wigs, toppers, and clip in extensions all the time, sometimes to mask hair loss but also to achieve specific hairstyles and volume, creating the illusion that their hair is somehow thicker, longer, and shinier than the rest of us mere mortals. They definitely work and can be nigh undetectable.

Women wear wigs, toppers, and extensions to achieve specific hairstyles and volume. 

The problem with hair pieces is often more psychology than technical. People can feel as if they’re not being their authentic selves, as if they’re wearing a costume. Another common fear is that if something displaces the hair piece, people will discover the baldness. There are also high-cost factors that go into maintaining good hair pieces. Full baldness is also always an option, and for men it’s considered a masculine trait. 


There’s also camouflage powders. Like people use make-up powders to fill in eyebrows, similar make-up is often used by stage performers and models to make their hair look thicker. It’s incredibly popular with K-Pop pop idols, and the internet is full of candid fan shots of sweat-streaked hair powder (and extensions) falling out. That doesn’t make it wrong, a bad solution, or something to ridicule, but it’s good to keep things in perspective and know that more than natural hair is going into these coveted and aspirational looks. Scalp micropigmentation (SMP - essentially a cosmetic tattoo), is also an option to fill in a hair line.

Camouflage powder is used by performers to make the hairline appear full.

Surgical and medical intervention

On the surgical side there are of course hair transplants. A big misconception is that only men seek out hair transplants, and that’s just not true. Yes, hair transplants are the number one most common plastic surgery for men all over the world, but many women seek them out to help with density at their hairline as well as to mask thinning eyebrows. 

Surgery always carries risks, so it’s incredibly important to do your research and not bargain shop. Many people go overseas, and this can put you at increased risk for complications. You never want to end up being a cautionary tale. Finding a talented surgeon is also critical. Matching angulation and direction of the hair can be very tricky, and if it’s not done properly the hair won’t lay right, especially at the hairline (for more on how to create a natural hairline, see our video here). 

And just because it works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Everyone starts with individual anatomy. You can’t bring a celebrity photo in and expect similar results. 

Final thoughts

Hopefully if you’re someone who’s ever coveted movie or pop star hair, we’ve convinced you that what you’re seeing is aspirational, created with a lot of smoke and mirrors. But, we’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up medical therapy for hair loss, oral minoxidil and finasteride. For men and women dealing with hair loss and wanting to halt it, it’s really something to consider….

 

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Written by
Kristi Charish
Edited by
Dr. Gary Linkov
The content of this newsletter is for entertainment and educational purposes only. This content is not meant to provide any medical advice or treat any medical conditions. Patients must be evaluated by an appropriate healthcare provider on an individual basis and treatment must be tailored to meet that patient’s needs. Results and particular outcomes are not guaranteed.

 

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