inspiration2021/06/24

Hair Free: Building A Community With Amber Jean Rowan

Photographs by Amber Jean Rowan

 Amber Jean Rowan is a model, actress and Founder of Hair Free, an online community for Alopecians based in London, UK.

Tell us a little bit about your personal experience with alopecia.

I started to lose my hair when I was 15 years old. At first my hair started to fall out in patches and then within a year I was totally hair free. As you can imagine, for a 15-year-old girl trying to find her way, it was very much not ideal. 

I learnt to push down my emotions and my pain with the mentality that I must “get on with life” which didn’t serve me well into adulthood. My mum always said “something's got to give” and she was right, all those emotions had to come out at some point. When I was 26 and felt I was truly happy, I had my first panic attack. It was like my body was forcing me to deal with everything I had blocked out for many years.

Alopecia has taught me so much - not to judge people, to be empathic and to be kind, as you never know what someone else may be going through. 

Now, 13 years on, I have such a better relationship with myself, my emotions & my alopecia. 

I love my egg head but that certainly took years of self-development & perseverance. 

How has alopecia affected your identity and how have you overcome that? 

Losing your hair, no matter your gender, is difficult but I think it's especially hard for women as so much of our identity is wrapped up in our hair. It's not our fault from the beginning of time that is what the world and society has told us - that you need to have long hair to be feminine and to be accepted.

Hair is also used as a tool to express oneself and it has always been a way to express your sexual self. Therefore, when your hair falls out, it can feel like you’ve lost a huge part of you.

For me personally it took years to learn how to love myself without my wigs on. But slowly and surely, I got there and I do feel that being in a kind, respectful and loving relationship really helped.

Do you feel that it has made you question any views you may have had around ‘typical’ beauty standards?

Absolutely, representation is so important and it’s incredibly powerful! 

When I was losing my hair I never saw or heard of another bald woman and I thought I was truly alone. If I'd had seen another bald woman in the media that would have been extremely helpful as it would’ve lifted the taboo around baldness and would’ve empowered others to embrace who they are!

What was your journey to launching Hair Free?

I had lots of women coming to me for help: How do I do my eyebrows? Can I have sex with a wig on? How do you make your wig look natural? What eyelashes should I wear? 

So I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to put everything I've learnt over the past 13 years onto a platform, for example a website or Instagram, so that women can come, feel safe and ask any questions they may have, plus learn something new and hopefully feel more inspired! 

I built Hair Free for the 15-year-old me. I wanted to help others in any way I could.

How has creating and being part of a community helped with your experience with alopecia?

It has helped me so much! Community is so important. I have grown so much from starting Hair Free. I've connected to so many wonderful women - sharing stories is like therapy – we really do look out for each other. 

Does the community that you’ve created and are celebrating feel of even greater importance since the past year’s pandemic? How has it shifted/grown and how have you allowed for that?

I think the past year has made everyone take a step back & think. I definitely feel a huge sense of gratitude for the support I continuously receive on Hair Free. People need real connections and I hope Hair Free gives that to people. 

You’re about to launch Amber Jean shop, a business you’ve created offering women natural and beautiful hair pieces, how does this make you feel?

I am so excited for Amber Jean to Launch. You think the wig industry is there for women like us? Think again! I searched and searched for natural, contemporary hair pieces and learnt to settle for less. I kept hoping that I’d find guidance, help and understanding but just had to learn to muddle through. So, after 13 years, I’ve created my own company to transform the wig buying experience.

I wanted to give women who live with hair loss beautiful, natural hair pieces, and to hold their hands every step along their journey. It’s called Amber Jean after the 15-year-old me, the little girl who thought her life was ending when it was just beginning.

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