Unfading: Women with Alopecia
Photographer Christoph Soeder found twelve women whose lives changed after they started losing their hair and tried bringing back their confidence in their own beauty.
German-French photographer, lives in Berlin. Studied documentary photography at the Berlin Ostkreuz School of Photography and the University of South Wales, Newport. Participated in a group exhibition of Magnum photographers. Project Unfading was published by CNN, as well as shown on billboards all over Britain.
— Statistically 1.7% of the UK’s population is affected by alopecia, which is a hair loss disease. Very few of them choose not to wear a wig or speak out about this problem. Unfading shows women affected by alopecia. The project wouldn’t have come to life without the help of the charity Alopecia UK — they advertised the project online so that women interested in participating in the project got in touch with Christoph.
Hair loss is thought to be related to the immune system, but neither the exact cause nor any promising cure is known. Alopecia is not a life-threatening condition. However, for most people, it means a severe psychological shock and threat to their sense of identity.
Sally: “I spent a fortune on creams, shampoos, and pills to make [my hair] grow back, but nothing worked for long and when it did grow back it was pure white. So hair dye became my best friend. Life became a constant struggle to hide the bald bits. I felt at war with my hair.”
Sometimes the hair grows back but may then fall out again leaving affected people in a state of incertitude. In a poem written by Pammy it says "perhaps the better way is live instead of wonder".
Women not disguising their hair loss are often mistaken for cancer patients: female baldness causes a strong association with chemotherapy. Some of the women who took part in the project said they even get approached by people in pubs who offer to sponsor their cancer treatment. It is hardly pleasant for a person with alopecia to answer questions about a disease that they are not suffering from.
The initial feeling of many women when losing their hair is the one of losing their self and doubting their beauty. Beauty however, does not get lost but transforms itself. Also, Christoph offered the participants the option to have their makeup done professionally for the shoot which many accepted. “I wanted to show the strength and beauty of these women and their confidence,” Christoph says. “And many of them were eventually really surprised with the result.”
Christoph was very happy to see that the project come at the right moment for some to take the next step in accepting alopecia. However, he thinks that revealing baldness might be right for some, while it isn’t for others. One of the women took her wig off publicly for the first time during our photoshoot. She liked the portrait so much she shared it on social networks. However, only two of the twelve women Christoph photographed were not wearing a wig in their daily life.
A wig is a sort of armor which protects a woman from stares and uncomfortable questions. “Unfading shows an otherwise hidden identity of the participants and the chance that the project would help them to better accept their condition and to raise some positive awareness about alopecia was definitely a motivation for me,” Christoph says.