Why Everyone Should Join a Wig Support Group
By, Rhea Parsons
You know how you complain about something and someone older says, “You don’t know how good you have it. Back in my day…” and on it goes about walking barefoot, uphill, in the snow, etc. Well, the other day I was thinking about my mother and her experiences wearing wigs. She wore them for as long as I could remember - pieces, and later, full wigs.
Here is how I remember her wig experience: it’s the 1970s and there are no computers or internet. Mom gets a catalog in the mail from Eva Gabor (now known as Gabor) and sometimes there are advertisements in magazines that show a few styles, in black and white, that can be ordered by mail…with a check. At least the Gabor catalog is in color. She flips through the pages and finds a style she likes. Then she looks at the color swatches (which have not improved in over 50 years!). There aren’t a lot of colors to choose from and they don’t have highlight or roots or “money pieces.” The caps are machine made. There are no lace fronts or monofilament tops. The fibers are synthetic, not heat-friendly.
So she fills out the attached form in the catalog and sends a check and in a couple of weeks, her wigs arrive. She tries them on, usually complains that the color looks different from the swatch (some things never change), fastens them with bobby-pins and uses a hair pick for the curly styles. When she’s worn a wig and it needs help, she’s lucky to have a friend that’s a hairdresser who washes, conditions, and restyles the wigs for her. Mom keeps the wigs in these humongous white hat boxes that fit the styrofoam mannequin head (makeup applied to it courtesy of me and my sister).
When I think about this, what hits me most is a thread of loneliness. I don’t think my mother had any friends who wore wigs and it wasn’t so much a fashion statement then. Most people didn’t share that they were wearing wigs though they weren’t as realistic as they are today. Sometimes people would ask my mother and I know she felt embarrassed and humiliated.
When I bought my first wig in a beauty supply shop, it was thirty years later. Still, I went alone and talked about it with no one. The one difference I had was that the internet existed and I could look at wig shops or Amazon online and order discreetly. If you’ve read my story, you know I kept this secret for over 20 years.
Last year, everything changed. I joined a few wig support groups on Facebook. I lurked for awhile before I introduced myself. There were thousands, tens of thousands, of women like me, sharing their experiences, their fears, their triumphs and even, their photos. The women were friendly, supportive, offered advice and opinions, and suddenly it was like having a million girlfriends. You could ask if you should get this style or color, you could ask about care and maintenance, and you could even admit that you didn’t leave the house in your wig yet or that no one at work knew!
Women shared their experiences. Some were open and proud of wig wearing. They told everyone because they wanted to normalize it. Sometimes conversations were serious and heavy, dealing with unsupportive family and friends, and the various illnesses that brought us together in the groups. Sometimes the groups are fun and we joke about becoming addicted to wigs and hiding the mail when it comes.
Like everything else in the world, you need to be careful. There are scammers and people who may try to take advantage of vulnerable people. But for the most part, wig and hair loss support groups are invaluable. It wasn’t that long after being in a few groups, that I came out and told everyone on social media and real life that I wore wigs. I even started my own wig accounts on Facebook and Instagram. I love taking pictures of all the wigs I try. The support of these women not only gave me the strength to accept my hair loss but to embrace it. They taught me the fun of wig wearing and trying new colors and styles. Most importantly, they taught me I had no reason to be ashamed of my hair loss; it isn’t a personal failure.
Some women from the groups have become close friends of mine. There is so much support and caring that sometimes I forget many of these women are going through life-threatening illnesses. You might not know because what shines through is their strength and compassion. I truly value the wig groups I belong to and the friends I made, and I admire the women in these groups who are true warriors. I wish my mother could have known that experience and not felt so alone.