A beautiful young woman who compared herself to “an alien" when her hair fell out at 17 has abandoned her wig, painting her skull in unicorn colors and even applying to be a model following positive reactions to a bald picture she posted on Instagram.
When administrator Jess Newman first started losing her eyebrows at age 15, doctors put it down to puberty.
But at 16, her hair started falling out in clumps.
Jess after a visit to Starbucks as part of her 15 day challenge (PA Real Life/Collect)
“At first, losing my eyebrows when I was 15 was gradual, until I was left with just half of one," she said.
“The doctor thought it was probably associated with puberty. But, after the stress of meeting my father for the first time since I was 10 the hair on my head started falling out, too."
Jess (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was left with bald patches around the bottom of my hairline and crown and it all started to recede," she said.
Attending Chelmsford's private Springfield Hospital when she was 17, Jess was referred to a dermatologist, who diagnosed her with alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition where cells from the immune system attack hair follicles stopping them from producing more hair.
“The dermatologist told me it's related to how the body deals with stress," she said.
“It was really upsetting, because there is no cure and you can't do anything to stop it. The more you stress the worse it gets."
“The doctors said I should look at the wig process, saying it would be better to shave my head, rather than deal with the stress of my hair continuing to fall out. I was scared, as I didn't know anybody else with alopecia and thought nobody else really understood how I felt."
Jess after a friend did her make up (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Back then, there was not a big community online and not much support," she added.
Agreeing to have her head shaved by her hairdresser, Jess could not look at herself in the mirror at first.
“I wore beanie hats. Even if I wore a wig, I would wear a beanie hat over it, because I thought everybody was looking at me and could tell I had one on," she said.
Jess at H&M as part of her 15 day challenge (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was in my first year of college and started to avoid attending some lessons, or I'd go to one but go straight home afterwards, as I felt so self-conscious. I didn't socialize, either, in case people found out about my wig," she explained.
“I had a close friendship group, who knew I wore one, but nobody else did. I worked part time as a waitress and would cry before every shift, because I was worried people would notice."
Jess at Colchester Castle as part of her 15 day challenge (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I wore synthetic wigs, which were not very comfortable, for six months to a year," she said.
“When I switched to real hair wigs, aged 18, it made a difference once my head had got used to them, after a couple of weeks. I'd wear the same style – long and blonde – to stop people guessing they weren't real."
This one is so important. Experiencing hair loss can be challenging enough without us feeling guilty on top of ever… https://t.co/7RA4wFrAp3— Alopecia UK (@Alopecia UK)1601283663.0
“And if I stayed with a friend, I'd sleep in the wig, refusing to take it off," she continued.
Luckily, Jess' supportive family kept her going.
“My mom is my best friend and has been amazing. She's my biggest fan and always picked me up if I cried on the way to college," she said.
Jess and her mum (PA Real Life/Collect)
“My stepdad Richard was also brilliant if I was down at home. He always says, 'Bald is beautiful'," she said.
Turning 18, not only was Jess bald, but she had no eyebrows, so it was a great confidence booster when she had brows tattooed on.
“Before that, I would use semi-permanent tattoos that you get for children, but I couldn't go swimming or anything, in case they came off," she said.
Jess as a teen before her hair came out (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I struggled most with losing my eyelashes though, which happened when I was 19, I could tattoo on eyebrows and wear a wig to cover my head, but I had to accept my bald eyelashes, because I didn't feel confident with false ones," she said.
It was not until she was 20 that Jess, who is single, took the first tentative steps to go public about her hair loss, by revealing her bald head to her friends.
“The first time I took my wig off, one friend started crying. She hadn't realized I was completely bald," she continued.
Jess as a teen before her hair came out (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Everyone was really nice about it, but it was what I thought of myself that was the problem," she recalled.
“I thought I was ugly and looked like an alien. I thought I looked really strange. As a young woman, make up and doing your hair are big parts of your identity, so not having any made me feel a bit lost."
It was hard for her to take compliments.
“And I hated being complimented on my hair, as I knew it was a wig," she said.
“I only took it off when I was on holiday, because I didn't know anybody there and didn't mind so much what strangers thought. It was what people at home thought that really mattered to me."
Jess at the pub as part of her 15 day challenge for Alopecia UK (PA Real Life/Collect)
Strangely, it was the slockdown that gave Jess the confidence to come out to the world by posting a wigless picture of herself on Instagram in March.
“I felt braver, because I wasn't going out and having to see people," she said.
“I was nervous before pressing upload, but I had some lovely comments and people were very supportive. I haven't had any negative comments. It felt so empowering."
Jess wearing her wig (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I spoke to a lot of other girls with alopecia and we now have a WhatsApp group," she said.
Her positive reception online then inspired her to go out locally without her wig.
“Sometimes I feel so confident and don't care what people think and other times I want to run away," she admitted.
Jess in the high street for her 15 day challenge (PA Real Life/Collect)
“If I do go out bald, I prefer to be with my friends or with my mom for support, in case someone says something mean," she said.
“I've had a couple of boys shout 'wiggy' at me. Children are quite bad for it, as they don't understand. I heard one little boy ask his mum why that boy was wearing a swimming costume rather than trunks, but, thankfully, I've never been bullied for being bald."
“I've had people have asked me how my chemotherapy is going. I went to Orlando, Florida, USA for my birthday, people in the queue would ask me how my chemo was going. People sometimes assume I'm ill."
Lots of things can help us adjust to the different appearance that hair loss brings. Often it is simply a case of g… https://t.co/YiVjhQcSyH— Alopecia UK (@Alopecia UK)1600153261.0
“Sometimes, when you lose your hair, people will say, 'Well it's just hair,'" Jess continued.
“They say that whilst wearing a full face of make up and with their hair done, which makes me think, 'If you lost your hair you wouldn't enjoy it!' But there are worse things that could happen and meeting other people online with alopecia has been very comforting."
Jess (PA Real Life/Collect)
Jess was delighted in August when she was asked by Alopecia UK to become one of their 15th birthday champions after they saw her on Instagram.
Readily accepting, she agreed to go out 15 times without her wig and post the results on social media, raising almost $1,200 for the charity so far by visiting some public places.
She still has one challenge to complete.
“Where I live, everybody knows each other, so I did worry about doing it," she confessed.
Jess wearing a wig (PA Real Life/Collect)
“There were times when I'd fret before going out, but I still did it. I've even been to the pub without my wig," she added.
“The Post Office was the first place I went on my own. I was standing in the queue and could feel my legs shaking, as people were looking at me. I did get a bit embarrassed, as some people smiled and others stared."
“When I was challenged to go to a high street, I did feel my heart drop when I saw someone I knew, who hadn't seen me without a wig before. But he came over and gave me a big hug and acted normal, which put me at ease."
Jess visiting a shopping centre as part of a 15 day challenge (PA Real Life/Collect)
“As I've gone to more places, I've found it's bothering me less – to the point where I forget I'm not wearing a wig," she said.
Her newfound confidence has also encouraged Jess to experiment with different looks with her make-up artist friend Maisy Reiser covering her head in beautiful colors and jewels, to mark Alopecia Awareness month.
“Maisy based the look on mermaid and unicorn colors like blues and purples. It took three and a half hours to do," she recalled.
“I wanted to display my fun side and show other girls that it can be fun to play around and experiment. You can still have that sense of glamour with a bald head."
“I don't have a huge interest in make up, but Maisy has also been helping me to use false eyelashes, so I'm getting more confident."
And Jess has now applied to be a model, as part of a campaign with Models of Diversity who are looking to recruit an inspirational person for a project with fashion brand Missguided.
Jess wearing a headscarf (PA Real Life/Collect)
“If it wasn't for the support I had on social media, I would never have had the courage to do that," she added.
Jess, whose condition has changed from alopecia areata to alopecia universalis, which is characterized by hair loss across the entire scalp and face is also sensitive to allergies.
Jess at the arcade as part of her 15 day challenge (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Little bumps and mosquito bites can turn angry, as my condition means my immune system is fighting off its own hair follicles, rather than anything else that is attacking my body!" she said.
“But I try and remind myself and others of the positives – like not having to shave my legs, having quick showers, saving money on hairdressing bills and being cool when everyone else is hot!"
“I'm on a journey and I don't know if I'll ever ditch my wig for good, but I feel proud of myself for finally believing that bald really can be beautiful."
Follow Jess on Instagram @nevertooobold and to donate to her challenge fund click here