Hair is an inextricably important part of so many women’s lives. It changes with us as the years pass, adjusting to the ebbs and flows of our identities. It is also something that we always have the power to influence unlike so many aspects of ourselves, which proves important considering how much it can impact our self-esteem. Need to feel like you have less weight on your shoulders? Chop it off and try a fresh, short cut. Feeling drab and in need of a little edge? You can get a funky fringe or dye it a new, exciting color. Cut it, shape it, style it; whatever it may be, we take it as a given that our hair is ours to do with what we wish.
But what happens when our own hair betrays us? According to NYU Langone’s News Hub, nearly half of all women experience some form of hair loss during their lifetimes. The one thing, the one physical element of ourselves that we seem to have control over — falling out in pieces. How can women reconcile that experience with everything that is tied up in hair: the societal beauty standards, the history and significance hair has played in women’s liberation movements, the choice to express femininity or masculinity, or anything in between. It is so much more than just hair, and to lose that piece of ourselves can be emotionally devastating.
Luckily, there are people looking for answers and solutions to this experience that affects so many women. Marissa Whittaker is a stylist at Le Shag who has spent the bulk of her career addressing hair loss in women. After doing a BOCES program in high school and working as a salon assistant, she began working professionally with hair in Westchester, NY, at a hair replacement company. She, later on, moved with the same company to Albany, NY. While working there, Marissa saw the work she was doing as very vulnerable.
“I was giving hair to clients who had no hair,” she recalls, “so we really developed a type of bond between stylist and client that is outside the norm. Most people, their loved ones, husbands, spouses, etc., don’t ever see them without their hair on. And I was a person that would see their deepest darkest secret, and get to know them on a whole different level.”
The specific work she was doing with that company was incredibly involved. Marissa was responsible for creating and designing custom hairpieces that were specifically fitted for each individual based on their hair type. She would design whatever the clients were either envisioning they wanted their hair to look like or would match some of the hair that they already had with the custom piece she was blending into it. While working with that company, she also began to explore solutions to hair loss through a hair restoration program. The program was intended for individuals who were just beginning to experience hair loss and offered specific products prescribed to them to help them regrow and or keep the hair that they had. Marissa and the other employees at the company would then monitor that journey with them on a monthly basis.
Marissa is eager to bring the knowledge she gained through that experience to Le Shag, and to the hair and beauty industry at large. While she has already incorporated her skills with hair extensions into the Le Shag sphere, she hopes to expand upon that into treatments.
“When I came to Le Shag,” she observed, “there were many stylists working with guests experiencing hair loss. I realized we needed deeper explanations and scientific reasonings as to why hair loss has increased. I decided to create a program that would provide a next level of detail on how and why. Ultimately giving both stylists & all guests guidance on how to take care of hair for productive growth.”
There are so many things that can affect hair loss, she points out. Stress, depression, and as of late, even COVID-19 are all factors that can increase hair loss in women of all ages. That’s why Marissa feels, as a stylist, it is so important to “have the education behind how hair works, how hair grows, different cycles, medications… there are 1,000,001 different reasons somebody could be losing hair, and there is probably more than one reason that someone is losing hair.”
There is a two-fold solution Marissa sees to this issue. First, she believes that every stylist should learn how hair grows, the cycles of hair growth, and the myriad of reasons why hair could stop growing before even learning how to cut hair.
“That’s something that they don’t teach you in cosmetology school,” she remarks.
But beyond strict education, she also wants to see the conversation around hair loss in women normalized.
“When I have women that sit in my chair, they’re often mortified that they’re going through this,” she explains. “When I tell them that they’re not alone and that they’re not the only ones dealing with this, they themselves are shocked to hear that.”
She really wants to “make it known that women go through hair loss just as much as men do. Women [and kids] really are fighting this, and somehow it’s more acceptable for a man to shave their head, but not for a woman.”
As for the power of hair rehabilitation, Marissa has firsthand experience of how powerful it can be.
“It [hair loss treatments] really does change their lives in a very big way,” she explains. “Really, I mean, especially for women. It’s so emotional, and we’re already very harsh and judgmental of ourselves. And then you start losing hair and you’ve just lost all control. That’s a big part of it. You don’t have control over it.”
“My favorite thing,” she reflects, “is at the very end of the appointment when my client can look at themselves in the mirror and I see them smiling and that I know, through that beaming glow in their eyes, I know that they really enjoy and like the way that they look, and that I was able to do that for them.”