Alopecia areata is an autoimmune skin disease that results in hair loss. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, over 6.8 million people in the United States and 148 million worldwide will experience alopecia areata in their lifetimes.
Peyton Hardman is a 21 year old competitive fitness athlete who was first diagnosed with alopecia in the fifth grade. Even at her young age, she has already been competing for four years and has won quite a few titles including "first place teen model" and "first place bikini novice". Confidence and strength are all you see as Peyton competes on stage. Waking up early and putting in five grueling hours of workouts a day takes a mental fortitude that is rare. For Peyton, this was just the beginning of her journey.
After keeping it a secret for over a decade, Peyton recently shared with the world on Facebook that she has alopecia. We recently caught up with her and she was gracious enough to answer our questions and share more about her experience.
When did you or your parents first notice you had alopecia? How old were you?
My mom noticed a spot just above my nape and asked if I had cut some of my own hair. Since I hadn't she took me to my aunt who was a hair dresser who informed us about Alopecia. We made a doctor's appointment and our fears were confirmed. I was in 5th grade.
What did your parents explain to you at the time?
I was old enough to understand everything myself and since the beginning, I never really liked to talk about it.
What type of alopecia did you have? Did it progress or did you lose all of your hair at once?
I had Alopecia Areata and after being diagnosed I lost a lot of my hair quite quickly. I've now had it for 13 years and it's very sporadic. Some periods of time it is very bad and sometimes it's manageable.
What do you remember thinking about this when it first happened? And what did you feel?
I felt very sad and different. I couldn't go to the pool parties or do many other things because keeping it a secret from everyone was still very important to me.
What helped you get through the early years?
I had friends I trusted, found things that made me happy and Harry Potter movies.
When did you first tell your close friends you had alopecia?
My mom told her best friends and their daughters were my best friends. So it was pretty much understood that everyone close to me knew and I didn't need to talk about it if I didn't want to, but could if I needed to. To be honest, this was one of my biggest mistakes. I wish I would have told everyone and been more proud. It would have saved me A LOT of stress.
Were you ever picked on or bullied?
I can't say that I was bullied, but a few comments were made that I can still remember to this day. In 7th grade I was still naïve enough to believe that no one knew I was in a wig. Then one day a guy walked up to me and said "why don't you go home and take off that wig." Nine years later and I still remember it word for word. It's always tough to deal with because humans can be mean, but I got through it. I wish I didn't let the small things bother me.
What was dating like? Your fears and concerns?
I didn't. The few guys I did talk to I always felt fake because in my heart I didn't believe they would like me if they did know the real me. Finally at the age of 21 I met someone I trusted enough to tell. I was almost positive he still wouldn't like me after I told him. I gave him an out with no hard feelings as I told him. To my surprise it was like nothing to him. I think he found me to be even more interesting, strong and beautiful. So just find someone you trust (if you do keep it a secret) and if he's the person God planned for you, he will react the same way.
What made you decide to tell everyone on Facebook?
As a fitness athlete, my social media following grew immensely and people really started to look up to me. I knew I needed to use social media to spread my story and to show how I grew from it. I had gotten through the hardest part of alopecia because I finally reached a point that I knew God had put me through this to be stronger. Everything great in my life was somehow attributed to my alopecia. Some people may believe it's "just hair" but this disease had touched every part of my life. It made me who I am. I needed young girls with alopecia to see that a happy life is possible and worth fighting for. I needed anyone going through hard things to understand there is a point to it all.
How did fitness competitions help you with your alopecia?
Being able to walk into a gym and just work off all my emotions was freeing. It changed my life. It also gave me a sense of control because I had felt a loss of that with how random alopecia can be. It also gave me more confidence than I could have imagined.
What advice would you give someone first discovering they have alopecia?
Decide on a treatment plan. Then go buy yourself headbands that you love. Then try not to stress because you have zero control over it. You may feel different and alone, but millions of people are going through the exact same thing. Do your absolute best at being happy and that's all you can do.
What can they do to make it easier to cope with?
I am honestly still working on that. I think it just becomes normal part of your life and you learn to deal with it every minute of every day.
Any other thoughts or advice?
Don't allow yourself to get into a "why me?" mentality. Don't compare your problems to others. Just try to handle what you were given as much as possible because I guarantee once you get through this, the rest is easy.
Peyton wants others with alopecia to know that you are not alone and that it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's part of who you are. Be proud...you are beautiful!
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