The bias against wigs
Growing up with Alopecia, the word wig was so triggering for me. It had such horrible connotations. It was a taboo word that carried a lot of shame for me. When people asked me about it, I found it easier to say, “I'm not wearing a wig; I'm wearing a hairpiece.” For some reason that really put me at ease.
I think it was because when you say the word wig to someone, you can see all these ideas flickering around in their head. Their mind jumps to a million places and they can't really grasp what they’re seeing. They just can't compute it. I think it scares them in a way – that fear of the unknown. So, I started using the word hairpiece. I found it left something to their imagination. It was sad that I felt I had to do it, because really it was no one’s business but mine, but I went with it anyway. It became my way of making them feel more comfortable, even though it cost me my truth.
I was unlucky in a way – born in the wrong century. Really, I should have lived in the court of Elizabeth I! She loved her wigs – most famously a short red one in the Roman style – and all her courtiers wore them to emulate her. The men even dyed their beards red, and the tails of their horses. By the time of Louis XIV and Charles II wigs were longer, gorgeously long, and they were virtually obligatory for anyone of rank. For over two centuries wigs were one of the main ways to show off your status, wealth, and personal style. They were a way to express yourself; to give it out to the world. Imagine living in those times. Heaven!
But then came a tax on wig powder, and it was all over.
Wigs of shame
Wigs have remained out of favour ever since. Things did start to change in the 1950s – when Hollywood legends like Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow wore wigs in their films. These stars, and some of their male counterparts including Jimmy Stewart and Fred Astaire, had hair pieces. But they went out of style again in the sixties, thanks to the elfin cuts of Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick and Audrey Hepburn.
I do think things are beginning to change again, in part thanks to celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj, but we're not there yet. These wigs are, like their wearers, seen as outliers, larger than life, not everyday life. It remains the case that, when we hear the word wig, it’s generally not a positive.
The plain fact of the matter is that wearing a wig these days is still seen as shameful. So shameful that people don’t actually feel able to discuss their feelings about wigs with real people. Instead, they ask Google:
Why is it shameful to wear a wig?
Do you think wearing a wig is weird?
What do you think of a woman who wears wigs?
These days wigs are seen as strange, a bit weird, and the women who wear them are seen as questionable, in some undefined way. At best we’re unstylish and unfashionable, or perhaps we’re wearing a disguise – unwilling to reveal the “real” us.
Wigs are beautiful
And to me that's not just sad, it’s wrong. I love wearing wigs. For me, wigs are beautiful. They’re a way to express yourself. They’re a way to let someone know how you’re feeling. They’re a way to express your creativity. They’re a way to have fun.
They’re also something to add to your day to make you feel beautiful, when you’re not necessarily feeling beautiful. If you're wearing a wig because, like me, you lost your hair to Alopecia or Female Pattern Baldness, or you've lost it temporarily due to chemotherapy, you deserve to feel that wearing a wig is okay. Wigs have an amazing way of giving us a bit of self-confidence when we’re not feeling our best. If you are hair-free like me, a wig can also be a shield, a bit of safe space, when you don't want people to look at you, because, let's face it, we do look a bit different to everyone else, and sometimes it’s good to get that bit of extra help.
Breaking the bias on International Women’s Day 2022
So, enough is enough. In honour of this Women’s Day, I’ve made a decision.
I'm using International Women’s Day to #BreakTheBias. I’m standing up and crossing my arms. I’m breaking the taboo. I’m championing hair free diversity and our right to wear wigs without judgement. To help us express ourselves when we’re up and to shield us when we’re down. Join me. Reclaim the power of the wig!
I want people to know that there's nothing scary about wearing a wig. We’re not hiding anything. We’re being ourselves. We’re choosing to express how we feel on a particular day. I think a wig is like a beauty or a fashion accessory. It's like putting on a well-cut jacket, putting on a favourite pair of Zara jeans. We can choose to be hair-free one day and we choose to wear a wig the next day. It’s up to us and it’s not for judgment. It’s our right as women.
And no one can say anything about that. I call it the last beauty taboo, the one that hasn’t been shaken yet.
It's my ambition, through my brand Amber Jean, and my personal mission, to let people know that wigs are no longer shameful, no longer lurking in the shadows. They are out in the open; part of your day, brought into the beautiful, exciting mainstream world of beauty and fashion. Celebrated and even put on a pedestal, just like their patron saint Elizabeth I.
I want you to look at an Amber Jean wig and say another three-letter word, yes. Yes, because there's nothing old fashioned about them. Yes, because there's nothing scary about them. Yes, because you want to celebrate who you are. Yes, because some days you need a bit of extra help being that person. And there’s no shame in that.
I’m breaking the last beauty taboo… The word wig, the history of wigs, the judgment around wigs … You name it, I'm breaking it!
Happy Women’s Day!