August 22, 2022
“If you don’t have your hair, who will marry you?”
It’s a common refrain that Neehar Sachdeva, a Los Angeles-based body positivity activist, got used to hearing from her mother and grandmother while growing up and living with alopecia. Doctor diagnosed her at just 6 months old. At 2 years old, her parents moved the family from India to the U.S. for access to better doctors who could help treat her condition, but for the most part, they kept it a secret from anyone outside the family. By fourth grade, Sachdeva “really” started losing her hair. By sixth grade, she was wearing a wig. During much of that time, she recalls being regularly bullied, to the point that she dreamt of the long, thick locks that South Asian culture prized.
Throughout the years, family members regularly advised her on traditional oils and rituals, insisting they’d be the magical antidote. She ate amla every day at their behest. Once, they even traveled to an obscure village in India to visit a homeopathic doctor and spent a little too much on a tincture her father was sure would do the trick. Their belief that her hair loss was not something to be seen or spoken of — only fixed — is something Sachdeva chalks up to “Brown parent stuff.”
For a culture that has long revered having and maintaining long, thick hair, there’s a stigma to accepting its loss — especially when, despite many hair care rituals and traditional practices, there are no easy solutions.