A young woman has become an unexpected poster girl for hair loss after finally getting the confidence to show off her bald head.
Laura Mathias, 29, began to lose her hair when she was just 12 – and by 14 was almost totally bald, and began to wear wigs or hats to cover her bare head.
The anxious teen missed months of school as she could not bring herself to go in, and used to hide behind the sofa to avoid answering the door to the postman or delivery drivers.
But now, 16 years on, Laura is finally learning to embrace her baldness – and become an inspiration for other young girls and boys going through what she did.
Last month, Laura, from Manningtree, Essex, was made an ambassador for Models of Diversity – a campaign group working to diversify the modelling talent seen in the media and on the catwalk.
It comes just months after she finally worked up the courage to share her first ever selfie bearing her bald head on Instagram, on June 13 this year.
She wrote: “If I can sit here and think others look amazing in all their baldy beauty, why can’t I be kinder to myself? So here it is. The egg head. Just for me.”
Laura, a communications officer at the University of Essex, said: “That was terrifying. I felt sick to my stomach, sharing that first photo.
“It’s almost like overcoming a phobia. That’s how strongly society has made me feel like it’s not okay for me to be a bald woman.
“But it was also empowering. Six months ago, I didn’t even know that this was a goal of mine – to bear my bald head on Instagram, let alone out in public.
“But I’ve turned down birthday parties and stopped myself doing things all through my teen years because of my baldness.
“Now I look at other baldies sharing their photos on social media and I think, bald is beautiful. All these women look amazing, so why can’t I see that in myself?”
Laura added: “I just wish we were at a point where everyone was a bit more open about things like this, and it was a bit more normalised.
“I wish that we could see more of this in the whole fashion and beauty industry.”
And last month, Laura was made an ambassador for Models of Diversity –
She said: “It’s been amazing. I’ve now got this amazing, positive bubble of body positive people who follow me on Instagram, and send me messages.
“There’s a little 12-year-old girl who’s been messaging me who’s a twin – and her sister has hair but she doesn’t.
“I wish I’d had someone to talk to like that when I was that age.”
Laura said she was first made aware of her hair loss at the age of 12, when she went to her hairdressers for a “normal” appointment.
She said: “The hairdresser found this 50 pence-sized bald patch on the back of my head, and asked if I had been aware of it.
“She called my mum over to look at it, and neither of us had known it was there. She said it was probably nothing to worry about, but just to keep an eye on it.
“But of course, after that point it was all I could think about, and I would always put my hand to the back of my head and feel it.
“Eventually it got bigger, and then I got more bald patches, and at 14 I was diagnosed with alopecia by my GP.
“At the time, my parents were going through a divorce, and the GP said it was probably just down to stress, and not to worry about it.
“But how can you tell a 14-year-old not to worry about losing her hair?”
As Laura’s baldness grew, she became so anxious that she stopped going to school.
And soon after her diagnosis, she asked her mum if she could get a wig.
She said: “I went back to the hairdressers where I had first been told about my bald patch, and I got them to shave off the rest of my hair and style the wig for me.
“That became my ‘new hair’ – but then I had a whole new set of anxieties about people finding out that I wore a wig.”
Laura has spent the best part of the last 16 years worrying about what the public would think about her wearing wigs.
But this summer, she went bare-headed for the first time in public.
She said: “I went out down to the estuary near where I live, with just a bandana on, and I sat there in the sunshine and took off my bandana.
“It was just for five minutes – and just for myself. At first it felt a million times worse than sharing that first bald selfie on Instagram.
“I did see people look at me and some people did a double-take – but they didn’t really bat an eyelid.”
Laura added: “Now, I pretty much just do what makes me feel comfortable day to day.
“It depends on how I feel on each day as to what I will put on my head. I still wear wigs – but now, they’re just another option to me, rather than a part of me like when I was 14.
“I do find that some people will still look at me sympathetically, assuming that I’m ill.
“But I don’t know whether people look less now, or whether I just care less.
“Either way, the reason I do it for myself. I probably won’t ever see any of those people ever again anyway.”
And now, through Models of Diversity, Laura will even appear in a TV advert in January, talking about her alopecia.
She said: “I feel confident enough now that if they put out an open casting call, and I fit the bill, I’ll put myself up for it.”
And Models of Diversity CEO, Angel Sinclair, said: “We are determined to show the fashion industry that diversity is more interesting, engaging, fairer, and better for consumers, models, and the industry itself.”
Laura’s alopecia journey can be viewed at the Instagram account @relightalopecia.