Listening and Understanding Lead to Answers and a Career

By Hannah Reid, Founder of Perfectly You, Los Angeles, California and Sarasota, Florida

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“Did you know that what you have is called trichotillomania?” Those were the words that changed everything for me.

You see up until the day that I heard those words when I was 18 years old, I had been pulling my hair out not knowing why, what was happening to me, or if there was anyone else out there that had ever experienced what I was going through. 

It all began when I was 12 years old after my father died and my mom got remarried to a man who was abusive in more ways than one. I began pulling my hair out when I was sleeping and awake. That’s right, you heard that correctly, I was also pulling in my sleep. 

Trich can be different for many people, but less than 10% of people pull in their sleep and when they do it is usually is caused by some form of trauma. I was one of them.

My mom began taking me to different doctors and psychologists to figure out what was wrong with me. We didn’t get any answers. No one could give us a name for what I was experiencing, and when they did try to say what they thought was going on, it was wrong. It did more damage than good. They told me and my mom that I was basically a cutter, and my hair pulling was fully intentional. This was 22 years ago, so there was no social media, no articles we could find, and no one who knew anything about trichotillomania. 

When I was 18, I ended up going to a hair appointment with my friend Amber. I had no idea she had hair loss and was wearing hair replacement herself, until the day I was babysitting her kids, and one of them almost knocked off my horrible wig. 

She told me about her hair and invited me to come with her to a place she said helped women with hair loss like us. When I went into this appointment with her I was beyond anxious and nervous. I had been let down so many times before seeking help that I didn’t want to get let down again. And I never told anyone about my hair loss besides my best friend and now Amber, and I definitely never let anyone see my head without my wig on.

The woman who came into the room with us to talk to me was the owner of the salon, Bobbi Russell. I told her about what I had been going through with my hair, that I knew I sounded crazy, but I didn’t mean to pull my hair out. She asked if she could see my hair, and I pulled the wig off feeling like I was about to be sick, I was so ashamed.

She sat in a chair so we were on the same level. She had an understanding nonjudgmental look on her face when she spoke to me, and when I pulled off my wig crying, she gently put her hand on my leg, and asked, “Hannah, did you know that what you have is called trichotillomania?” 

My jaw hit the floor. For the first time in my life, someone knew what I was going through and I had a name for it, which meant someone else had been through what I experienced. She explained to me what trichotillomania was and said that there were thousands of people just like me and that she had several clients with it. 

My prayers had been answered, I was no longer alone, and I finally had answers. I would later go on to work for Bobbi Russell. I opened my own salon, became a hair loss educator, and had incredible work experience and opportunities in Los Angeles, where I got to meet and help hundreds of women just like me. It ended up being the most rewarding and fulfilling career that I ever dreamed possible.

And it all started because one woman who specialized in hair loss made me feel heard, understood, and not alone. She was able to give me help and answers that no one else could.

That is the incredible impact that we as hairstylists and hair loss professionals can have on our clients, every single day. Had I gone into the salon that day and had someone simply tried to make a product sale, or had I been belittled or dismissed I would have never been properly educated about my experience. Things could have gone in a totally different direction.

Every time I have a client I’m helping, I remember what it felt like for me that first time I walked into the consultation. It’s easy for me to be vulnerable with them and hear them because I’ve walked in their shoes, I’ve been through their pain. I have experienced some of the most precious moments of my life in that room with these women, and some of them have become some of my closest friends. Our culture so often pushes that vulnerability and empathy is weakness, but I believe empathy is a superpower.

Even if you have never experienced hair loss yourself, all of us have had things happen in our lives that we didn’t understand, that made us feel alone, misunderstood, scared or even hopeless. Many of us have been through trauma, depression, or abuse or had someone close to us go through it. 

If you’re finding it difficult to empathize and relate to your clients, next time before your client comes in, try remembering a time in your life that made you feel hopeless or less-than. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated? Do that for your client. I know those emotions can come easier for some than others, but I believe everyone is capable of it. There are some practical things that you can do to create a safe environment for your clients:

▶ Have a quiet, private space to meet. Remember, you may be the first person they’ve spoken to about hair loss.

▶ Be on the same eye level as them when speaking. Don’t stand above them. Don’t stand behind the chair and speak to them while they are looking in the mirror.

▶ Listen. Don’t go into a consultation thinking about a sale or assuming you know what they need. Listen carefully and don’t rush. 

I have attended many classes about marketing and sales, but I never heard a single person talk about the importance of having empathy. When you put your client first — when your client feels loved, heard, and understood — I promise you will have a client for life. There are many places that sell wigs, and help people with hair loss in different ways. What sets you apart is you. Your technical skills, the environment of your salon, and your knowledge and quality of services and products all work together to grow that relationship.

I believe we as hair loss industry professionals have one of the most amazing jobs out there. We get to help people not only feel beautiful on the outside but also on the inside. We have the privilege of helping some of these people through cancer, and some of the hardest times of their lives. We have the privilege to be that hope and that light for someone who really needs it. How amazing is that?  Contact Hannah: [email protected]