How One Mom with Alopecia Is Teaching Children to Accept Themselves
When Suhani Parikh was four-years-old, she started to notice dime-sized patches of missing hair on her scalp. Her parents quickly recognized that it was likely alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition characterized by unpredictable hair loss on the scalp, face, and sometimes other parts of the body.
Parikh's family was no stranger to this, however — after all, her father and paternal aunt lived with alopecia universalis, a variation of the disorder that causes complete hair loss.
According to the American Academy of Dermatologist Association, there are three different types of alopecia: alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis. Each differ in terms of the severity and extent of hair loss that can occur, and can either be hereditary, or caused by hormonal changes, medications and supplements, or severe stress.
As a child growing up with alopecia, the South Asian New York native shares that she faced quite a few struggles trying to fit into a community where she was "the other" in more ways than one.
"I grew up in the Capital Region of upstate New York and come from a family of business owners," Parikh shares. "My family didn't look like most of our neighbors and as a kid you want so badly to be included. It was tough growing up with this condition. I heard my fair share of comments and assumptions and struggled with how this condition made me look different than the girls around me."
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ophelia Veraitch of the U.K.-based Harley Street's Cranley Clinic agrees, adding that the condition can have severe negative effects on one's confidence, especially as a child. She suggests that children — whether or not they have alopecia — be educated on the condition to help alleviate the shame around hair loss.
Parikh, however, knew that the limitations existed only in her head. For one, she prefers to use the term "condition" over "disease" when speaking about alopecia. She accepts that hair loss affects her outward appearance, yet she is empowered and capable of living how she desires. Plus, having a father as a role model who accepted alopecia as a part of his identity further inspired her to do the same.
Now, as the mother of twin daughters, Parikh has become a passionate writer who launched an indie publishing company Modern Marigold Books to develop children's literature that reflects the stories of underrepresented groups and other topics she was not exposed to in her own childhood.
Her book Shreya's Very Own Style is a touching rendition of a little girl's journey to figure out how to style her hair while living with alopecia, and learning to love and accept herself in the process. The book aims to teach children to be kind to one another and that value lies not in their appearance, but in their strength and character.
"Children's literature is the most powerful tool that we have to teach children about the world and demonstrate life's most important lessons," Parikh explains. "When we start showing characters who embrace their differences, that's empowering. We are working towards normalizing conditions that have long caused people to be ostracized from communities."
Child education aside, these books are also an effective vehicle for educating parents as they read to their kids at night, making this a full-circle moment.
And Parikh isn't done with creating stories just yet. Modern Marigold Books continues to grow on their quest for inclusivity. Parikh tells InStyle that the company has signed with a distributor to help their collection of books reach a wider audience by being accessible in bookstores, libraries, and classrooms. They are also working on a fifth picture book and possibly expanding into other age ranges, with the intention of supporting new voices and creating mindfully-crafted content that depict the authentic stories and life experiences of their authors.
Seeing as August is National Hair Loss Awareness Month, Dr. Veraitch explains that for anyone living with alopecia, there are effective treatment options that can be used to help with hair growth such as topical or oral steroids, topical immunomodulators, light therapy, immunosuppressive therapies, and newer biological therapies if you so choose. However, you can never go wrong with playing around with wigs — or just rocking a beautiful, bald head.