Black women have long faced disparities and systemic barriers in health care and Look Good Feel Better’s latest Speakers’ Series conversation, Black Women Facing Cancer& Wigs, shone a light on one aspect of this topic. The powerful discussion featured Dr. Deanne Simms, a clinical and health psychologist, and Dianne Austin, a cancer survivor and entrepreneur.
Dr. Simms shared her own journey of developing a sense of self in the context of her hair as a bi-racial Jamaican/English woman, and discussed the connection between hair and identity, specifically for BIPOC women. “We know that hair loss can be particularly devastating for many women,” Dr. Simms said. “Hair is an essential part of many women’s identities […], and so some women find hair loss quite damaging to their esteem and self-concept, and they can experience this hair loss in a way that’s similar to grief.”
Dr. Simms discussed the mental health benefits of managing appearance during cancer and the impact of the loss of control that women face when they don’t have timely and equitable access to invaluable self-care tools, like a wig that matches their texture or style of hair. “This may put them at a disadvantage when it comes to bolstering some of those key ingredients for psychological well-being, like autonomy, control, and dignity,” she explained. “There’s a complex relationship between beauty ideals, hair textures and styles, and one’s concept of self-image within North American society.” Dr. Simms encouraged attendees to learn more about this topic and pointed to the film Good Hair and Colin Kaepernick’s Netflix series to better understand this complex relationship.
Next, Austin shared how her personal experience of breast cancer led her to create a social enterprise to support Black women facing hair loss.
“Learning that I would have chemotherapy and lose my hair felt like I was getting a second cancer diagnosis, as vain as that might sound,” she related. “I knew I wanted a wig. I needed to feel that I had some control over this process and the way that I looked.”
Wig prescription in hand, Austin quickly discovered that there were no wigs that looked like her natural hair available through wig boutiques specializing in women with medical hair loss. Fashion wig stores do not have private fitting rooms or staff trained in supporting women facing cancer and do not provide receipts acceptable for insurance coverage. As she struggled to find a wig while facing a devastating diagnosis, Austin had an inspiring realization: “I realized, why don’t I do something about this?” Together with her sister, Austin launched Coils to Locs, and started manufacturing high-quality tightly coiled, curly hair wigs for Black women or any woman with highly textured hair. “I wanted to start a business so that other people don’t have to go through this,” she said.
The event was hosted by Look Good Feel Better to help build a greater awareness of this issue among wig boutique owners and oncology support teams. Watch the full conversation here to learn more about this important issue.