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Naked ambition

Alumna Ruth McPherson will be going wig free to raise money for alopecia research; something she could barely imagine 10 years ago as an insecure and self-conscious fresher.

Ruth McPherson
Photo by Ceri Wood Photography.

Everyone gets nervous before they start university, but for Ruth McPherson anxieties about making friends and fitting in were intensified after being diagnosed with alopecia after leaving school at 18.

Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, often causing permanent hair loss. Although not damaging to physical health, alopecia can have severe effects on quality of life and emotional wellbeing.

An alien in my own skin

A summer of travel and the wearing of progressively larger headscarves preceded the move to Edinburgh but, as her condition worsened, Ruth knew that this wasn’t a long-term solution and her stress and anxiety was making her reconsider the decision to attend university in the first place.

With the daunting prospect of Edinburgh on the horizon, and after losing her eyelashes and eyebrows and feeling like an alien in my own skin, Ruth was persuaded to explore the option of getting a wig. It was, in Ruth’s words, a bizarre experience but it was more fun than she anticipated and she has now experimented with wigs of various colours, lengths and shapes, from auburn and heavily fringed to peroxide blonde.

The day before Freshers’ Week began I got a brand new wig, and decided to go peroxide blonde for the start of university because I thought it would be a fresh new start (and because I could!) and I am really glad I made that decision because it meant I started with a clean slate.

Ruth McPherson

Slow and gradual

Although not alone because of school friends who were also in halls at Chancellor's Court, Ruth’s growth in confidence was a slow and gradual process that, looking back, was boosted by a number of significant moments. These included the discovery that a friend had Crohn's disease, another autoimmune condition, and Ruth’s first post-diagnosis trip to a swimming pool accompanied by a supportive and encouraging friend who persuaded her to swap her wig for a swim cap.

It was an incredibly liberating feeling being able to do something I loved after such a long time, and finally shake off my insecurities.

Ruth McPherson

Raising money and awareness

Ruth McPherson
Photo by Rachel Jones.

In October 2015, Ruth will be going out in public without her wig for a week to raise money for AAR-UK (Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK), a charity who are working to set up the UK’s first biobank for autoimmune alopecia research.

Despite a much better understanding of the condition and a transformed outlook in terms of confidence and happiness, the challenge of Wig Free Week is still a huge step for Ruth.

She is however inspired by how far she has come since her first days at Edinburgh and hopes that, by talking about her experiences of shame and self-doubt, she can inspire both fellow suffers and current students who feel they have a secret they can’t tell.

If I could experience university without having to lie about my alopecia or have secrets from my friends I am sure I would have been a lot happier. However I also feel that the journey I went on was an important one, and got me to where I am today.

Ruth McPherson

Related links

Ruth’s fundraising page

Ruth’s blog