Laid bare, but happy in our own skin Just under 6 years ago, with a stressful house move and big wedding plans in full swing, tiny patches started appearing on the back of my head. After the third or fourth penny-sized patch, the doctor diagnosed Alopecia Areata. Fortunately I'm an easy-going person so I wasn't too fussed about them, and as they were not visible in the mirror, they were out of sight out of mind. Upon learning that there was no immediate cure, and that any treatment would be ongoing and potentially painful, there and then I accepted the hand that I had been dealt.Over the coming months, finding clumps of hair on my pillow each morning became routine. The patches pooled together, quickly revealing more and more bare scalp - something I could no longer ignore or hide. It quickly spread to my arms, chest, legs, eye brows and eye lashes, resulting in Alopecia Universalis (total body hair loss) after about 12 months.It was a difficult year. Outwardly I would have seemed fine, but inwardly I was finding it hard to adjust to my new appearance. Having thick dark hair was a large part of my visual identity, especially without being able to grow a beard, have a hint of stubble, or even needing to wear glasses, to now be totally hairless, I felt exposed. It was awkward seeing friends or family who I hadn't seen for a while, them clocking my new appearance, tiptoeing around the subject, the room going quiet as I explain, with all eyes on me. I didn't like the attention, but no one was to blame. It took a while to get used to stares from strangers, and the unassuming comments from clients at work; “Have you shaved your head for charity?”; “I usually see the young man with dark hair - is he in today?”; “Sorry to see you've had cancer”.Although 5 years on I've now fully accepted my appearance, there are still times when I catch my reflection in a shop window, or my shadow on the pavement, and I don't recognise myself. Looking back on old photos of me with hair makes me realise how far I've come. With hair I blended in. But with my head now a shining beacon upon my six foot tall body, I can't blend in, and it felt like a new found confidence was instantly forced upon me.I first heard about the photo project back in April via the Alopecia UK's Men's Chat group on Facebook, and it appealed instantly. I'm not a particularly outgoing person, but if there was any project that I'd like to get involved in, this was the one. Being an artist and graduate of photography, I have always wanted to produce a photo series about me and my alopecia. So far life has gotten in the way, so to see a photographer was looking for male alopecia volunteers for a portrait session in London, although nervous, I had to apply.The day itself was inspiring. All six applicants met one-by-one as strangers by the entrance to studio, but it felt like a coming together of friends. Its funny having alopecia – we are automatically part of a clan, and with welcoming smiles and hand shakes, the six of us climbed to a top floor studio overlooking the rooftops of Dalston. We met with the photographer, Orlando Gili, and small-talked about our jobs, our families, and our journeys into London (I assumed most lived nearby, but we came from Kent, Suffolk, Lancashire and Devon – clearly an important project for us all). Alopecia not even on my mind – just some guys having a chat over a morning cuppa.One by one we sat for Orlando, who directed our posture, our gazes, showing us images as they came through on screen, engaging each other with ideas for different poses or clothing changes, all whilst chatting about awkward or funny day-to-day situations. It could have easily felt like we were specimens put under the microscope, but we were at home with Orlando, who too has alopecia.As one person was being photographed, the rest of us sat to one side chatting throughout the day about our stories. Some had alopecia since childhood, others only in the past year or two, so between us, we all had different levels of confidence, acceptance, and openness about the condition. Just being together and sharing experiences, good and bad, helped us all relax and indulge in a laugh. I have found the best coping mechanism with alopecia has been the ability to laugh at myself. If you can make light of a tough situation, others will feel more comfortable to joke with you, and it makes you a more resilient person in the end. A highlight of the day for me was walking to the pub for lunch, a group of seven hairless men parading toward a pint with a haired 'outsider' in our midst (George, Orlando's coiffed and stubbled assistant) - it felt good not to stand out in a group for once! We also shared photos of our former haired selves - men we didn't recognise although have been in the company of all day – an odd feeling! To me, everyone looked so normal with hair – a pedestrian kind of normal – a man you'd pass and think nothing of. Without hair, although more distinct, we are still normal. By meeting others with alopecia, and engaging with the hundreds of alopecians on social media, has absolutely made the image of a bald man or woman very normal to me. Also, recently becoming a parent and knowing my son will only know his father as a bald man has made me realise how normal the image of a bald person will be in his life. The more awareness we can create, and the more our image is represented, the more normal we will be seen. I am very thankful to Orlando, to the other participants Matt, Mikey, David, Ray and Jon, and to Alopecia UK, for creating such an inspiring, positive, and memorable day. I hope when others see our portraits they see normal men who, when laid bare, are happy in their own skin. You can see more of Orlando's work here.