Joelle is a professional actress, singer-songwriter and media creator. Joelle started creating music and videos as a child, becoming an internationally recognised alopecia awareness campaigner by the time she was 13.

Joelle has had alopecia since the age of 8 and became an ambassador for Alopecia UK at the age of 15.

We were delighted to catch up with Joelle after a busy period of filming. In this interview she shares her experiences with alopecia. 

Please tell us a little about your experience of alopecia.

My family and I had just come back from holiday, I was 8 and my mum noticed my hair was really matted. I remember seeing clumps of hair in the shower drain and within a couple of months, I had no eyebrows, eyelashes, or hair. The world seemed very different back then. Most of the people we spoke with had never come across alopecia or even knew what it was. We didn't know what to do, I remember I was in shock and so was my family. You grow up being used to seeing yourself looking a certain way, then to look in the mirror and see a different version of yourself, it can feel unsettling. The early years were difficult, mainly because of the different reactions from people. The only time I didn’t have to worry about other people's perceptions and could truly be myself, was when I was being creative, writing stories through songs and inventing characters through makeup. I found my real friends during this time, which is a true blessing. My family was incredibly supportive and I am very lucky to have them. Even though it can be hard to believe during the most difficult of times, things do get better. Always stay true to you and believe in yourself.

What would you say has been the most challenging thing about having alopecia?

One of the biggest challenges was becoming a new version of myself when I wasn’t expecting it. I was just starting to figure out a lot of things, finding my place in the world and how to navigate through it. In the beginning, I felt pressured by society's beauty standards, to reflect the assumption that if you have no hair, you aren't happy. But after a while, I realised that wasn't how I felt at all. One of the freedoms of having no hair is you get to decide how you look every single day. Maybe one day you feel like going out without hair, and on another day you do. Just because you wear a wig doesn't mean that you aren't happy with who you are; for me, wigs are accessories, they’re another way of expressing myself.

Do you believe having alopecia has shaped the person you are today and, if so, how?

I wouldn't be the same person I am today if I didn't have alopecia, that’s for sure. It wasn’t looking in the mirror that shaped me, but society being different around me, I think that was the biggest change. I found myself growing up very quickly in order to make sense of what was going on in judgmental environments. Each time I had a negative experience, it motivated me to want to change the way people view alopecia. There is infinitely more to a person than what their hair colour is, or whether or not they have hair. I became an ambassador for Alopecia UK because I didn’t have a positive role model to inspire me when I was growing up. I want to help pave the way for the next generation and show others that alopecia shouldn't stop you.

You’ve been an AUK ambassador since 2014. What has been the highlight of your time with Alopecia UK?

I have a memory from an AUK children’s support group that still touches my heart whenever I think about it. The children came into the room wearing hats, headscarves and wigs. It didn’t take long before everyone stopped paying attention to what they were wearing and then, just like that, the children took off their head coverings. Everyone could be themselves without having to worry about being seen or treated differently; they could just be children. It's moments like these that remind me of the positive impact Alopecia UK has had on so many people and I feel truly blessed to be involved with the charity.

What advice would you give to anyone struggling with their alopecia?

My advice to anyone who is struggling would be to talk to someone they trust, either in their family or friendship circle. If they don’t have someone close, then they should talk to someone at the charity or come to an event, even if they aren’t sure what the outcome will be. It’s always good to talk and meet people who have been through similar experiences. Alopecia UK is an amazingly supportive resource, especially for someone who feels they have no one to turn to.

What is it like having alopecia as an actress, are there any advantages?

Historically, alopecia has been seen in a negative light, but with film and TV this is thankfully now changing as well as with society as a whole. Performing artists have been wearing wigs since ancient times, such as the ancient Greeks, and most of us have dressed up in a school play, or seen someone on stage wearing a wig. Costume is at the heart of the performing arts and wigs are a major centrepiece. Whether it's theatre, film, TV, mime or art, audiences see actors wearing wigs all the time. From my personal experience with alopecia, it's easier having a wig applied as you don't need to go through all the prep before the wig is glued, but also when it comes to playing a character with no hair, you have the advantage of not needing to have a bald cap applied and painted. 

Do you believe public attitudes are changing towards those with alopecia? 

I have noticed a massive change in recent years; the world has been heading in the right direction and has become less judgemental of things we don’t understand. Being connected online has made it easier to help with education, to spread awareness and share each other’s experiences. I believe that in the future, alopecia will become normalised to the point where people won’t give a second glance to someone because they don’t have hair. I think that’s already happening in a lot of places. It’s been over a decade since I found out I have alopecia and enormous positive changes have happened since then.

Thanks to Joelle for sharing her story. Find out more about all our Ambassadors here.