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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May 2005, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
'I was bullied because of my hair'
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Kirsty with her nephew
Kirsty said she was bullied
Teenager Kirsty Jessen was bullied mercilessly since the age of four.

Children teased her and called her names, and adults stared at her when she walked past.

Kirsty has alopecia.

She was born with no hair and apart from a brief period when she was eight years old Kirsty, aged 17, has never had a full head of hair.

Kirsty, from Swindon, said her life has been blighted because of her medical condition.

People used to call me baldy and ask if I had cancer
Kirsty Jessen

"I was bullied. People used to call me baldy and ask if I had cancer."

For years Kirsty kept the abuse from her mother, but finally broke down and told her.

"I had been coping with this since I was four years old. It was nice to have someone to talk to about it though.

"At one time there was some physical abuse, but that stopped when I told my teachers, but they still continued to call me names."

Left school

Things got so depressing for Kirsty that she decided to leave school after completing her GCSE's.

The situation had become so strained that she had asked her doctor to sign her off school sick so that she could escape her tormentors.

"It was all because I had no hair. I did have hair for a year when I was off school with a bowel problem, but then it all fell out again.

"I do feel that if I had been able to stay away from school my hair would not have fallen out again."

For years Kirsty had been longing for the day she would finally be able to wear a wig.

Doctors had been keen to try all other medical avenues before Kirsty got her wig.

Finally, she has now been fitted with a beautiful burgundy number.

Because her mother was on income support, the 75 wig was paid for by the NHS, but Kirsty explained that if this had not been the case it would have taken her seven months to save up for it.

She said her lack of hair had left her feeling alone and isolated, only feeling able to venture out to the library, gym and swimming.

But she said getting her first wig had been the confidence boost she desperately needed.

She started going out more with her sister Laura and said the wig has given her the much needed confidence boost to mingle with strangers.

"My wig is a burgundy colour with lots of red colours in it. It is great.

"Since I have got it I have a lot more confidence. I can wear it all the time except when I go swimming."

Marilyn Sherlock, chairman of the Institute of Trichologists, said alopecia had a huge impact on those suffering from it.

"It is devastating for youngsters often because of the bullying they can suffer at school.

"I have seen children who will not go on to further education because of the problems they have had.

"It does affect people's lives and can prevent them having social lives.

"It causes huge problems and I don't think it is widely recognised how devastating this can be."

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