Niamh Greene: Jennifer Aniston has gone for a bob but losing your hair can be no laughing matter
A documentary on RTE 2 last night examined our complex relationship with our hair. 'Hair: the Long and the Short of It' explores how what's on top of our heads can have such a profound effect on how we feel about ourselves.
There's something about hair that fascinates us -- it can even be (sorry) headline news.
Jennifer Aniston was recently in the press simply because she chopped off her famous locks in favour of a bob. Kate Middleton, meanwhile, was on the front pages because she dared to step outside the palace door sporting a few wiry greys in her otherwise perfect mane.
Long, short, curly, straight -- we obsess about our locks. When we're having a 'good hair day' we feel as if everything is right with the world.
But there are other times, almost every day in my case, when our hair simply refuses to bend to our will.
These are the days when, despite the aid of defrizzing serums, volumising mousses, straightening irons or curling tongs -- all of which form part and parcel of the average woman's daily arsenal in the battle to control her hair -- our crowning glory will refuse to cooperate.
We spend those days in a black mood, some of us refusing to take off our hats, so convinced are we that we look like we've been dragged through a hedge backwards.
The nub of the problem is that we struggle to be happy with what we've got. If our hair is poker straight we hanker for waves, if we have curls, we long for silky smooth tresses -- as I have almost all my life.
It seems very vain and self-absorbed to bother about something so basically unimportant, especially when there are far worse problems to worry about, but the fact remains that how our hair looks affects our confidence, which in turn affects how we view the world and our place in it.
Maybe that's why cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy say that losing their hair can be one of the most difficult parts of their illness.
It's not just women who fret about their hair either, guys can be just as self-conscious. We're probably all guilty of teasing the men in our lives about receding hairlines and thinning patches on top -- or sniggering about possible hair-plug implants -- but how often do we stop and wonder if our comments are having a negative impact?
Some men are philosophical about the march of time, but for others it can be a very traumatic loss, one they struggle to cope with.
Whatever the reason, losing your hair is no laughing matter, especially when you know that there is no hope of it growing back.
Those who suffer with alopecia face this stark reality. There is no known cure for this devastating auto-immune disease that can result in bald patches or complete hair loss. Often, a person's confidence can be completely shattered by the illness as they struggle to find ways to cope, depression can even result.
Historically, there have been few resources for those who have this condition, but organisations such as the Rapunzel Foundation now offer support for alopecians.
The charity's campaign to encourage the public to grow their hair and then donate their ponytails so that quality wigs can be produced has so far been a fantastic success.
To my shame, I have complained about my frizzy locks for years instead of just being grateful for what I have. Yes, it can drive me mad, yes, it can be impossible to work with, but I am very lucky to have it.
After all, as a friend once told me, 'You can't control everything -- your hair was put on your head to remind you of that'.