Laura Mathias on overcoming anxieties, managing alopecia and becoming the person she wanted to be at Warwick
Driving positive dialogue and awareness about living with alopecia, Laura Mathias (BA Film and Literature, 2013) talks openly about her anxieties when she first started university, and how Warwick was where she became who she was always meant to be.
Tell us about your time at Warwick.
At first, I found it hard to settle and study as I was anxious about starting university and managing my alopecia. My friends, tutors and love for the course kept me going. I made some amazing friends I still have to this day.
I didn't want to leave because it was where I became who I was meant to be. I was never clear exactly what I wanted to do, but Warwick formed me and I achieved a first-class degree in a subject I absolutely loved. I chose so many different modules across literature and film because I didn't want to specialise, I wanted to learn it all. I was even awarded a letter of commendation for having studied such a breadth of modules.
How did you feel about starting university and managing alopecia?
In the first few weeks, I was very anxious about trying to hide my alopecia. I wasn’t confident about being bald. I had an ensuite in halls of residence at Arthur Vic so I could get my wig on in private. However, I found people would knock on my door late at night wanting to go out and I wouldn’t be ready with my wig on! Even when the fire alarm went off, I would put on my wig and draw on my eyebrows before leaving my room. I found it difficult and remember calling my mum saying I didn’t think I could do this anymore. Luckily, I settled and decided to stay.
When I started at Warwick, I was still going through bits of hair regrowth and then bits falling out again. I had one eyebrow. I was still trying to manage the hair loss, rather than embrace it.
I remember telling two of my friends in halls at the end of the first term and it was a great relief. My confidence had really dipped because I was carrying this around not knowing how to be who I wanted to be.
Recently chatting to some Warwick friends, they’d realised I was wearing a wig back then but didn’t think I wanted to talk about it. It shows I hadn’t yet realised my own needs.
You studied a combined degree across two departments. Did you feel at home in both?
It was a good experience, cohesive and collaborative. The Film & TV Department (now SCAPVC) was my home department, which suited me as it was small and a good supportive base. I was also supported by the English Department which was far bigger with many more faces to meet. It helped me build friendships because I immediately felt part of this little positive community bubble.
What advice would you give to your first-year self?
Alopecia doesn't have to be a dirty secret. Having a difference can actually be a really unique selling point because at university, you're with so many other smart, engaged, passionate peers and everyone's talking about what they're going to do next.
It's not just about your academic studies. You're building all these other skills as well – social skills and your personal brand. Don’t let anxieties hold you back as they did me. It's about self-advocating.
How did you get to this point, communicating about your experiences?
Over the years there are many tools I've developed to cope and manage how I present myself and feel my best version.
Until Warwick, I’d been at school with people who’d seen my hair loss. At university, it was a blank slate. It was up to me to decide if I wanted to tell people and work out how I wanted to respond to comments. One time a boy told me my hair was weird and I ran away! These kind of experiences, even if they felt traumatic at the time, have helped me. Telling people now is a fantastic experience.
I lost my hair at a young age, and it was traumatic trying to hide it and being worried about what people thought. Hopefully this won't be the same now with more awareness and understanding, and that’s why I share my story.
I’m now in more positive conversations with people from university on social media, for instance the boys I knew at Warwick, which is brilliant as I had a particular anxiety how men would respond to me as a woman without hair. People do just seem to take it in their stride, but I think it's because I'm setting the tone now.
What’s your current role?
I’ve been the Internal Communications Manager for Care UK, who manage residential homes for the elderly, since the end of 2021. Before that I was in student communications for a university. Communications in HE and now for the care home is really important to me. As with my alopecia advocacy work, I can see the difference I’m making every day and I hear back from customers and the public on the positive difference my work makes.