By Jasmine Kazlauskas
A young alopecia sufferer who now bravely bares her bald head has revealed her school pals asked her ‘when will you die’.
Australian Stefanie Hodgson has been left completely bald by the incurable hair loss condition, which caused her locks to start falling out as a six-year-old.
The 21-year-old revealed taunts and bullying left her life a ‘black hole’ and she feared she would be a ‘freak forever’ after she lost her hair for good aged 11.
But Stefanie, from Highett, Melbourne, is now campaigning against a ‘sickening’ tax on medical wigs she claims makes the Aussie government $2.5 million AUD (£1.45 million) a year.
In other countries, such as the United Kingdom and United States, wigs purchased by people suffering from medical hair loss conditions are tax free or tax deductible.
Support ambassador Stefanie, who has spent $12,000 AUD (£7,000) on wigs in her lifetime but is now happy to go outside without one, said: “My journey was particularly difficult because my hair kept falling out and growing back, so I was constantly swimming between hope and despair.
“When I had to shave the last few hairs off my head to get my first wig I thought I would be an absolute freak for the rest of my life.
“One time at primary school, a group of boys cornered me and asked me if I was dying and how long I had to live. It was then I realized that everyone at school thought I had cancer.
“Wearing a wig in secondary school really started to eat me up inside. I was lying every day and was living in constant fear that someone was going to find out.
“We talk about alopecia as a hair loss condition but you don’t just lose your hair, especially as a woman you lose your confidence, your self-worth, your femininity and your place to belong.
“I felt like a giraffe in a sea of zebras. The world stopped being beautiful and life became a black hole that I was trying not to fall into.”
Stefanie’s mum Sabine first noticed her daughter’s hair was falling out as she was brushing her hair before school one day.
But aged 15 she had a life-changing epiphany while on holiday in Vietnam that allowed her to finally face her demons by going outside with just a silk scarf covering her head.
And since then, she has forgone wigs completely and revealed her true self to the rest of the world.
But the 21-year-old is disgusted wig prices in Australia are exacerbated by the country’s 10 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST).
She said: “The GST tax on wigs in Australia is not only unfair but downright disgusting.
“It is sickening the government is cashing in on people suffering from medical hair loss conditions. It feels like no one cares.
“For an item to be deemed GST-free, it cannot be widely used by people without a medical condition.
“For most people wigs are just a costume piece or used for self-expression, and they’re considered a cosmetic accessory rather than a medical prosthetic.
“But for people with alopecia, there is no medicine that will make your hair magically grow back – a wig is the only cure.
“I don’t know how I would have coped without being able to wear a wig growing up.
“For me, it was protection. It meant being able to deal with my condition without the prying eyes of others.
“It was not being stared at, not being harassed on the street and feeling safe enough to come to terms with the illness on my own.”
Chel Campbell, president of the Australian Alopecia Areata Foundation, said state-wide support is needed in Australia to have GST removed from medical wigs but that the community didn’t care enough to generate change.
She added: “Although there is no official register of alopecia sufferers in Australia we estimate 2.5 per cent of the population – 500,000 people – have the disease.
“At least 30 per cent of those people wear a wig and with the average cost of a wig $3,000 AUD, that is $2.5 million dollars generated in GST every year.”
A spokesman for the Australian Taxation Office said: “Removing GST from wigs for patients with medical conditions requires the unanimous agreement of the State and Territory governments.
“Earlier this year, the States and Territories were advised of requests to exempt medical wigs from the GST.
“However, the proposal did not receive the unanimous support required to progress further.”
A spokesman for the Australian Government Department of Health said: “Medicare provides financial assistance to all Australians in respect of expenses incurred for medical services but does not provide payments towards the cost of wigs.
“However, there is a range of support for people with alopecia including subsidies in Victoria through the Victorian Aids and Equipment programme and coverage for wigs through most private health insurers.”
To donate hair to make an alopecia wig go to https://aaaf.org.au/donate-hair/