Exclusive Interview with LaTonya Irving by Shakilya Lawrence
Photography provided by LaTonya Irving
Hair—it's one of the first things you notice about a person. It can be used as a form of self-expression or just to change your appearance; there is a sense of pride we carry within our hair. So, when we begin to lose it, the process can be emotional and distressing. Hair loss is an embarrassing topic of discussion for both men and women. However, it shouldn't have to be, one YouTube creator is working to change that, LaTonya Irving has always considered herself to be a diva. Since her childhood, she's always had an affinity for fashion and beauty. Her YouTube channel, Living Irving, is a direct reflection of her passion for both. Her channel started as just a beauty blog three years ago. However, that changed after she posted a tutorial on how to cover thinning edges. She was inspired to create the tutorial after accepting her condition and noticing she struggled to find YouTube content relating to hair loss. After realizing her story could help other people, she decided to also create content for her channel centered around her journey with Traction Alopecia.
Alopecia is a partial or complete form of hair loss that can occur anywhere on the body where hair grows. It is typically inherited through a person’s genes, but certain types can arise due to a person’s lifestyle. In LaTonya’s case, she has dealt with this condition since childhood, so she knew it was hereditary. Her mom and aunt both have Alopecia as well. As a young girl, she suffered from unknown bald spots on the sides of her head. Her patches would always grow back, but her family never knew the underlying cause until she was older. As an adult, LaTonya’s medication to treat her illness and the hairstyles she used to wear—microbraids—ultimately caused her hairline to thin. This specific type of Alopecia can unfortunately be developed by anyone, regardless of your genetic predisposition. Traction Alopecia is commonly caused by intense and forceful pulling on the hair. Tightly pulled hairstyles like braids and ponytails are the main culprits of causing this to occur. Over time, the strain of these hairstyles can cause your hairline to recede, your hair to thin, and overall damage your hair follicles. If the follicles become too damaged, your hair will not regrow in that area.
About fifteen years ago LaTonya’s Traction Alopecia was at its worst. "It was something to deal with. I've always worn my hair, so it was hard [transitioning] into wigs. That was something I never thought I'd have to [wear]. I started with weaves first, but after it started to get worse, I started wearing wigs."
Visit LaTonya Irving on YouTube if you feel Traction Alopecia when its too late...because it's never too late.
A true turning point in her hair journey came in 2018 when a health scare derailed her life for an entire year. In the process of recovery and relearning how to use her body, she lost almost all her hair. "It was to the point where I thought about shaving it because of all the heavy medication I was on during my recovery, I was losing hair by the handfuls." This near-death experience helped her consider life differently and her mentality about her hair changed as a result. It led her to complete acceptance over her condition and broke down the embarrassing notions associated with hair loss. However, she did have her skepticisms about making her story public by posting it online, unknowing of how people would react to seeing her without her "full glam''. After receiving encouragement from her daughter, LaTonya understood she had to tell her story to help and inspire others. Her channel saw major success after the first video about alopecia. As a result, she has almost 12,000 subscribers and many of her videos have thousands of views. "It wasn't until I made that video and was so transparent that my page took off. It was validation that this was what I was supposed to be doing." Her page includes tutorials on how to cover and blend bald spots and thinning hairlines by seamlessly weaving them into your hair with multiple kinds of hairstyles, including top knots and ponytails. She also does videos on the different kinds of protective hairstyles that someone with Traction Alopecia can wear. The transformations are pretty remarkable with the results flawlessly mimicking a fuller hairline and completely blended hair. One of the best things about the products she uses for coverage is that many of them are inexpensive, making it easier for the everyday person to recreate at home.
Her honesty and genuineness shine through her videos making it easy to understand how she was able to build up her following. She emphasized that this was a “journey” so none of what she does is scripted or rehearsed beforehand. LaTonya also appreciates the feedback she's gotten from people already because they are an integral part of her journey. “I want people who are going through the same thing as me to give me suggestions or recommendations so that we can figure it out together. It’s trial and error,” she explained. Her main piece of advice to others going through hair loss and Alopecia is to not give up on yourself and be open to explore your options. “It’s not the end of the world and don’t give up hope. There are things you can [learn] to do to disguise it, [just] don’t be afraid to try new things. We can’t help the condition that we have, we must work with what we have. Don’t compare yourself to others and [ultimately] embrace what you have. If you feel comfortable or desire to wear your hair, wear it! Just don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed, instead, do something about it, and if you aren’t sure what to do, ask for help!” Whether it’s through beauty, her weight loss journey, or her Traction Alopecia, LaTonya hopes to continue helping and inspiring others to be the most comfortable versions of themselves.