Move over, “Dr. Pimple Popper,” there’s a new trio of dermatologists on TLC’s new series, in “Bad Hair Day,” including Dr. Meena Singh, a dermatological surgeon at Kansas Medical Clinic in Shawnee.
In the first episode, which aired at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Singh treats his patient, Shenae, who suffers from traction alopecia, hair loss possibly because she had to wear her hair pulled back while in the American army. In the episode, Singh says that one in three black women suffers from this condition.
“Your hair is your glory,” Shenae says. “When the hair disappears, it seems like everything else goes down to confidence.”
Other cases in the first episode, overseen by doctors in North Carolina and Texas, focus on a man with severe scalp burns and a woman growing facial hair.
Even before “Bad Hair Day,” Singh’s area of expertise was in the pop culture zeitgeist, especially since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars after Rock mocked Jada Pinkett’s shaved hairstyle. Smith, as a result of her battle with alopecia.
Filming for “Bad Hair Day” was already well underway when Singh appeared on the June 1 episode of Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” to answer questions about alopecia.
“It was an amazing platform,” Singh says. “I don’t think a lot of people have heard of alopecia, and now it’s the medical topic of the summer. It made people more sensitive to the subject.
Medicine is in the family
A 1999 graduate of Olathe East High School, Singh is the daughter of an Indian father and a black mother, or “Blindian,” as she calls herself on “Bad Hair Day.” Singh knew from an early age that she wanted to follow her mother, Dr. Linda Singh of Saint Luke’s in Kansas City, into medicine.
“My mother was one of the first black women to graduate from the six-year medical program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,” says Meena Singh. “She was my influence to get into medicine. I never wanted to do anything other than be a doctor.
After studying biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California as an undergraduate, Singh attended Harvard Medical School, trained at Mayo Clinic, and completed a surgical fellowship in New York.
She turned to dermatology after reading a 2008 New York Times article about why top medical students were turning to dermatology instead of, say, cardiothoracic surgery. Her husband at the time was interested in dermatology, and she wrote his research papers and they both ended up being published. Her mentor encouraged her to try dermatology, and a speaker noted that there weren’t many black dermatologists at the time.
“As soon as I did my first rotation, I knew dermatology was for me,” Singh says. “It’s a visual field and it’s rewarding. We can heal people pretty quickly with most things, and they needed more people who looked like me to go into dermatology.
Specialization in the treatment of hair loss followed, as did a return to Kansas City.
“That was always the plan,” says Singh, 41. “My mother is my main influence. She looked after our community for decades, and many people from the black community, a family member, saw my mother. I like this. I always wanted to come back. There’s a brain drain in Kansas. People leave, do their thing and stay in the big city. There are enough black dermatologists in New York. There was only one before I came here to Kansas City. It’s a big city and that’s where I’m needed.
Join TLC’s “Bad Hair Day”
The producers of “Bad Hair Day” saw Singh in a video her clinic posted on YouTube and reached out to her. Filming for the first episode with Shanae began last September, with follow-up filming about seven months later, allowing time for Singh’s treatments to take effect (it often takes 12-15 months to see results).
Singh’s future patients featured in the other five episodes of “Bad Hair Day” include Nellie, who suffers from hirsutism, or facial hair growth.
“(The treatment) changed his life. It was extremely rewarding,” Singh says. “That’s the thing with dermatology, people think it’s so cosmetic, so superficial, it’s vanity. If you notice it, it’s not cosmetic, it’s not vanity, and you’ll notice a woman with a beard. With dermatology, it does not save life but it changes life.
Singh says she agreed to appear on “Bad Hair Day” because it explains how doctors like her help those who suffer from hair loss and related issues.
“A lot of people feel completely helpless,” she says. “They don’t know where to go and that there is help available and if we catch it early we can fix it. If you let it progress, we might have lost the window to help you.
Singh says doing “Bad Hair Day” gave him the opportunity to better understand his patients’ emotional pain.
“I see so many patients that I’m constantly running around, and it gave me the chance to slow down and focus on a defined group of patients for an entire day each,” says Singh. “Usually someone is in my office for 15 minutes or I’m doing a hair transplant and I don’t see behind the scenes, the amount of pain and grief that goes into impacting their condition. … Doing this show has really given me a better insight into what happens on a day-to-day basis with hair and scalp issues.
Patients featured on “Bad Hair Day” have their treatment costs covered. They had to go through a casting department that chose who was on the show with the goal of presenting a variety of issues, including edge cases that allow for better TV storytelling.
Singh’s abundant hair makes her a great TV candidate, but as a doctor who treats hair loss, does she need to put more thought into how her own hair looks for her patients?
“I think it would be ignorant to think that the way my hair looks doesn’t matter to patients,” she says. “Sometimes I almost feel numb because I have big hair. It’s the type of hair that people comment on a lot. … The other side of the coin is if I didn’t have big hair, people would wonder if I know what I’m talking about.
Singh acknowledges some concerns about the title of her show, but says that thinking about it, she couldn’t come up with anything better.
“It’s memorable, for sure,” Singh says. “What else is it, ‘Breathtaking Experiences’? Ultimately, our job is to make it better. I wish it was called ‘Better Hair Day.’
Singh is completely comfortable with the inevitable comparisons between “Bad Hair Day” and TLC’s established hit “Dr. Pimple Popper,” where a dermatologist surgeon removes growths on patients’ skin.
“I love it because TLC does a lot of dermatology shows,” Singh says. “Before that, people didn’t know what we were doing all day, every day. To showcase all of the procedures and surgeries and conditions that we see and treat is amazing. ‘dr. Pimple Popper’ is huge. She opened the world to the profession of dermatologist. I used to have students who wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon or a pediatrician, and now everyone wants to be a dermatologist and I love that.
Freelance writer Rob Owen: [email protected] or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.
where to watch
New episodes of “Bad Hair Day” air at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on TLC, starting August 24.