A group of American women got together with the idea of redefining the concept of beauty. Men can be blond, brown, red, white and… bald. Why not women? I photographed them in New York as they were that day and I collected their stories too. Some of them have alopecia, some have been through chemotherapy, others simply like being bald.
When I showed the pictures to my clients, every single magazine that saw the story (about twenty) refused to publish it for the very same reason: those pictures might clash with the feminine ideal supported by advertisers. Well, actually one of them had a different problem…
Time passed and I kept trying with other magazines. No way to publish the story. Mainstream magazines have a preference for the Barbie-fication of women, we know that. Anyway, now I am publishing everything on my blog. Meeting those women has been a privilege for me, I want other people to be inspired by them too. After all, their point is not just about bald women. Having the courage to be oneself is a topic that concerns everyone.
Caggie, fashion designer
At the age of eight, children are at an important threshold in the process of growing up. They have realized that Santa Claus does not exist, they socialize differently and are increasingly autonomous. My eighth year coincided with the loss of my first tuft of hair and the beginning of an interminable series of doctor appointments. I felt confused and began to withdraw into myself and shut out my feelings. For a long time I was afraid of feeling excluded and to avoid it I hid my head under wigs or scarves. My hair grew back, then it all fell out again, then grew back… The last time it grew back I cut it and now I shave my head every day. I am bald.
There was an episode that helped me a lot. In June 2001 a woman stopped me on the street and asked if I wanted to take part in a radio show. I said yes and in the studio I met another bald woman. But she did not suffer from alopecia areata like me, she simply felt that shaving her head made her feel more important, and whenever she went to a party everyone looked at her admiringly. It was like a revelation to me. I had never before thought that baldness could enhance a woman’s beauty. I was so struck by this that I decided that I would take it as my mission: transform the source of my torment into a declaration of love for myself and make the people around me understand it.
Actually, there have been times when the standards of beauty were different, even regarding women’s hair. For example, in ancient Egypt they completely shaved their heads and in the Elizabethan period they shaved back their hairline to give the effect of a very high forehead. So I said to myself, “If today’s society consider bald women to be twists of nature then it is partially up to me to change things”. My friends and I have stopped covering our heads. We know that even the strangest of things, once they have become familiar, are accepted.
Fury, event organizer
I used to hate the hours spent at the hairdressers grooming my hair and so seven years ago I made a decision and cut it all off. Here I am, I am bald and I want to stay bald my whole life. I see it as a statement: I can express my femininity even without hair.
And then I must say it is convenient: I shave quickly every morning and am ready. Before, if I didn’t have time to fix my hair I was anxious. Now I am free of worry, my head is always perfect even on windy days.
People are generally surprised to see me without hair and often ask a bunch of questions as if it were the most bizarre thing on earth, and it’s true that there aren’t a lot of us. If I go to a restaurant, for example, everyone notes me right away. And so when I don’t feel like attracting so much attention I wear a hat or a turban and mix in with the rest of the people.
Being bald has made me understand how much importance we give to a woman’s hair. Without a do that frames my face or a curl to play with, in a certain sense I am more vulnerable. But it’s not a serious problem, actually it’s stimulating and I would dare say it is something like the way blind people heighten their other senses.
I had not originally thought about women who have become bald as a result of chemotherapy. Now many of them are my friends and I am even happier to shave my head and help spread a fashion that will help them feel normal with their round heads.
Margareth, actress and model
Being a woman without hair means being continuously exposed to judgments. In effect, you get the desire to close in on yourself, but I decided to do the exact opposite: I do not avoid people’s stares.
Not having hair has stimulated me to be very aware and careful in my choices. I learned how to transform something that was poisoning my life into my medicine. I don’t wait for someone to make an idiotic comment, I anticipate them, I smile at them and explain what alopecia is. But it wasn’t always like that.
I started having my first boyfriends as a teenager and it was devastating to always have to wear a wig. One summer at the seaside a wave knocked my wig off, leaving me there in the water completely exposed and unprepared to face the curious stares. A boy came to pull me out and said to me, “you’re beautiful without your wig”. Who would ever have expected it? I was embarrassed, but from that moment on, I stopped using it and started feeling that I was beautiful, actually, that was when I started being a model.
I moved to New York and decided to start a career in fashion and show business and two weeks after I got there I was rushed to the hospital where they found a large cyst in the left ventricle of my brain that had to be removed immediately. Coming that close to death gave me even more enthusiasm for life and I very quickly got back on my feet. I especially understood that it is incredibly stupid to worry about what is acceptable to others and what isn’t. There is nothing shameful in being what you are. And when life poses such big challenges you can either run or take advantage of them. I am in favor of the latter option. I continued working as a model, actress and opera singer. I also wrote a play about my inner journey of growth, acceptance and love for myself.
Carolyne, medical student
I’ve been bald ever since I was a baby (alopecia) and it wasn’t easy growing up feeling so different from the other kids. When I was eighteen I went to summer camp. We were encouraged to be curious, socialize and—it had to be a coincidence—everyone kept talking about how important it is to support each other and appreciate our differences. And so one day they challenged us to put all those nice words into practice. For the first time in my life I took off my wig and as soon as I did, a girl cried out, “Fantastic!”
From that day I no longer have any protection because I began to feel truly comfortable with myself as I am. It isn’t always easy. For example, lots of times at restaurants a waiter coming up from behind will ask, “May I get you something, sir?” Only afterwards do they realize that I am a woman. This sort of annoyance happens all the time. Sometimes I get the desire to take a vacation from my baldness and I put on a hat. Recently I also tried wearing a wig again to see what effect it had, but nobody recognized me!
The way I look has in some way forced me to concentrate on my abilities. All those images of attractive women with marvelous hair always made me believe that there was something wrong about me. It’s still a little difficult with boys because I always wonder why they should be attracted to me. But I also know that my shyness does not just depend on my being bald, actually, if my hair started to grow back I think I would probably shave it off. Bald is who I am.
Sharon, model and actress
I had really long hair that I lost after going through chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. It grew back but I shave it off because I feel more comfortable bald.
This is how it went: I worked for a record label and was so involved in my career that I forgot about … myself! When I realized what was going on, I left my job and took a year off. I did a lot of traveling and thinking. Before I went back to work I went to visit my parents. I was only going to stay a few days but instead I found out that I had cancer while I was there and that was the beginning of my adventure. I met a lot of women who were sick like me. Some were really depressed, while others said things to me like, “cancer saved my life”, or “it was a blessing for me”. You can’t understand these words unless you’ve been through it. When you find out you have that disease you are always thinking about death and you appreciate life much more. You especially realize what it is that is really important for you. I understood that I had to let go of a lot of stupid things and learn things that I had never given any importance to, such as eating well, getting exercise… In other words, cancer taught me to take care of my body, listen to its needs and love myself.
And now that I have survived, I feel the growing need to communicate to as many people as possible that it is important to love oneself. It isn’t easy. For someone like me it really took such a powerful experience to wake me up. But I am determined. I decided to use my image as a bald woman to get people to think and so far things are going very well. I have acted in a few television series, including Sex and the City, and I present myself as an actress with a story, not just with a particular look.
Venus, creative director
I fought alopecia with everything I had. The treatments are incredibly painful because you have to repeatedly undergo a large number of injections into your scalp and the results are not always satisfying. Then, when I was twenty-four, something changed. I was on vacation in Jamaica and I saw a very beautiful woman who was completely bald. I said to myself, “You just have to hang in there”. I quit treatment and shaved my head.
Most people think I shave my head to be eccentric and since I have a creative job it is easy to transform diversity into a strength. And so I play on my baldness. Once you accept yourself you feel whole and stop fearing rejection all the time. So I am myself, natural, authentic, and it is important because the others can feel it when you are insecure or are hiding something.
My experience has taught me that beauty is not an aesthetic question, but it is something that you radiate when you feel at peace, you like yourself and you don’t try to be something else. The fact that I feel perfectly normal the way I am dasn’t means that others think that too. Sometimes in the subway people stare at me and I just smile. But it wasn’t always like that. When I was twenty-five I still had to get used to my appearance and so if I was at a party and someone asked why I was bald I would make up incredible stories like, “they gave me a part in Star Wars”, or “I am an African princess and shaving the head is part of the initiatory rite”. I had quite an imagination! If my hair was to start growing again? I think I would go on shaving…
Marina, police clerk
My husband shaves his head every morning to feel closer to me. He is a policeman and I work at the station. For our daughter it is perfectly normal to have two bald parents.
I lost my hair when I was three years old (alopecia) and I felt really isolated, but not from the other children. They didn’t see my baldness as anything strange, but adults did. They were all afraid that I might give their kids some terrible disease, or else they looked at me compassionately and said “Poor thing!”
There were a lot of times when I asked myself “Why me? Why can’t I have hair like everybody else?” Then I made peace with my life, but it took a long time.
In the end, my head never really caused me any serious obstacles, although being “strange” did create some unease. For many years I covered my head with a scarf, a hat or a wig to avoid unwelcome comments. Then I began to stop hiding myself, and naturally I experienced a number of episodes that wounded me. Once at the bank, a man tried to let me go to the front of the line because he thought I was seriously ill. I was offended, but I have to admit that he had the best of intentions. So, at times you are vulnerable in unexpected ways.
It’s only in the past few years that I feel more comfortable, and I owe it to my daughter. I used to worry that in a moment of distraction or play she might pull off my wig when I held her in my arms. How would I have reacted? How would I have felt? And then when it actually happened it was not so horribly dramatic. Actually, experiencing the thing I had feared brought my fears into perspective.
Then I met many other women like me and I didn’t feel so alone any more. The unconditional love of my daughter and my husband and the closeness of my new friends have given me the strength to feel more and more at peace with myself.