“‘Girls are pretty when they have hair.’ This was what I was told and made to believe growing up after losing my hair at age 2, due to the autoimmune condition, Alopecia. This was so much more than just losing my hair. It was losing a part of me. I was born with a head of beautiful red hair, but it began to fall out, first in small chunks. Within a few weeks, I was completely bald.
When this happened 27 years ago, I knew no one else in my community or school with this condition. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and ugly. I saw nothing beautiful about my bald head. I didn’t want to be different than the other kids. As a child, it is hard to have a visible difference. I began to wear a wig from a very young age. It became my security, my hiding place from the reality I never wanted to face. I had this huge secret I kept and never knew how to or wanted to talk about. I became quiet and reserved. It is already hard enough being a kid and going through all of the life changes and curveballs thrown my way. Middle school, as it is for most, was really hard, but try adding a difference to that. It was a time still, to this day, I wish I could forget.
I have Alopecia Universalis, which is total body hair loss. I now see it as an awesome advantage to never have to shave my legs, but growing up, I did not. It is hard to not have eyebrows or eyelashes for several reasons. My wig was something I had to cover up my bald head, though this never stopped kids from commenting on it, asking why it was often frizzy or, ‘Why doesn’t it didn’t move like normal hair?’ Kids knew I wore a wig, but I still did my best to hide it.
Having no eyebrows was the hardest part. It is something that stands out on my face. I have my brows tattooed on now and got it done in middle school. They are a light color but have no hair. I need to fill it in with makeup, which is something I didn’t do every day. I played sports and would sweat a lot. I also didn’t feel comfortable with makeup on. I didn’t like the way I looked. I would walk with my head down, avoided eye contact with people and tried to avoid looking at the mirror because what I saw was someone who was anything but pretty.
To me, what was pretty about a bald head, no eyelashes, and tattooed on eyebrows?
During this time I continue to stand out from all of my peers, but this time, it was in a positive way. I discovered the game of basketball, and it truly saved me after a hard day at school. I would shoot hoops in my driveway for hours. I would pretend to make the game-winning shot, and the crowd would go wild and yell my name. Everyone loved me and no one made fun of my Alopecia. During this time, I never thought about my Alopecia, but rather my big dreams. I wanted to play on my high school varsity team as a freshman, break school records, and receive a scholarship to play in college. Basketball became my distraction. I would work hard in school and eventually played on the school team. Kids would still continue to make fun of me, but it bothered me less because I had something else to look forward to, something positive that made me feel so alive.
I never told the teacher when kids would poke fun of me. I had no confidence in myself and didn’t want those kids to dislike me even more than they already did. In a way, I felt like I deserved it because there was truth to what they said. When they called me ‘baldy’ or said, ‘Lindsay is ugly,’ I believed it was true. When I look back to this season of life, I still never understand why kids were mean to me.
Life continued on over the years. I started to gain more confidence in myself and became more outgoing through my success in basketball and a few close friends I made through sports. But my Alopecia was still a big secret I never talked about. I would go into the bathroom stall during halftime at basketball games, wipe down my head, and reapply the tape that held my wig on. It was my life and I never knew any different. I worked hard in basketball and that was my main focus. I was fortunate to have a great high school and AAU career. I broke countless records at my high school and received scholarship offers to play in college. This was a true dream come true for me.
I went off to college and played basketball. The dream was happening for me. I learned so much about myself during my 4 years there. It was my sophomore year of college when I slowly began to look into Alopecia and see what else was out there. It was a reality I didn’t want to face, but deep down, I knew my hair was never coming back. I was still absolutely terrified to tell anyone about my Alopecia, especially guys. What if they didn’t like me? What if they thought I was ugly? I still didn’t see anything attractive about a bald head.
I will never forget when the guy I had the biggest crush on finally asked me out. Truthfully, I was in shock. He was attractive and I didn’t think I was anywhere close to his league. We went out a few times actually and things were going along great. We had so much in common. It was exciting and he gave me butterflies. I also had this pit in my stomach when I thought about telling him about my Alopecia. Eventually, I knew I had to and my worst nightmare came true. He was completely in shock. I will never forget the look of pure disgust on his face.
He said, ‘I could never date someone who didn’t have hair.’ I was devastated, shook to my core, and just crushed. It was hard to recover from that. I definitely put a wall up with guys after this and in friendships too. I hated my Alopecia.
Life continued on. I became very involved in my schoolwork, basketball, and volunteering. I also decided to run a marathon during my senior year of college. I am extremely competitive in any and everything and I thought, ‘What a bucket list item to check off!’ Before this, I was never a runner, but I thought it was ‘just running.’ So in June of 2012, I set off down the streets of Duluth, Minnesota, my college town. I couldn’t believe it, I was running a marathon and enjoying it. I felt alive, strong and empowered. These were all emotions I wasn’t used to feeling. Once I crossed that finish line, I knew right away I found my next endeavor: marathon running. I began to race all over the country. I loved to travel and the thrill of being in a new city where no one knew me. No one knew I had Alopecia or cared that I looked different. My favorite thing about the running community is how different we all look and train. I fell in love with the process and the feelings running gave me. That first marathon changed my life. Still, I was wearing my wig and hiding my Alopecia.
One day, before the 2016 San Diego Marathon, I was overcome with emotion and took my wig off mid-run. And for the first time, when I looked at it, I saw nothing beautiful about it. It was dripping in sweat and smelled putrid. I began to cry. This was the moment I had dreamed of since I was a kid, to finally be okay with my Alopecia. I knew after this, all of the heartache was worth it. I finally felt like I was the Lindsay I was always meant to be.
It was small steps leading up to this moment. Telling a close friend about my Alopecia, running an errand without a wig, running marathons and having supportive people and community. I knew I had to take control of it and once I took one small step, it all began to get easier.
When I look back at my life so far, I can say I am proud of myself. I have run 40 marathons, one 50-mile Ultra Marathon, and am looking forward to taking on a 100-mile ultra-marathon soon.
Alopecia has truly been the greatest gift I never knew I needed. There was a long time in my life when I would deny having Alopecia and say nothing positive about it. But now, I love my Alopecia. It has made me strong, empathetic, and compassionate. It has shown me I can do anything I set my mind to. To set big dreams and to never quit on myself.
It is the greatest filter for people and relationships. I have had so many opportunities to meet, speak to, and share my story with children who have Alopecia and be that role model and friend I needed when I was younger. That is the greatest gift. I started a pen pal program for friends with Alopecia as well, because I know what it is like to feel alone and need someone who has been through it firsthand to talk to. I know it would have made a huge difference for me and the way I saw myself and thought of my Alopecia.”
I know I don’t need hair to be beautiful. I am beautiful because I choose positivity, to help someone every chance I get, and to work hard in any and everything. I am Alopecia strong and bald is beautiful! The sky is truly the limit!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsay Walter from Charlotte, NC. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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