How I realized that being bald is a sign of true strength

To: Young girls who share my look

From: Christie Valdiserri (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To young girls who share my look,

As many of you know, I am a dancer and a model. But I don’t look like most other models or dancers. I look like you.

A year and a half ago, I went to an open call to model in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue and I made it to the top 17. For the next round, I walked down the runway in Miami with a wig on and when I reached the end of the runway, I ripped it off and strutted back, holding the wig in my hand.

With no clue how Sports Illustrated would respond, when I got backstage, I looked in the mirror and told myself, “Yo! You just did that! You’re incredible. That was so strong and badass.”

It was a great moment in my life. But I am writing to you because I want my story to teach you about more than just a moment.

The last four years haven’t been easy for me. On June 1, 2016, I was living in New York after graduating from college. Only 22 years old, I found a tiny little bald spot on the top of my head.  At the time, I thought whatever that spot was, it would go away. But it didn’t go away. Instead, it got worse.

My dermatologist was shocked over how much hair was falling out.

She said, “It’s probably Alopecia.”

I looked in the mirror and told myself, “Yo! You just did that! You’re incredible. That was so strong and badass.

While I know now that Alopecia is a condition marked by hair loss, at the time, I had no idea what that meant. I just wanted it fixed.

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Growing up, I wore many different hairstyles. In my ballet company, we were required to wear our hair in a slick back bun. When I wasn’t dancing, I loved to braid my hair in all different ways. In college, I dyed my hair blond and truly identified myself as a blond sorority girl.

I was very resistant to the reality that I was losing my hair. For three years, I thought it would grow back. From watching my sugar intake to not drinking certain beverages, I wasted so much of my energy trying to figure out a cure.

There were days I felt like I was drowning. I felt ugly and unloved and I even lost a job. Without reason, my boss fired me from a gig as a dancer on a cruise. While there is no way for me to know for sure, of course, I believe it was because of my hair loss.

My friends, my family, and even all the people I passed by on the street, day in and day out, had hair.

I was angry, as I used to think to myself, “Why the hell do all these people have hair and I don’t?”

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However, in 2018, my thought process started to change. In August of that year I was living in Los Angeles and I took a dance intensive. The instructor made us go around the room and share one insecurity. As each person spoke, my heart was beating out of my chest. I couldn’t focus. When it was my turn, I just started bawling.

Through my tears, I said, “I wear a wig. I’m completely bald. That’s the root of all my insecurities.”

The instructor encouraged me to take my wig off and dance in front of everybody. By the end of the week, I did and it was amazing.

A month later, on September 26, 2018, after consistently wearing wigs for the previous two years, I posted a dance video I made on Instagram of me performing without a wig. Later that day, I hosted an event at a dance studio with everybody I knew in L.A.. I took my wig off in front of them and told them my story. That night, I truly began to embrace who I am and how I appear. I felt liberated and I started to go out bald more and more. For most of my dance auditions, I no longer wear wigs, which allows me to focus on my craft and not if my wig will fall off.

When I look in the mirror, I make eye contact with myself and say, “You rock. You’re beautiful. You can do this.”

Every day, I am growing more confident as I do my best to normalize being bald for all those who rock our look.

Christie has grow more and more confident throughout the last four years.

About a year ago, I met many of you through an organization called Children’s Alopecia Project.  For the last seven or eight months, I have been virtually teaching some of you to dance.

You are so young, so innocent and so comfortable with yourselves.

You have the attitude, “This is my look and this is how I am. I’m going to take it and run with it.”

Sometimes I ask all of you what you are grateful for and one of you recently responded,” I’m grateful for my Alopecia.”

You all embrace yourselves and enjoy your lives and I never want that to change.

As you get older, whether it be high school or college or when you get your first job, don’t ever question yourselves, your beauty or your worth. Society, media and the world may try to bring you down. Remember, being different is not a weakness, it’s a symbol of strength.  And you are not on this journey alone. You inspire me to be a trailblazer. I want to live my dreams to show you that you can grow up and live yours too.

So, always follow your heart. On my journey, I noticed when I stopped worrying about what people thought and became willing to show some vulnerability, I started to attract the right people and the right opportunities.

For example, a few weeks after I pulled off my wig on the runway for my Sports Illustrated audition, I got a call while I was in Hawaii for my birthday.

It was someone from Sports Illustrated who said, “You’re shooting at the end of February in Turks and Caicos.”

I became the first bald model in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. The whole experience was incredible and reaffirms that bald girls – actually bold girls – are unstoppable.

So stay true to yourself.  Authenticity not only produces great moments but leads you to a more fulfilling way of life.

Christie Valdiserri
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