Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed to be human.
We are always so concerned with being P.C., we try to not offend anyone and to make everyone feel included but at the same time we are overpowered by rules and restrictions; we often judge others because they don’t think like us, look like us or believe in the same things that we do. It makes me feel sad, guilty and discouraged; my faith in humanity seems to dwindle every single day. Doing research for this shoot with my amazing friend Kristin was no exception.
Kristin has alopecia, a disease for which there is no cause or cure and it can happen at any time; a disease that causes the afflicted to lose their hair. When I took to the internet to gain some inspiration searching images under “alopecia”, “alopecia photography”, “bald photography”, “fine art bald photography” and many other headings, the search results were more than disappointing: they were outrageous. I scrolled through pages and pages of snapshots of miserable looking people, expressions of shame, guilt and unrest on their faces. Whether showing their patchy hair-loss or their fully exposed scalp the negative vibe was constant throughout. The few in-studio shoots I found were just as disturbing and all the same style: black and white, ¾ headshot, no smiling and eyes closed with a glaring amount of skin softening and retouching done to the head. It seemed to shout: “If you have alopecia your life is over; no more fun, no more friends, nothing but misery and baldness forever. Oh, and if you DO have the courage to pose for the camera, don’t worry, the photographer will retouch everything to make it look better, ‘cause au-naturale is anything but acceptable”.
Seriously people, you’re killing me.
However, humanity’s failure inspired the perfect concept for the shoot: a REAL girl, WITH alopecia looking like a REAL GIRL; after all, aren’t we – as humans – taught that it’s our differences that make each of us unique and beautiful? My goal was to show how Kristin as many know her – happy, smiling and silly but with a lingering vulnerability and thoughtfulness that so many of us can relate to. Kristin doesn’t take life too seriously, she can giggle on command, she can laugh and refer to herself as Mrs. Conehead and her piercing blue eyes can cut straight through to your soul. More importantly I wanted to showcase how she has boldly, confidently and unabashedly taken on the world as she has without missing a step.
The first time Kristin lost her hair she was in seventh grade, it took her until her junior year of high school to grow her hair back again and even then it was only in spotty sections. But Kristin rocked a weave until she had a full head of curly brown hair – the same hair that she had when I met her in 2010. Fast forward to February of 2011 and all those curls were gone again. When I asked her what it was like to lose all of her hair within four months this is what she had to say:
“It took a while for me to get used to knowing that – the fact that I am bald – it may never come back. I have been brave enough to unleash the baldness to the world for the last three months and it has made me even more confident to just be ME, ‘cause I think I have enough personality to go around and ‘cause bald is beautiful!”
If you’re not inspired by her, you may want to check your pulse.
And if her wise words are not enough to warm your heart, strengthen your spirit and get you thinking, perhaps the last image will. As we were shooting on the beach, two girls walked by and one jumped into the photo with Kristin – who welcomed her with grin and an open-armed hug – as her friend stood behind me singing “You’re beautiful just the way you are!”
Faith in humanity: restored. At least for today.