*This post was written by CSUCI student, Mayleen Cortez.
Up until my 7th grade year, the thought of parting with my hats was insane. Leaving the house without a hat was something I didn’t even really dream of. After all, I’d been wearing them every time I was out in public since I was five. My hats were my way of hiding the shame I felt for my hair, or rather, my lack of it.
When I was four, my mother discovered that my hair was falling out in large chunks, so she took me to the doctor. We learned that I was born with alopecia areata, a condition that causes abnormal amounts of hair loss, and that was what was causing bald spots to appear on my head. For the next few years my mom took me to every doctor and specialist she could find, but several failed treatments later, we had to face the fact that there was nothing that could be done. So we decided I’d wear hats to cover up the bald spots.
However, by the time I reached middle school, I was absolutely sick and tired of hiding my condition because it was negatively affecting my social life and self-esteem. So I took the hat off for good and decided that come what may, I would not hide under a hat again. That decision was one of the greatest victories in my life. After all, I could’ve chosen to hide and lose all hope every time I felt disgusted with myself for not having eyebrows (no joke, I did not have eyebrows for some time.) I could’ve chosen to hide every time the girls at school thought I couldn’t see them laughing and pointing fingers at me, or that I couldn’t hear them calling me names. I could’ve chosen to give up every time kids would rudely ask me what was wrong with me, suppressing laughter because I looked kind of funny.
I won’t lie, I gained plenty of insecurities from not having all my hair. I mean, how could I ever be beautiful if I didn’t even have all my hair? I could have easily decided to give up on my passion for singing, because following it meant being on stage, in front of everyone. But you know what I did? I joined choir. I took a deep breath and my nails suffered a bit (from biting) when I tried out for solos, but I rejoiced when I got them. I felt the heat rush to my cheeks and my breaths get shallower when I had to give oral reports or present things in school, but I smiled brightly and made it through them. I’ve gained friends and I’ve performed and spoken by myself in front of large audiences. I’ve lived through humiliation, rejection, but also triumph.
The person I am today isn’t perfect. I have my insecurities and I have my faults. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing past them. However, I refuse to let those keep me from my full potential. I refuse to let fear keep me from shining and living the life I was intended to. My struggle with hair loss has blessed me with a strength and motivation that allows me to keep moving forward. Because in the end, you’re the only one whose acceptance of yourself really matters. People may judge you, laugh at you, or simply make you feel bad, but if you don’t let them define your worth and potential, no one can stop you from being the awesome person you were born to be.