Bald and Beautiful

  • By:  Kindra McDonald Greene

Local women find empowerment when they embrace their true beauty.

Alopecia areata is sudden hair loss occurring when the immune system attacks hair follicles. It can be caused by severe stress, nutrient deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, or genetics. Much more than a bad hair day, alopecia is a public representation of an internal struggle. It is far more common than you may think and is coming out from behind a curtain of secrecy and shame. 

Recent announcements by actress Ricki Lake and Massachusetts congresswoman Ayanna Pressley have prompted an overdue conversation about the once silent struggle. Hair loss affects up to 50 percent of women according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF).  Women are now giving voice to their struggles, embracing the words of Ayanna Pressley: “However you show up in the world, you are beautiful and you are enough.”

Let’s meet a local expert in the field of hair and scalp health and two Tidewater women who are “embracing their bald.” 

Karen Brace, Clinical Trichologist, Offers Insight

Nutrition And Stress Are Often To Blame

People in Hampton Roads experiencing hair loss are fortunate to have a local expert in Karen Brace, a Clinical Trichologist Practitioner with Virginia Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center. A trichologist can diagnose the causes of hair loss and diseases of the scalp and determine the best course of treatment. Karen came to this field out of genuine curiosity and compassion. She was a licensed cosmetologist who began noticing a pattern of clients coming in with hair loss in particular areas of their scalp. 

In 2006, she went to a trade show seminar titled, “Why Are Women Losing Their Hair?” Once she dipped her toe into the medical, nutritional, and scientific implications of hair loss, she was hooked. What she was seeing in her clients had a name, an origin, and for some treatment. There are many types of alopecia and each needs to be treated differently. This realization led Karen on a journey of self-education and discovery of the scalp. 

She studied phlebotomy to understand platelet therapy, became a pharmacy technician to understand the impact medication has on hair, and then became a nutritionist correlating hair and diet—all in the pursuit of getting to the literal root of the hair loss issue. Karen became the first trichologist practitioner in Virginia history.

“Hair is a barometer. It tells you something is going on with your body,” Karen explained. “It’s not about what you put on your hair, but in your body. Seventy percent of disorders come from what you put in your mouth. Stress plays a big part in hair loss. It raises your cortisol level, and anytime your hormone levels change, your hair feels that.”

Karen sees a lot of stressed college students who are losing their hair, and the age of her clients is skewing younger. Much of that has to do with nutrition. She also sees women who have been wearing wigs for years who are trying to regrow their natural hair.

“We are so much like plants. You feed your hair sunlight and air,” said Karen. “When you wear a wig, you can prevent hair regrowth. You can’t take a good plant out of a good soil and put it in a bed without nutrients and expect it to grow.”

Health insurance is still behind the curve on this condition, often considering a trichology appointment cosmetic, but hair loss can signify a serious underlying condition. If your hair is falling out excessively, it indicates the need for immediate bloodwork. Karen has seen clients with poor diets correct their hair loss by changing their nutrition. She has also detected lupus and other autoimmune diseases, which can provide much needed answers for hair loss.

“There has been a tidal change,” Karen said. “In 2006, I could never imagine how many were experiencing hair loss and now they’re coming forward in droves. It’s so important we prioritize what we put in our bodies rather than what we put on our bodies.”

Beth Anne Moore: A Long History of Alopecia

Going Wig-Free Was Liberating!

Not long ago there were zero resources for anyone faced with unexplained hair loss. For Beth Anne Moore, a 26-year-old wife, mother, and teacher’s assistant in Virginia Beach, she has lived her entire life with hair loss. At just 16 months old, Beth Anne first started exhibiting signs of alopecia, her red curly hair falling out in patches around her scalp. 

Her mother had just relocated to Virginia Beach after a separation when she found her daughter’s hair in clumps. Pediatricians said it was stress related due to the change in environment and the divorce, Beth Anne recalled. “I can still remember my mom and Nana trying to spray Rogaine on my head as a toddler. There was no information on alopecia. I can’t imagine what my mom was going through.” 

She was diagnosed with alopecia areata in elementary school. “Once they started doing tests, it was clearly genetic,” she said. “Both parents have autoimmune disorders and rheumatoid arthritis. I had the perfect genes.” In third grade her mother organized a fundraiser with Locks of Love and a local hairdresser to raise money for wigs. The organization provides human hair for children with hair loss from alopecia or chemotherapy. 

The process of being fitted for a wig is often painful and emotionally draining. Beth Anne did this every one to two years until she aged out at 21. “It feels like a heavy vice grip on your head for hours and hours,” she recalled. “A special pencil is used to mark the alignment and adjustments. It has to dry and be shipped back. It’s so time consuming, you need a full day to recover.”

By age 13 Beth Anne wore wigs full time even if staying home. “I would get up every morning and felt like I had to wear it,” she said. “It became a coping mechanism.”

As she got older, Beth Anne knew the wig was a way of shielding herself. “I grew up going to camps for children that had dermatology issues. I would take my wig but wouldn’t wear it. During one week a year, I felt more like myself than any other time.” 

Beth Anne has known her husband since they were 14. She could be herself around him, wig free. They married and welcomed their daughter in 2017. Beth Anne wore the hot and itchy synthetic wigs to avoid stares and questions and battled migraines with them. 

“I had started wearing one to teach a yoga class and took it off for a migraine. My boss said, ‘Never put that on again. You’re more you without it.’ It was like a weight had been lifted,” Beth Anne recalled. 

After her daughter was born, things changed. “I have to keep a tiny human alive, and I don’t have time to deal with something like hair. Enough is enough,” she said. “I found my voice and myself without it. I’m not looking back. It makes my daughter a better person. She asks about my hair and I say ‘Mommy can’t grow hair like other people,’ I name it, alopecia. She deserves to be talked to, so she won’t question others’ differences.”

Nakisha King, Founder of Bald and Bodacious

“Being Vulnerable Is What Gives You Power”

Photo by Rickie Recardo Photography • www.rickierecardophotography.com

Hampton resident, entrepreneur, and mother of three, Nakisha King has a talent for recognizing the gifts in others and for drawing out their true potential. Through countless struggles, she has looked deep within herself for strength and found her true calling after revealing a secret she held for close to a decade.

While serving in the Navy in 2003, Nakisha was diagnosed with lupus. She experienced many debilitating symptoms, but one of the most challenging was hair loss, beginning from the edges of her scalp and falling out in patches. By 2011 she was bald. 

“I started wearing wigs all the time,” Nakisha said. “I was never without them, but no one knew.” She spent years in a cycle of buying wigs, hiding them and their cost, and living in fear that someone would find out her secret. “Not even my husband knew,” she said. “I slept in my wig. I always wore it. The only person who ever saw me without it was my youngest son.”

In September 2018 she was home after a long, hot day and a 5k fundraising race. For a brief unguarded moment with her seven-year-old son, Christian, she took off her wig. “I kept telling him, ‘Look out for your father, and let me know if you see him coming.’” Instead Christian kissed her bald pate and told her she was beautiful. He asked her to take a picture with him. In that moment, she took a selfie of her son kissing her head and responded to his challenge, “Put it on Facebook, Mom,” Christian said.

Nakisha compromised and posted it on Instagram, which felt less personal. She put her wig back on and went to bed. The next morning she woke up to hundreds of responses. Women she didn’t even know were sharing their stories of alopecia. “The response was overwhelming,” she recalled.

Then the reveal came to her husband and family, and she was shocked to learn that other family members wore wigs in secrecy as well. 

The following January Nakisha had planned to do a book signing, but instead put the wheels in motion to hold a Bald and Beautiful power lunch and reveal her new self to the world. Other women joined her at the reveal, some of them going wig free for the first time in public. 

“I felt so free,” Nakisha said. “There is no judgment. It’s a loving environment for women with cancer, lupus, and alopecia and it’s a coming out party. It’s like a birthday and a wedding all at once.” 

In January 2020 she held the Bald and Bold power lunch with more women coming out for their bald reveal. The 2021 event Bald and Bodacious is already in the works. “So much energy went into the hiding and secrecy,” Nakisha said. “We all have a bald spot we’re trying to cover whether physical or emotional. When we hide trauma, anxiety, or depression, it gives other people the power to pull our card at any time. But when I spill my own tea and share my testimony, I can help others. Being vulnerable is what gives you power.”

As I’ve been writing this article, I’ve been thinking of India Arie’s song, “I Am Not My Hair.” The haunting refrain has been going through my head: “I am not my hair/I am not your expectations, no/I am the soul that lives within.” Sharing your story of struggle is a comfort to others, sharing your truth is liberating, beauty is always within, and these women are radiant. 

Kindra McDonald Greene is a poet, educator, and a writer. She teaches at The Muse Writers Center and lives, hikes, and bakes with her husband in the City of Mermaids. Visit www.kindramcdonald.com

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