This story is a part of The Truth About Hair Loss, an exploration into why we lose our hair, the emotional and monetary costs that come along with the experience, and what the future of treatment (and acceptance) could look like.
In a world where other people are often still making early judgment calls based on someone's hairstyle — blonde and you're a ditz, Afro and you're an activist, and so on — you'd think the absence of hair would free a person of all that weight. And yet, first glance assumptions are still often made about women who are bald, assumptions that can touch on everything from their medical conditions to their sexual orientation.
Going bald is sometimes a choice, sometimes it's not. Either way, it's beautiful.
According to the American Hair Loss Association, 40 percent of people dealing with hair loss identify as women. Yet, bald men are often seen as sexy, while bald women and femmes are still often considered an oddity. This, of course, is rooted in that original perception of femininity, even going back to Michaelangelo's depiction of Eve's creation in the Sistine Chapel, where she has long flowing hair.
On Darlenys: Aya Muse dress. Dinosaur Designs bracelet. On Coral: Emilio Pucci jumpsuit. Misho earrings. On Lili: Ferragamo dress. Dinosaur Designs bracelet.
But losing all your hair or shaving your head doesn't change you, even if the world sees you differently. It displays a level of confidence that these models discovered slowly, as they went from low-cut pixies to wigs and finally to shining bald glory. For each of them, their true selves didn't appear until every strand of hair — and society's norms — was on the floor.
Wolford dress. Monot sleeves. Sylvia Toledano earrings.
Darleyns Rosa’s first bald spot appeared when she was just 10 years old. "Every night, my mom would untangle my hair, which was super curly. And she found a quarter-size bald spot. We didn't think much of it." But the problem progressed quickly. First, Rosa's mom would style her hair with a side part to disguise the absent hair. Then, it became too much to hide. "Going into fifth grade, it got to the point where you could see the streaks of baldness coming through," she recalls.
Dermatologists blamed everything from a skin infection to a bad diet. Eventually, one doctor landed on the diagnosis of alopecia areata. With little research on the condition available at the time, the treatment plan consisted of cortisone shots, and when that didn't work, the professionals prescribed steroid shots. But at such a young age, the side effects seemed too risky. So, a bandana became Rosa's only barrier, her only shield at a time when puberty and pre-teen bullies were hitting their stride.
"I cried almost every day after school. During lunch, a lot of the kids would start saying, 'It's not fair if she gets to wear a bandana. We can't wear bandanas.' It just felt like everyone was against me." she says. "I definitely remember praying, 'God, please help my hair grow,' and thinking that overnight it would grow in. I definitely had nights where I would cry myself to sleep saying, 'I hate myself. Why do I look like this?'"
Years later, Rosa began wearing a full lace wig anchored with tape, but even then she was limited. Windy days, roller coasters, beaches, swimming pools were all red flags. It was around the time that she was looking for a new hairpiece — a $5000 investment that required a credit card — that Rosa came to a realization. "I'm like, 'Wait a minute. What am I doing? Why am I trying to get myself into debt just to get another wig? You are not a wig. You are unique. You are beautiful and amazing as you are. These things don't define you.'"
Rosa's first test was wearing her bald head to work. It was a friend walking by her side that gave her the confidence to face her coworkers without her wig or hat. From there, the wig was slowly relegated to the back of the closet. She realized that by wearing her bald head proudly, she was helping normalize something society often sees as a sign of sickness. "I was in Target and there was this little girl who said, 'Mom, that girl is bald. Is she sick?' And the mom goes, 'No, mamita. Maybe she just decided to cut her hair. Doesn't mean she's sick. That's just her style.' Some people choose baldness by choice, some people have underlying issues, but the more people see it, the more they'll say, 'Oh, okay. It's just a bald person.'"
Fendi skirt & top. Mounser earrings.
Coral Johnson never felt comfortable in the coily hair they were born with. "My hair wasn’t the same as other mixed kid's hair," they tell Allure. "I would get teased, and so I spent years cutting it, dyeing it, and putting perms on it." Right after they graduated high school — a time of transition for any teenager — they decided enough was enough. Johnson took the clippers to their head, cutting away the years of damage and denigration, with intention of starting over. But what was meant to be a start, ended up being a stasis. "At first I thought I was going to look funny. But, there was something about that first time. Once all the hair fell down in the sink and I looked in the mirror, it was me," they recall.
While their perception of self was clarified with their hair out of the way, their traditional Texan family had… thoughts. "My family definitely thought that it was my coming out, even though I came out at a young age," Johnson says. "They immediately connected short, bald hair to 'Oh, you're really gay now. Oh, you're rejecting your femininity, you're rejecting your blackness.' Which was hilarious because [in the past] they were telling me to straighten my hair." In their Southern town, their shaved head was sending a message that was immediately misinterpreted. "I don't know why baldness translates into [being] bad," Johnson says. "Like, oh you have your head shaved. You must be a troublemaker."
But if these judgments were meant to chip away at Johnson's confidence, they did not succeed. "It made me feel more powerful to know that just shaving off all of your hair can just completely change how people view you," they say. "When you take away something that means so much to so many people, they're fearful. A lot of people hide behind their hair."
Today, Johnson's bald head is decorated with tattoos that are a nod to their African heritage and their inner fortitude. They explain: “I read up on a lot of African tribes, and [back then] if a woman had their head shaved and they had a tattoo on one side of their head, it meant that they didn't need anybody else to claim them as beautiful. They were the leaders of the tribe and they were the ones that everybody went to when they needed strength.”
So when you see Johnson's "Mr. Clean" cut and tattoos, you might see a rebel. And there is some truth in that — Johnson refuses to subscribe to the limiting standards set by society. And isn't that a touch mutinous, in the best way?
Kenzo jumpsuit. Castlecliff earring.
For Lili Washington, a cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatment were the cause of her going bald in 2015, but it was also happening at a time of self-discovery for her as a trans/non-binary person. "At first, [losing my hair] was devastating, and I was very self-conscious about it because it wasn't my choice. It wasn't something I wanted to do," Washington says. "And then once I went bald, people were like, 'That's going to be your signature. That's your look.'" But Washington was still wary, feeling as if the compliments were just friends and family trying to make her feel better.
Prior to her diagnosis, Washington was already changing up her hair because her life was changing. It started with cutting off her locs, which she called her "security blanket." "My locs reminded me too much of my past life, my male life," she explains. “I needed something new and different, so I cut [my hair] short until I could figure out where I wanted to go with it. But before I could, it figured it out for me.”
Because Washington was in a place of self-discovery already, going bald felt like too much at first. "I was in an active process of learning who I was, and learning how to accept whatever I discovered in that process," she says. "Being bald was stripping me even more, and it represented exactly where I was at. I felt very naked at the time."
On Coral: Prada cardigan, Dinosaur Designs earrings. On Darlenys: Prada cardigan, Dinosaur Designs earrings.
It was also a question of femininity. Even though this is slowly changing, society at large still generally says that women should have long, flowing hair — and originally Washington wanted some hair as she transitioned. However, every time she would wear a wig, her followers would say "it's not you." Her family insisted the addition of hair would make her average.
"The issue was that I always tried to blend in. The wigs don't look bad. They just strip away my natural beauty," she shares. "[When I realized that], I was able to finally start to see what they were saying, and I'm very confident in my baldness today."
Today, Washington's wig collection only comes out for the occasional TikTok, and she speaks positive words to herself every day as she looks at her bald head in the mirror. "I say, 'You're perfect and everybody else is perfect.' I had to realize that there were no mistakes. I put myself on the same pedestal as I put everyone else on. I just started to tell myself that I was perfect in all of the things: in my look, and my attitude, and my mistakes. They all make me."
Mounser & Hugo Kreit earrings.
Prada vest, skirt. Mounser & Hugo Kreit earrings.
Photography by Mikey Asanin. Styled by Ron Hartleben. Makeup by Ingeborg. Grooming by Taichi Saito. Talent: Lili Washington, Coral Johnson, Darlenys Rosa