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Bald in Birmingham – NOT By Choice – ‘And I Love Me’  

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By Deirdre Gaddis

I’m chunky. I’m funky. I’m bald, NOT by choice. I have alopecia, which leads to hair loss—and I love me.

In light of the recent events at the 94th Annual Academy Awards, I understand that women are highly sensitive about the alopecia struggle, and I do get it. I also know when people try to use smoke-and-mirror diversions to try and draw attention away from one situation to another.

One minute you’re bold and sassy, the next you’re distraught. Make up your mind, sis! A Black G.I. Jane? Let them ask me! I’m coming, rubbing my head with oil and AK in tow! To me, I just don’t believe Chris Rock had any ill intentions. He tells jokes. And, by the way, I thought Jada was gorgeous!

I thought about so many things after the Oscars—like how my mom has a full head of glorious silver hair and how both my youngest brother and I deal with alopecia. This is definitely a journey.

As a baby, my daddy called me “Hairless Gaddis.” The only hair I really had was a perfect little tuft dead center of my head. As I got older, I had beautiful thick tresses complete with hang time. In my 20s, I developed a small patch on the back of my head, where my hair completely fell out. Like many other women in my position, I consulted with my beautician/magician, and after a couple of months of covering up my secret with weave, my hair came back, though not as full and thick as before.

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This is where the real fun began.
I noticed that my hair was thinning in the top. Again, like many other women, I purchased various wigs. I also had two marvelous beauticians who worked their magic and made me feel confident in my appearance. Still, my hair was continually thinning. I took matters in my own hands and decided to cut my hair super, super short—a buzz cut.

I was a musician at a well-known church in the city. One young lady who I thought was a true friend questioned me. She laughed and really got a kick out of my plight. So, do you know what came after that? More wigs, more weaves, more time spent in the salon, more days and nights trying to hide my secret from my friends and family.

My beau took pride in the fact that he was the only one who really knew my secret. He questioned why I wore so much weave. He said I was “seeking attention.” He also made sure he told me that nobody would accept me with alopecia. Then I lost him, too, and that very well may have been a good thing.

My self-esteem was shot. Who was I fooling? No guy would want to be with a pudgy little bald woman. I was 38 years old and about to start a new chapter in my life. I’d been laughed at by a “friend,” dumped by a man who told me he was the only one who would accept me with my alopecia, and about to start matriculating at Miles College on full scholarship.

Miles College played a significant role in helping me embrace who I truly was. In August 2012, I met Dr. Bernard Williams. “Doc.” “Choir Director.” “Pastor.” “Dad.” I became a member of the Miles College Choir and the Miles College Golden Voices.

After a couple of months, I took the position of Minister of Music at the church Doc pastored. About two months after I assumed that role, my hair was extremely thin in the top. I was now a full-time student with minimal income, so I couldn’t afford to keep funding my costume of wigs and weave.

At 2 a.m. on a Monday, I went into my bathroom, took a pair of scissors, and proceeded with the big chop. By the time I got out the razor and shaving cream to finish the task, tears cascaded down my cheeks, but the freedom I felt was AMAZING — freedom from everybody else’s opinions, freedom from my own insecurities, freedom to truly be me. I dried my tears, took out my makeup, and beat my face for the gods. I FELT EMPOWERED!!!!

I took my picture, posted it on Facebook, and discovered that so many people were inspired and encouraged by my transparency. But I neglected to think about the fact that I had to go to school in a couple of hours. I forgot about the giggles and sneers. I forgot about the finger pointing. I walked into my first class … gasps, no questions, just gasps. This was the norm the entire day. By the time I got to the choir room, I was emotionally drained. Doc was there alone. He asked me what made me cut it all off, and I told him about my alopecia. Doc told me I was beautiful regardless and that I would always be a queen. That year, I was also blessed to be in the Homecoming Court as Miss Criminal Justice—with my shiny bald head!

I would be lying if I said every day is easy. People make all kinds of judgments simply because I have a bald head. No, I didn’t fry my follicles. No, it wasn’t weave or glue. I have a genetic predisposition for alopecia from my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Luckily, I have several generations of beautiful women to look at that don’t mind being bald or closely cropped.

Now, that didn’t make the way through any easier. That didn’t make the “bald head h** sh**,” the “little butch looking girl” comments, or the presumptions about my sexuality stop. What it did give me was the inner strength to walk with my bald head held high as I told them, “Miss me with the BS!”

Embracing my alopecia is the best thing I ever could have done. Now, I will rock a wig every now or then or even make my own hair pieces to rock when I let my own hair grow in. Being bald allows me the freedom to be who I wanna be from day to day! LOL! Even the Bible says that a woman’s crown is her glory. It’s just that some women’s crowns come hair-free.

Deirdre Gaddis is a Birmingham native, who attended John Carroll Catholic High School and graduated summa cum laude from Miles College. She’s an independent international recording artist and the Minister of Music at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Zion City.