More than 16 million people watched the Academy Awards this past Sunday. If you weren’t one of them, you’ve probably seen the post-show coverage of the moment when Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock across the face. The comedian had made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Whether Rock knew the reason behind her buzz cut or not, his words impacted many more women than the Red Table Talk host, who has been very open about her experience with alopecia.
Former SI Swim Search search model Christie Valdiserri is one of them. Currently dancing on tour with Todrick Hall, Valdiserri didn’t learn what had happened at the Oscars until intermission of her show. She found she was flooded with comments and messages in her Baldtourage, the community she started to support women of every age with hair loss.
For Valdiserri, it felt like the progress she had been making to normalize female baldness took a million steps backwards. “All this work I do with my community, bald little girls, women, moms, I’m always encouraging people to go out bald and to continue to spread our message and gain confidence and hold their head up high,” says Valdisseri, who had her own alopecia diagnosis in 2016, “No one should have to walk this alone.”
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Because alopecia is not a life-threatening autoimmune disease, many are quick to brush off the condition’s severity. “I’m like, you literally don’t understand all the psychological and emotional distress,” she explains. “A few weeks ago, a little girl named Rio Allred [with alopecia] took her own life because she was bullied so badly and was bald.”
Girls like Allred are the reason Valdiserri pushes on, but she admits that she didn’t always have the confidence she does now. And even being this self-assured takes work. “It doesn’t go away. If I don’t shave my head, I have giant patches of hair, and I don’t have eyebrows. It’s something I deal with every second of every day,” she says. “I tell people you don’t just lose your hair and then you’re confident and happy and love your life and everything’s fine. It was a long journey to get to this point.”
For years, she would opt to wear a wig to fit in and not draw as much attention to her appearance, but that felt inauthentic. “It’s such a comfort blanket to wear a wig, but I was just really sick of being perceived in a different way than I felt,” the 28-year-old fitness instructor says. “I personally don’t wear them as much because I’m trying to fully love myself bald. I love it 90 percent of the time.”
And for the days when the 10 percent is trying to take over, the Baldtourage reminds Valdiserri of her boldness. “I am so grateful to have alopecia,” she says. “I think that I’m really living my purpose, truly doing what I was meant to be doing. We are helping people see the beauty in this and learn to embrace it.”