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#SISwimSearch Sweet 17: Meet Christie Valdiserri

Get to know #SISwimSearch contestant Christie Valdiserri!

Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video or showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
Christie Valdiserri: Yes, I did have some modeling experience before submitting my IG video to SI. I am a dancer first, dance is my true passion, but of course in that field comes modeling opportunities and different gigs.

So yes, I have modeled a little bit, but this was my FIRST time modeling with NO WIG! And that in itself is a completely different experience than when I've done shoots and live events with my wig.

SI: In your own words, please tell us about your alopecia journey. How did you discover you were developing the condition, how have you felt about living with it, etc.
CV: Three years ago–almost to the day–I found a small bald patch on the top of my head, in the center of my part. The next month I found another patch, and then my showers were spent watching chunks and chunks of hair clog my drain with tears running down my face.

At the time, I was living in NYC for a dance program and I somehow found a dermatologist that took my insurance and had some openings. One day, I trekked across the city for this woman to look at me and say, “wow, you have a lot of hair falling out, I'm not sure what it is, maybe alopecia?” So from that day on, my eyes were glued to Google looking up everything and anything “alopecia” related.

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I was extremely stressed, fresh out of college, in a toxic relationship, and living in a new city. I believe in my heart that these stresses caused the initial loss of hair.  As that summer progressed, my hair fell more and more.

Eventually, I got to a place that it stopped falling and started regrowing, so that felt promising. Around this time, I had finally ended my relationship and booked my dream dance gig: a cruise ship for 8 months. About six weeks in, I was fired on the spot by a man who had way too much power. He told his team I “stood out” and he demanded that I was removed from the ship before Oprah got on.

So after being flown back to my parents with no job, no apartment, and no hair, I had hit an ultimate low. Within about three weeks from that day, I lost ALL of my hair. So stress is definitely a prime cause of this crazy condition.

But from there, I glued on a wig, booked a one way flight to LA, and have yet to look back. After an entire year of living in LA hiding under a wig, I took it upon myself to finally take the power back and share my story. I completely changed my diet, tried to accept what was happening, and was very, very hopeful that my hair would grow back and this would all be in my past.

Up until April 2019, my hair was growing in and almost all the way back. Out of nowhere, it started falling again and wouldn't stop. I had to shave it all off to sustain my sanity, honestly. To watch my hair fall every single day after I really felt like I was doing everything in my power to grow it back was one of the hardest things I've ever been forced to experience. And then I lost my eyebrows. And just within the last month, my eyelashes are also gone. It has been extremely difficult for me.

It feels very confusing. I'm sitting here trying to put it into words, but that's the truth. It is of course upsetting, and energy sucking, and heart-breaking, but to sum it all up, I feel so confused. I'm so confused about what is causing my body to let this happen, I'm confused about what “type” I am in the entertainment/dance world, I'm confused about how people perceive me and how I perceive myself. I’m confused about how much longer am I going to feel like this is a sad thing or when am I going to fully accept it.

It is a journey. And a constant–it never, ever goes away. Every single second of every single day, I am dealing with all of the things that come along with losing all of your hair.

But it has taught me invaluable lessons about life that truly could not be taught to me in any other way. My new focus is loving myself bald and feeling confident bald rather than putting all of my energy into growing my hair back, because you just never know. So I'd rather focus on loving me in all shapes and forms and someday be able to say the words “I don't even want my hair to grow back anymore, I love this look on me.”

SI: What did it mean to you to do a photoshoot with Yu Tsai and walk the SI Swimsuit runway without your wig? 
CV: I truthfully felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be in that moment. I was so prepared to get in front of that camera and let my inner light shine, It felt legendary–a moment I will remember forever. I finally felt like MYSELF and it truly didn't even occur to me while shooting that I wasn't wearing my wig, that's how comfortable the SI team made me feel!

Walking the runway for SI Swim and then taking my wig off in front of hundreds of people will be a moment I tell my kids about someday! I was so nervous backstage leading up to the moment, but knew in my heart I had to do it. I had to do it for myself, for all the tears I've cried about this condition, for all the girls and women out there who want to rip off their wigs but are too afraid to, and I had to do it for all the haters that have made me feel like this was a flaw and something I was supposed to hide.

I remember stopping at the end of the runway, looking around with my head held high, and aggressively ripping that wig right from my head. Making the statement with my actions that I AM JUST AS BEAUTIFUL WITHOUT MY WIG ON! I felt the strongest I have ever felt in my entire life in that moment.

After that first walk, I cried. I just took a moment, looked at myself in the mirror and felt so insanely proud of myself and my determination to not let this condition ever stop me. I feel so grateful that MJ and SI gave me that moment. My life and my perspective are forever changed.


SSI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
CV: Being a part of such an iconic brand means so much to me. Just the fact that MJ and the editors took the time to watch my original #SISwimSearch video, in which I was on the beach removing my wig on camera, felt liberating. Then push forward two months and I was doing the exact same thing on the SI runway in Miami. I am speechless.

But in one word, being a part of this means empowerment. I feel empowered by the other women, by MJ and her incomparable wisdom and determination to change the world, and I feel empowered by the leaps I've made in my life to live out this sacred moment for myself. I am so proud that I am where I am with my hair loss journey. Just the fact that I removed my wig in front of hundreds of people with a company that I have looked up to for years–there is nothing better.

I plan to use this platform to change the perspective of beauty and change the association between having hair and being pretty. From my personal experience of having hair for 23 years and now being completely bald, I believe I should feel the exact same about myself, but society has made me feel differently. I am the same person, just my looks have changed. Although something so dear to me has been taken away, I still wish I never felt like I had to hide or cover up my bald head. I wish it was more accepted.

I truly believe we need to educate the next generation that beauty comes from who you are, not from what you look like. Associating hair with beauty was taught to us. We weren't born believing hair makes you pretty, but society has lead us to believe that. So I plan to let my personality and my positive nature shine through regardless of if I ever have hair on my head again.

I want to show the confidence that I've worked so hard for and my love for life to radiate through my posts and through my presence everyday, so young girls or other women who are losing their hair or have been hiding under a wig for years have at least a small glimpse of hope. I want to give people the little push they need to go from being bald to being bold. It's the farthest thing from an easy journey, but connecting with and understanding that other people feel the exact same emotions can make it slightly easier.

SI: What would you say to other women and men who are struggling with loving themselves through alopecia?
CV: I would tell women and men who are struggling to love themselves with alopecia to keep on trucking and to never ever give up on themselves. It is a journey, and it does not by any means happen over night. There were plenty of days that I couldn't even let my own eyes look in the mirror because it would cause me to cry. And although, I may seem confident now, I wasn't always this way.

I still have days that I want nothing more than to take all of this away from me and go back to living the life I used to know. And it's okay to feel this way sometimes, but you have to lift yourself out of that. Don't live in the sadness, let it happen, but know tomorrow is a new day.

Lastly, I would tell others going through a similar situation as me to follow their dreams. If we can't control what is happening to our hair, we can at least pursue something that fulfills us on our low days. I think my passion for dance and my drive to pursue it has helped me love myself and love my life. It gets me up in the morning and keeps me going!

Regardless of what happens with my hair, I will always have dance as an outlet, and when you're working at something that FULFILLS you, your happiness is untouched.

See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: