No Hair, Don’t Care
By Rachel Epner and Grace Quinton
Cheyenne MacDonald sits at her living room table wearing a little hat that covers her baldhead. It’s a tiny little hat: green and blue swirls adorn the gypsy-like accessory. Though, this hat is hiding a secret that she has kept under wraps for a long time.
MacDonald was never like the other children; she was deprived of sweets, when other children were eating their Halloween candy. When other children were able to dress like princesses, MacDonald was whispered about and laughed at because she was dramatically different. These three facts about MacDonald’s life occurred because she has a disease. Now, with tattooed eyebrows and almond shaped eyelids lacking lashes, her mouth is still able to form a smile.
MacDonald, a recent graduate from SUNY Purchase, has a rare and the most severe form of Alopecia Universalis. This is a medical condition characterized by rapid hair loss. Holding this disease for 22 years, MacDonald said, “This form of alopecia has a one in 200,000 chance of diagnoses. This makes me feel kind of special.”
Some forms of Alopecia allow minimal hair growth. “I probably have a total of 11 hairs,” said MacDonald. Although there isn’t a specific cause for this condition, it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder.
This medical condition can occur at any age, as for MacDonald it started at the age of two. “When I was two, my parents took me to all kinds of doctors to figure out what was wrong with me and how to fix what was happening,” said MacDonald. “The doctors put me on various strict diets and supplements, but nothing changed what was occurring.”
Although she was young when her family’s anxiety and confusion began, MacDonald still remembers the first time her family surprised her with a wig. “I was sad because I felt like I was so different from every other kid and there was no hiding it,” said MacDonald. “I really just wanted to just blend in. Though my wish started to come true as I got older and classmates started to forget I didn’t have hair. Thank God for the wigs.”
As the classmates started to forget about MacDonald’s disease, her family didn’t. During MacDonald’s childhood, her family’s pervious anxieties started to turn into anger. Nothing slowed down her hair loss. The diets were not working and MacDonald’s father just wanted a normal life for his daughter. “Just let her eat some fuckin’ candy,” MacDonald’s father had said to her mother.
This anger was not only shared by MacDonald’s parents, but also shared by her older brother. “I remember when I was really young, my brother asked my mom how he could give his hair to me,” MacDonald said. “Growing up I was always envious of his curls, but I couldn’t be bitter about it. He would have done anything he could to trade places with me.” MacDonald took her hands and rubbed her head and sighed, “I don’t know if anyone in my situation would have such a supportive family from all avenues.”
Staying true to oneself is a motto that was literally written on the walls of MacDonald’s house. “My family never persuaded me to hide who I truly was,” MacDonald said. “When it did come time to start wearing wigs, they knew that it would aid in my happiness, trying to succeed in normality.”
To this day, MacDonald’s mother worries more than her daughter. “I worry about how people will look at Cheyenne, hoping judgment is dismissed at first sight,” said MacDonald’s mother.
As much as it was a struggle for MacDonald to grow up and accept she was different, now she believes her disease has made her an unique individual. MacDonald still tries to go back to her younger self by dressing up like a Disney Princess, as she never got the chance because she felt too different.
MacDonald’s boyfriend, Cory Mosler, looks at her with love in his eyes while talking about the first time MacDonald told him about her case of “baldhead.” “I always felt that she was wearing a wig, her hair was always too perfect” said Mosler. MacDonald describes it as the scariest moment of her life and she compared it to, “coming out of the closest,” or “telling the police I murdered someone. I was scared,” said MacDonald. “But Corey is the best and loved me with or without the disease.”
Another struggle MacDonald had to overcome, was during her first year of college, sharing her disease with strangers. “The no-privacy thing in dorms was a big. I could not hide,” said MacDonald. “I couldn’t bring my wig into the shower, therefore I knew I had to come right out with it.” MacDonald had to unleash her deepest secret to people she barely knew.
MacDonald’s first roommate at SUNY Purchase, Megan Ong, said, “moving in with Cheyenne, I didn’t know her at all. We met over Facebook.” After covering the basic introduction tactics, MacDonald Facebook-Messaged Ong, “I forgot to tell you that I wear a wig so don’t be too scared if you come home and I’m not wearing it.” Ong said, “we didn’t even say anything after that.”
Although recently non-active, MacDonald occupied her youth by running a body-image-positivity blog. MacDonald reached 100+ followers who tracked her journey to self-fulfillment. The followers of the blog also contributed their own stories about body image. The blog was called, “Disembodied Me.”
“I think it was a good way to start the conversation and include people. It is almost taboo to speak in non-anonymity, as it is harder,” said MacDonald. “I started this blog to help people with similar issues to mine; to shed some humor on the whole idea of a ‘different person.’”
Today, MacDonald is a year out of college, searching for a job and continues to be open about her disease, as far as her insecurities will let her. Her head is tattooed with a pink ribbon, which to her, signifies beauty. Only on a good day, will you see it, as she still wears her little hat covering her “baldhead” around the house.