Embracing what makes us different can be both beautiful and empowering. Just ask Gianessa Wride, a 7-year-old girl from Salem, Utah. She recently showed up for her school’s “Crazy Hair Day” with a jaw-dropping design on her bald head that dazzled her fellow classmates — and the Internet.
Gianessa lost her hair to a condition called alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack hair follicles. Her mother, Daniella, tells Babble that her daughter’s hair loss began back in January. She first noticed it as she was brushing her daughter’s hair and discovered it was coming out and filling the brush — leaving a quarter-sized bald spot on her scalp. Gianessa’s hair continued to fall out over the next few weeks until eventually, she bravely chose to cut it all off.
Daniella tells Babble that her daughter was initially confused by her hair loss and convinced it would grow back. But the mother admits it was difficult to explain this was not likely to happen. So when Daniella realized that Gianessa’s school was going to have “Crazy Hair Day,” she grew concerned about her daughter’s reaction and actually considered asking the school to cancel the event.
But as the day inched even closer, Daniella began to realize that maybe it wasn’t the event that had to change, after all. And that’s when she got an idea.
Before long, the mother-daughter duo hopped in the car and headed to their local craft store, in search of body paint and decorations. Once there, Daniella spotted some colorful stick-on jewels in the scrapbooking section and thought they fit her daughter’s personality perfectly. (“She loves everything that glitters,” Daniella tells Babble.)
Instead of sporting “crazy hair,” Daniella helped Gianessa create a beautiful design on her head that turned out … well, just about perfect. And the entire school agreed: According to her mother, Gianessa was “swarmed” by the other students, who all rushed up to her saying “It’s awesome!” and “I wish I could do that!”
Some students even said they wanted to shave their head to be just like her.
In the end, “Crazy Hair Day” turned out to be a pretty special day for a little girl who has been through so much more than any 7-year-old should. Daniella tells Babble that she worries her daughter’s alopecia may have been brought on by stress, noting that Gianessa recently witnessed her beloved grandmother collapse before her passing, and also endured two recent family moves across the country, within a three-month period.
While scientists have theorized that alopecia could be triggered by extreme cases of stress, it is primarily believed it to be a genetic condition. In fact, my own nephew Zachary began developing alopecia universalis when he was just 2 years old. By age 5, he had lost all his hair, including his eyebrows and lashes.
As a result, he often has a hard time with people staring at him in public, which can bother him depending on his mood. But one of his biggest challenges, much like Gianessa’s, has been starting at a new school. (He recently told me that “all of the kids think I have cancer.”) To help with the transition, he has a video that he presents to the class, made by the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, that helps explain his condition to his classmates.
But anyone who knows Zach knows he can make the best out of any situation. Over the years, he’s figured out how to use his baldness to his advantage — and even sometimes to his own amusement. Case in point: In middle school, after growing tired of the girls asking to rub his head, Zach began to charge a quarter per rub.
Now in high school, Zach is a member of the marching band, and just like Gianessa, he’s found a way to use his bald head for decorative purposes. (He recently asked a friend to paint a purple arrow on his head so he could replicate Avatar: The Last Airbender for the boys’ basketball game.)
Kids like Gianessa and Zach are demonstrating just how beautiful and fun it can be to embrace our differences, whatever they may be. Their confidence becomes infectious, and those around them can’t help but feel it.