Alopecia sufferer Makenzee Meaux has been hailed as an inspiration for choosing to remove her wig during her engagement photo shoot. With the photos going viral online, she tells stylist.co.uk her story.
Whether they love or hate their tresses, most women have a special relationship with their hair - so coming to terms with hair loss can be a difficult thing to do.
While alopecia is a topic that is rarely discussed in relation to women, an estimated eight million women in the UK suffer from hair loss, with one in eight of those being under the age of 35. Over in America, 40% of women are estimated to have visible hair loss by the time they’re 40.
These statistics, coupled with the impossible beauty standards that women are expected to uphold, can make a diagnosis of alopecia even harder to deal with – and the shame can stop women from speaking out about the condition.
So, all hail Makenzee Meaux, a 21-year-old alopecia sufferer from Texas who decided to use her engagement photo shoot to make an important statement about women, hair and beauty.
Proudly removing her wig midway through the shoot, which she shared in an empowering post on Facebook, Meaux wrote that she had realised that, “it was time to stop hiding from the one thing I tried hardest to hide from for almost 15 years and embrace my true self”.
With over 1,500 shares so far, her post and the images have swiftly gone viral, with fellow alopecia sufferers writing that she is an “inspiration”. One mother said that she had shown the photos to her six-year-old daughter, who also has the condition, and wrote, “She does not remember what it was like to ever have hair. When she saw your pictures she said, ‘Mom she looks like me – all grown up and happy!’”
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Meaux says the best part about the post going viral was seeing that she had given other sufferers “hope to stay strong”. “Raising awareness is definitely a huge plus that is coming from this,” she adds. “Although alopecia is becoming more common, there are still so many people who do not know about the disease.”
Meaux herself was diagnosed with Alopecia Universalis when she was just eight years old. Dubbed the “mystery disease” by doctors, the condition means that the sufferer’s hair follicles suddenly stop growing, resulting in irreversible hair loss.
“Being diagnosed so young was incredibly hard,” Meaux says. “You’re not old enough to fully understand everything. All I knew was that my hair was falling out in clumps and the kids in school were starting to whisper and make fun of me behind my back.
“It was like the kids who used to be my friends were suddenly scared of me. I don’t know if they were truly scared, or if they were just scared they would get made fun of too for being my friend.”
Coming to terms with losing her hair at such a young age also had a severe effect on her confidence, and it took almost four years before she was able to start regaining her self esteem.
“My confidence was almost non-existent. I couldn’t even look people in the eye when I talked to them,” Meaux says. “It took about three and a half years for the kids at school to calm down on the bullying, and just leave me be. That’s when I was able to slowly build some confidence back up.”
Like most women who suffer from alopecia, Meaux decided that she wanted to wear a wig, and she got her first hair system fitted around six months after she began losing her hair. However, the process wasn’t an easy one.
“I remember the hair system being so thick and big on my head, but I was so incredibly happy to look a little bit normal again,” she says. “But they had to shave the remainder of the hair left on my head to be able to put the hair system on with adhesive, so that was hard.”
Meaux says that one of the most transformative things for her confidence when dealing with her diagnosis of alopecia was her fiancée, Bryan. The pair met in 10th grade (year 11) at high school and, while Meaux says she had a “crush” on him, it wasn’t love at first.
“I convinced him to get a job at my parent’s restaurant so I could be around him more often and then, after a few months, we started dating – but I would never speak to him about my alopecia. I was so nervous it would scare him off,” she says.
However, Bryan soon found out after one of Meaux’s parent’s friends bought it up with him – and it turned out that it was one of the things that drew him to Meaux in the first place.
“I was terrified and closed up instantly [when he found out],” she says. “But he let me know immediately how much he had wanted to talk to me about it, and that he liked me for me. My hair didn’t bother him at all.”
It is partly in tribute to the confidence that Bryan has helped her build that Meaux wanted to take her wig off in her engagement photos.
“I had hidden under a hair system for so long and only showed [my real self to] a handful of people,” she says. “But I have become a new woman as far as confidence goes since meeting Bryan, and I figured that in order to get married, I needed to release a burden off of my shoulders that had been there way too long.
“What better way to do it than with my best friend by my side, the man who helped me become comfortable in my own skin again? It was a sort of thank you to him.”
And there were other people she wanted to thank, too.
“I also did it for my family who have supported me all of my life, and have always made sure that I knew I was beautiful and loved. I also did it for Bryan’s family, who have never seen me without [my hair system]. They know about it but it has always been a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation, and I wanted to address the elephant in the room and show my true self to them.”
As for her wedding day itself, which is set for next year, Meaux will wear her hair system to walk down the aisle, although she says she will “definitely” be posing for several pictures without it. She is also considering doing her first dance without it.
And speaking about what she wants other alopecia sufferers to take from her story, Meaux shared an uplifting message for anyone who is coming to terms with hair loss.
“Don’t ever let those cruel people take over your mind,” she says. “Everyone has something wrong and your condition just happens to be visible. But you are beautiful in your own way, and you need to embrace it.”
Images: Courtesy of Makenzee Meaux. Engagement shoots taken by The Frost Collective