When I think of heroes, I think of Teresa Rodriguez. Teresa was diagnosed over three years ago with Alopecia. Alopecia is an auto autoimmune disease where your body attacks your hair follicles. It affects as many as 6.8 million people in the U.S. You can learn more about Alopecia by visiting the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
I spoke with Teresa about her journey since her Alopecia diagnosis in 2013. Her story is one that over 40% of women in the United States can relate to. Teresa’s journey demonstrates the powers of courage and acceptance as paths to radical self love. Read on to learn more.
Teresa I. Rodriguez, 31
Jamaica Queens, New York
Puerto Rican descent
Physical Education Teacher
HipLatina: How and when did you get diagnosed?
Teresa Rodriguez: At the age of 28 I noticed I had two bald spots that were progressively getting bigger. I went to see a dermatologist who referred me to the head of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. The doctor I saw was amazing and did a scalp biopsy in order to determine the specific problem. I was diagnosed with Alopecia areata, meaning small round patches on the scalp, in September of 2012. Within a 4 month of that diagnoses I transitioned to Alopecia totalis, which means I lost all the hair on my scalp, and then on to Alopecia universalis, complete hair loss of the whole body. In February of 2013 I decided to shave off what little hair I had left. I had my mother do it for me and it was the most emotional and freeing moment for me. My mother and I both cried.
HL: How did you feel when learned of your diagnosis?
TR: When I first learned of my diagnosis I was okay with it because we didn’t think it would progress to anything else and the patches would grow back. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I tried various treatments, from steroid injections to topical creams, to a liquid that induced a rash and caused my scalp to blast. Once my hair fell out, I emotionally hit rock bottom—I felt so lost. Society tells us what “beauty” is and in society’s eyes I no longer fit into that definition. I cried a lot and didn’t want to leave my house. If I did go out I always had to wear a headscarf or a wig. Eventually I had lost my eyebrows and eyelashes, which made me feel worse. Learning to draw my eyebrows on everyday was rough, especially because I never really used make-up before. My biggest fear was that my relationship with my boyfriend would suffer because I was no longer the girl he fell in love with. My self-esteem took a giant blow.
HL: What has changed for you since the diagnosis? What was the biggest fear you overcame?
TR: What has changed for me hmmm… EVERYTHING! In February I will be celebrating what I like to call my four year Baldiverssary! February was the month I finally got enough courage to let go of the little hair I had left. My biggest fear that I have overcome is that I no longer rely on my wigs, head scarves, or hats. This is the first year that I can say I am truly confident enough with myself that I don’t feel like I need to cover my head to appease others. I am proud to show off this perfectly round head of mine!
HL: You are an advocate within “The Baldie Movement.” Can you talk about that and what it means to you?
TR: Sure. This year I have become a member and team leader of The Baldie Movement. What Baldie stands for is “Beauty and Love Demonstrated In Everything.” This is a movement that embrace women who are bald, whether by circumstance or choice. We are a group of women who share our testimonials and look to inspire other women who might struggle with their confidence. Women who might be scared or feel like they are not beautiful that they are gorgeous and have nothing to fear. This movement is very dear to my heart and important to me because this is my family, my support system and women who get it. When you become a bald woman there is an emotional struggle you go through at first that no one understands but a fellow baldie. We want to push this movement so that it goes around the world and encourages more women to be comfortable in their own skin and to challenge society’s so called “standard” of beauty. True beauty lies in your confidence and we are a group of confident and driven woman.
HL: What would you like to tell other women about Alopecia or who are struggling in other ways with their health/looks?
TR: If I could speak to women who have Alopecia what I would say is to first always remember you never suffer from Alopecia. To say you suffer from it is to say that you allowed it to hurt you. It’s okay to be sad and feel lost and you will go through an emotional rollercoaster like no other. I promise you that you will emerge from it all stronger and more confident than you have ever been. Once you let go, you will feel a sense of freedom like you’ve never know. Always remember you are not alone. When I first lost my hair I cried and thought to myself I am alone. Then one day I went on Instagram typed in the hashtag “Alopecia” and that was when I realized that I wasn’t alone. You are STRONG, BEAUTIFUL, CONFIDENT, LOVED, ACCEPTED, and most of all NEVER ALONE! Your hair does not define you and it never did because hair is merely an accessory. Don’t worry about what society deems as “beautiful” because society does not live your life. Rock that baldie with pride because hair is overrated. Look on the bright side—you’ll never again have to worry about a “bad hair day.” You will save yourself a ton of money not buying hair products. Plus you have an excuse to have an amazing and giant hat and scarf collection. It’s really true that what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.
HL: Is there anything else you would like to share?
TR: I truly believe that Alopecia was the best thing that ever happened to me. I never knew how strong I was until I sat down in my kitchen and watch the few piece of hair fall to the floor. I never knew how strong I was till I walked out in public with my drawn on eyebrows and my wigs and survived the mumbled, laughs, and looks of other people. I never knew how strong I was until I sat through weekly scalp injections in an attempt to regrow my hair. There was a time I wanted to run out of wherever I was to cry, but I didn’t allow myself. I have never felt more beautiful before in life, and let me tell you, I’ve received more compliments now than I ever did before. I am happy to say that my boyfriend was amazing through this whole process. He stood by my side through it all and always reassured me that I was beautiful. I was so fortunate to have such an amazing support system of family and friends who supported me through it all. My family and friends constantly encouraged me let go of my wig and scarves and to just be me.
I also believe that my Alopecia has impacted me as a teacher. I have been able to educate my students on what Alopecia is. A lot of my students when they first met me assumed I had cancer because I had no hair, but once I met each one of my classes (I am a P.E. teacher) and explained to them what Alopecia was, they had so many different questions and were able to look past the fact that I was a woman and bald. Now it’s like they don’t even noticed and I even joke about it with them when they ask me questions like “Ms. do you have a hair tie?” and I look at them like, “seriously?”. Or even when they complain about having a bad hair day I simply look at them and we begin to laugh. I am able to build my students self-esteem and help show them that they are beautiful just the way they are.
For more information on Alopecia read these fast facts; to connect with The Baldie Movement, visit their website.