September is International Alopecia Awareness month. To mark the occasion, 26-year-old Nichola McAvoy, the founder of Ally, an app that helps unite people with alopecia, has curated a powerful photo shoot featuring eight women dealing with hair loss.
Nichola's aim is to challenge negative perceptions about alopecia and to make fellow sufferers love their bald heads too. Using diverse women from all over the UK, she set out to show that bald is beautiful, and that our hair is not our crown and glory.
The NHS reports that 70% of women normally start to suffer from female pattern baldness when they hit 7o but as this shoot shows, it can happen to much younger women, too. Nichola knows this all too well; she started losing her hair at the age of 11. She tells Refinery29: "I gradually became more embarrassed of the way I looked and in hindsight I truly think that was because the world around me made me feel like I should be ashamed. There are so many messages out there that make us feel like we should look a certain way."
I really enjoy showing the world that it's very normal for women to be bald. I feel powerful staring back at the world and saying: I do not feel ashamed of the way I look.
At the age of 26, Nichola is embracing her baldness and has stopped wearing wigs altogether. "I really enjoy showing the world that it's very normal for women to be bald. I feel powerful staring back at the world and saying: I do not feel ashamed of the way I look."
It was important to Nichola that the photo series documented that life with the condition goes on. "We all had so much fun at the shoot, exchanging stories about our hair loss, getting dressed up and feeling fabulous posing for the pictures. I left the day feeling super happy with how it all went and was very grateful to have met all the amazing women who came along."
Among the models was 50-year-old April Dawn from the Midlands, who took part in the shoot as a reminder that losing her hair made her who she is today. Initially feeling "angry, confused, bitter and insecure" when alopecia changed her life 15 years ago, she tells Refinery29 what changed her mindset. "Alopecia became my super power and freed the person I was hiding inside me for all these years. I was rocking my bald head status before Wakanda, and the journey has been hard but fulfilling. I am proud to now be helping other women to accept themselves with their alopecia status." Meeting more amazing women was an added perk, she admits. "We shared. We cried. We laughed. It was an emotional and empowering day for so many reasons. I recognised that we were all at different stages in our journeys, and that was okay."
Campaigns like this one and last year's #AlopeciaIsFashion have started to show hair loss in a new light. As an ambassador for the movement, Nichola notes the importance of support. "I want people to think more about how they approach people that they've noticed are different in some way. I feel so happy and grateful [for example] when I meet new people and they very obviously do not care that I have a bald head. I grew up constantly fearing that people would make a fuss about it and it's a great feeling when people don't react at all because they shouldn't care!" April adds: "I would like to see people sharing the stories of people with alopecia, to help break down the stigma and to recognise that bald women are beautiful in their own right, as the saying goes 'Hair does not define us'."
Shot by Elise Michely, the models posed in front of a vivid backdrop with graphic white makeup by Georgina Yates and Carolina Trestian. The models are wearing clothes by sustainable brand Birdsong.