Created In Partnership With Dove
The Confidence Code

Living With Alopecia: How I Went From Hiding Myself To Redefining Beauty

In this three-part series done in partnership with The Dove Self-Esteem Project, we asked three youth leaders to have honest, candid dialogues with their mothers about what it’s like to grow up with social media, how it can damage self-esteem and lead to toxic beauty practices, and what they’ve done to rebuild their confidence. In the third installment, 17-year-old Hawaiian Miah Griffith talks with her mother Marina Daquioag about how alopecia affected her self-esteem, the cyberbullying she faced for going bald, and what it took to finally accept herself. Read (and listen to) their moving dialogue, below. 
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Bullying & Low Self-Esteem 

Miah: My self-acceptance and self-love journey has been a rollercoaster. When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes and then a year later, alopecia. Alopecia is when your immune system attacks your hair follicles, which stops hair production. A lot of my hair began to slowly fall out. Getting hit with something like that — losing my hair — definitely shot my confidence. I wore a hat anywhere I would go.
Marina: My favorite hat. It was a straw hat. 
Miah: I was ashamed of not having hair. I would wear my hat every single day to school, to the beach. I really had low self-esteem, low confidence. Even when I would go to the beach, I would put my goggles on over my hat to go inside the water. I wouldn't take my hat off at all.
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Marina: Remember when you didn't want to play volleyball because you were afraid the hat was going to fall off? Or when you had that excursion and you guys wanted to go hiking?
Miah: I really withdrew myself from a lot of social activities and events, and from my friends, too. I never wanted to go out. In seventh grade, I wanted to wear wigs to feel normal again, and I didn’t want my classmates to see me without hair — I thought I looked “normal,” but to other kids, they knew. I didn’t want to do anything that would risk my hair accidentally falling off or moving. When it was windy, I’d say I didn’t want to go outside, or I’d pretend to be busy. I didn’t want to be exposed. 
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Marina: I can tell when you’re feeling low. We all cry together. As a mom I felt everything you were feeling. I allowed you to feel those feelings, but I also encouraged you to accept yourself. 
Miah: Every time I would walk the halls, I would hear people whisper, "Oh, her hair isn't real” or "She's wearing a wig." There was this one time when this girl came up from behind me and pulled on my wig. I went home and cried every single day. I would look at myself in the mirror and be like, “Why is this happening to me?” It was hard. 
Marina: What was hard for me was when you came home crying and you said, “This boy said, ‘There's that girl with cancer.’” I would tell you, “Some people don't know what alopecia is — they just don’t know.” There are some people who are really mean, though, who are mean to begin with.

The Highs & Lows Of Social Media

Miah: I started using social media when Musical.ly first came out. I would do these little lip syncing videos with my wig on, and it was fun because, at the time, no one was watching me. But in the summer after seventh grade, I posted my first picture without my wig on Instagram — I wanted to show the world who I was, and there was a lot of backlash and cyberbullying, comments like, "Waste of life” or “Egghead.”
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Marina: That was when we gathered your sisters and we went to the bathroom, and we took turns shaving your head. I was preparing you for the inevitable — I thought it was better to shave it off than letting the wind catch your hair and showing a bald spot. I said, "Miah, from here on out, you are going to be a totally different person. When you accept yourself, you’re going to blossom.” I kept emphasizing that your hair doesn’t define you, it’s your heart. That’s when you said you weren’t going to wear your hat anymore. We called you bald and beautiful. 
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Miah: Yeah. You have always supported me no matter what. I would cry to you, and you’d cry with me. 
Marina: It was all you, though, because you had to be the one to go through that. I'm there to just be the biggest cheerleader, with my other kids as well. 
Miah: I still get mean comments to this day, but I don't let it affect me at all.
Marina: I wasn't surprised by the comments, though. People have their own beliefs and their own insecurities that they project onto others. I told you to not worry about the comments, to ignore them. And you would. You wouldn’t even comment. One time, you showed me some people’s comments, and there was this guy who said something and all her followers supported her like, "Hey, what are you doing here?” or “Get out of here.” or “Ew, get out, get out." They’re all rooting for you. 
Miah: There are always more positive comments than negative ones. So, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter because I know there are people who support me. Once I accepted who I am, life became so much brighter. I realized that no one is perfect. I didn't want to look back at life and see that all I was thinking about was other people's opinions of me. And so as soon as I really accepted myself — sorry, I keep crying. 
Marina: Aw no, it’s good. You’re so good. When you first went on Instagram, I said, "Remember, this is your public diary, so be mindful. You need to be genuine, be the way you are, no matter what people say." In the beginning, I would look at what they posted, and after that, I trusted them. People started commenting things like, "Oh my God, you inspire me." 
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Miah: Yeah, I really didn't think my being bald would affect anyone's life. But I get so many DMs and comments from people saying that I've helped their confidence. I've met so many people who have gone through the same thing as me. There are so many different communities and so many people dealing with alopecia and diabetes, and they have all said that I inspire them. I love to post and I love to encourage other people to be comfortable in their skin and to not let their differences hold them back.
Marina: I think a lot of people are trying to find themselves on social media. And I really commend them for doing that. Some people can't even post a picture of themselves. I think we’re so conditioned to looking at other people, but we should be encouraging people to learn about themselves. Learn what you love and what you want to do. This is our life, and we have to embrace it and have fun.

Building Up Confidence 

Miah: Social media can be toxic, especially because it's so much easier to spread hate behind a screen. There will always be people who will comment negative things, and I know that negativity can affect people’s well-being. For me, I love social media, because I'm so much more positive now; my mom has always supported me. Her love has always boosted me. 
Marina: As a mother, it was my duty, my responsibility to nurture and protect your confidence. I went through a divorce when you were about three years old, and raising my three girls, I felt it was my responsibility to build up their confidence early on. I raised them to be singers. We’re Filipinos and we love singing, and you and your sister used to dance hula in front of hundreds of people every two weekends a month. That was part of your self-confidence journey. 
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Miah: At first, I would always get stage fright and I'd be like, “No, I don't wanna go.” But as soon as I got up there, it wasn’t that bad. I liked it. 
Marina: I think everyone can learn self-confidence. There are even a lot of adults who aren’t confident — and you know what? That's for me, too. We should be motivating ourselves, educating ourselves, and learning about ourselves. You need to invest in your own growth. It’s really up to families, especially moms and single moms, to build up the confidence in their kids in the very beginning, really encourage them to be positive, and treat others the way they want to be treated. (Editor’s note: For parents who are at a loss on how to talk to their children about the pressures of social media, download the Confidence Kit from The Dove Self-Esteem Project here.)

Redefining Beauty 

Miah: I love posting on Instagram and I'm always happy whenever I post, especially when everyone is just hyping me up in the comments. It encourages me to post more, because I love that other people like that I'm not afraid to be who I am. But when there’s doubt or I feel bad about myself, I just remind myself that I’m okay, that I’m grateful to be alive, and that I’m beautiful. We only have one life to live, so might as well live it to your fullest. 
Marina: I love that attitude.
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Miah: I think beauty is loving who you are as a person, no matter what you look like, no matter what your body size is. We're all human and we're all equal. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. And again, it’s all about having confidence. 
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Marina: It goes back to self-acceptance. It doesn't matter what you think your flaw is, but when you accept that, you're gonna feel so liberated, and I know that's how you are right now because I can see how much you’ve grown. Wow, has it been seven years now [since your diagnosis]?
Miah: Yeah.
Marina: Wow. It has been seven years, and I'm so proud of you. I do hope that as you get older, you’re going to be able to talk to people who have the same condition and are afraid and have low self-esteem. I hope you can really encourage them to live their life to the fullest.
Miah: Yeah. Right now, when I do get DMs from people who have alopecia, they’re like, "How are you so confident?” or "I want to go out bald, but I'm scared." And I say, "It's okay. Take your time. When the time is right, you'll feel free, and you'll do it. And you'll just live your best life." Right now, I'm just encouraging other people to do what they want to do and be themselves.
Marina: We can never have enough encouragement. It was really nice when you said, "Mom, I never thought I’d be rocking this bald head. I never thought that I could really inspire other people." And I said, "You have a message for other people. It's okay to experience all these hardships, because you’ve turned this into a message of being you and loving yourself.” 
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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