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Keren's Story: Courageously Finding 'Me'

Posted by Thea Chassin

May 4, 2015 at 7:16 AM

Israeli Woman with Alopecia Areata

Our global Bald Girls Do Lunch network takes us to Israel this week for Keren Barak's triumphant story which began when the Israeli native developed alopecia areata at fifteen. Self-described as a then very shy girl, Keren later emerged from mandatory Israeli Army service anything but.

In the Israeli army and beyond, Keren's choices on the road to becoming the self-confident woman she is today surprised even herself. Translated from Hebrew, Keren's two-part emailed interview with Thea begins this week.

Getting Into the Army

Before I was drafted, I was very worried that I would be barred from serving because of the alopecia. At that time, Army law prohibited women from shaving their heads so I decided to hide my disease. I appeared at the medical exam and all subsequent draft appointments wearing a wig.

I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to serve in the army. I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to serve as an officer. I began my service in the Intelligence Corp. I served my two mandatory years and then another eighteen months as a non-commissioned officer. I retired as a first lieutenant.

The First Twenty-Four Hours

When I was drafted, I felt ugly. On the first night of basic training I told the girls in my tent about the alopecia. I asked them to keep it a secret. For some reason, I thought I would be able to get away with it. The very next day at morning parade, the officers in charge made us stand in a line and told us that we were all going to be checked for head lice. I immediately realized THIS WAS IT!  –  they knew about me and this was their way of “finding me out”.

That morning I walked slowly along with the column all the while debating with myself how I should handle coming out. In the end I just left the column, walked up to the squad commander and told her there was no need to undertake a lice check of the entire platoon just for me. She gave me an annoyed look. So, I simply took off my wig! They had no idea how to handle me. They started making phone calls and sent me for medical tests. Finally, everything worked out. I was simply required to wear a wig or a hat at all times.

"Something Changed in Me"

Up until that point I was a mousy girl. That moment – that exposure – on the basic training parade ground changed something in me. It ignited something inside me. It awoke a self-confidence I never knew I had. Throughout basic training people would stare at me. I learned I could provocatively and deliberately take off my hat or wig and enjoy the amazed looks. I discovered I had strengths I had never imagined existed within me. I finished basic training with high honors.

What happened? As soon as I understood that other people believed I had something to offer – it made me believe that I have something to contribute, that I have strengths and that I am worth something.  After my acceptance into officer school, this feeling only increased.

Knowing that I passed myriad exams, that I successfully navigated challenges, and that I came in ahead of hundreds of other girls truly helped my self esteem. Once I started serving in the army, my focus shifted away from the way I looked to my abilities, and that helped me get over my lack of self confidence.

During the course of officer school, my hair began to grow spontaneously so I completed officer school with short hair. It grew for about four years and fell out in my second year at university.

 


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Keren’s journey from army service to university (she holds a Masters in Mathematics) and into her successful career as a statistician in the credit risk department of a large bank  had twists and turns we can all relate to. Next week we continue Keren’s story as she tackles employment interviews, her first job and describes a startling incident that happened very recently because she is a confident woman with alopecia areata.

Do you have military experience to share with us? We would love to hear your story!

Topics: stories of women with alopecia