What a teen knows about alopecia's upside.
At any age, Becky’s wisdom would be uncommon. That she’s a 15-year-old high school freshman who has been living with alopecia since age 9 makes her perspective exceptionally inspiring.
We first met Rebekah Carpenter, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she was newly diagnosed with alopecia areata as a third grader, just nine years old. Today, she’s a self-possessed teenager and an athlete with big plans for the future.
Becky talked with us about the pros and cons of life with alopecia, and about her strategies for everything from dating to job hunting.
BGDL: What did your hair look like?
Becky: I always wanted long hair. Mine was brown with a few blonde streaks, just a little longer than a bob, not quite to my shoulders. It was thick and wavy.
BGDL: It sounds lovely. How did you find out about your alopecia?
Becky: It was kinda funny. I got gum in my hair, and my grandmother’s assistant cut it out. She saw the patches. I thought it was from where she had cut it!
BGDL: Once your doctor confirmed it was alopecia areata what did you do?
Becky: I come from a big family. There are six of us; I’m number four. One of my sisters tried to hide it with cool braids or by curling my hair.
BGDL: What made you decide to shave it all off?
Becky: I was on swim team. When I’d take my swim cap off, clumps and clumps of hair came off over the sink. It was just easier to let it go.
BGDL: That’s both brave and bold. Did you feel vulnerable?
Becky: At the beginning, when I was insecure, I had so much support, it was like a wall around me.
BGDL: You’re talking about your family?
Becky: Yes. Whenever something is happening, like planning a vacation, my mom does a bunch of research. She knew everything about alopecia areata and alopecia universalis! One of my sisters likes having short hair, and she offered to cut hers and make me a wig. I told her not to; I’m just made this way. My brothers said to make sure I told them if anyone tries to bully me. One brother is younger than me, so it made me laugh. It was so adorable.
BGDL: What about at school?
Becky: I wasn’t keeping any secrets. I didn’t really want to hide it. The only part that bugged me was having to explain alopecia over and over again.
BGDL: The association between bald heads and chemo is strong.
Becky: But their concern was really nice. One of my sisters helped me put together a PowerPoint so we could explain it.
BGDL: That’s smart. You spend 2.5 hours a day practicing basketball. Your teammates know about your alopecia. But what about girls from other teams?
Becky: I wear a ball cap during games. If it falls off, I just started laughing. But I am really competitive. I noticed that girls would apologize if they accidentally pushed me and say, ‘I’m so sorry if I hurt you.’ They were almost timid. I want to play professionally—I don’t want deferential treatment.
BGDL: That’s an interesting observation. Now that you’re a teenager, do you worry about how boys might react to a bald girl?
RC: If a guy doesn’t like you for who are, they need to change. I’m not going to be self- conscious. If they really like me, it shouldn’t matter to them. I don’t want to be mean to guys, but they can be stupid or silly.
BGDL: You’re not wrong! Do you know any other girls in Albuquerque with alopecia?
RC: In fifth grade, a girl [with alopecia] transferred to my school. She’s still in my class; we talk all the time. I told her the story of being out to dinner at Chili’s for one of my sibling’s birthdays. Someone thought I had cancer and paid for our entire meal! She told me about a time she was on a plane and someone bought her lunch.
BGDL: An alopecia upside!
RC: I guess it’s nice I don’t have to shave under my arms.
BGDL: No kidding! Sounds like fate that you met.
RC: It’s amazing, like God wanted me to meet her. It can’t be a coincidence.
BGDL: We admire your style and how much fun you have with different looks and fashion. As a 5’11” bald girl, you are always going to stand out. What’s your go-to look?
RC: I wear a long blonde ponytail. Not bleach blonde, but kind of hazel.
BGDL: When you were in grade school, did you wear wigs?
RC: I didn’t in fourth through sixth grades. But I have one wig that’s purple, teal, and green that I sometimes wear to the mall. It’s fun to dress up like a little kid. We’re kind of a family of nerds. My older sibling recently took me to Comic-Con and we dressed up as the characters from Legend of Zelda, the video game.
BGDL: Are you grateful in any way for alopecia?
RC: I always used to blend in with my family. Teachers would mistake me for my older sisters because we looked alike. I like that I stand out. Also, I didn’t used to like simply reading aloud in class. Now I have more courage. So much doesn’t matter.
BGDL: You’re very articulate. Maybe your career will harness that gift.
RC: If I can’t become a professional basketball player, I want to study political science, maybe get into city planning or managing. Or maybe become a lawyer or an electrical engineer.
BGDL: Those careers all have one thing in common: strategic thinking. That’s something you are doing so well in dealing with alopecia.
RC: I’ve been thinking about how I want to present myself when I go for a job interview. I would definitely tell them I have alopecia. I don’t have cancer, I won’t be missing work. When I’m insecure, mom talks to me about things on the plus side. Like, if they see 200 people, they’re always going to remember me.
BDGL: What’s your advice to adults when dealing with girls who have alopecia?
RC: First, be really supportive. Teach them they shouldn’t care about what others think; don’t judge them. Don’t make them wear a wig—or tell them not to wear a wig. It will make them insecure. If you’re a teacher, keep an eye out just in case. Teachers don’t see everything in the classroom or on the playground.
BGDL: What’s your advice to other bald girls?
RC: Make the best of what you have. I used washable markers to draw a cool design and color my head. Sometimes I wear hair. I do what makes sense for me.
BGDL: You’re so upbeat, it’s a testament to your strength. Do you remember feeling hopeless?
RC: I remember asking myself, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ But God does things for a reason, even if I can’t see the purpose right now. Maybe I will grow up and be a role model. Maybe I needed a lesson in confidence. Maybe it was to get a free meal at Chili’s!