Thursday, March 29, 2012

celebrating the bald (and beautiful!).

Via the Beautiful and Bald Barbie advocate group on Facebook.

On Tuesday, Mattel announced plans to create a bald doll to join Barbie & co. in shiny, plastic doll world. After a strong push online for a "Bald Barbie," Mattel responded with a statement via Facebook:
Play is vital for children, especially during difficult times. We are pleased to share with our community that next year we will be producing a fashion doll, that will be a friend of Barbie, which will include wigs, hats, scarves and other fashion accessories to provide girls with a traditional fashion play experience. For those girls who choose, the wigs and head coverings can be interchanged or completely removed. We will work with our longstanding partner, the Children’s Hospital Association, to donate and distribute the dolls exclusively to children’s hospitals directly reaching girls who are most affected by hair loss. A limited number of dolls and monetary donations will also be made to CureSearch for Children’s Cancer and the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

Through a thoughtful approach, we made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores, but rather get the dolls directly into the hands of children who can most benefit from the unique play experience, demonstrating Mattel’s ongoing commitment to encourage play as a respite for children in the hospital and to bring joy to children who need it most. We appreciate the conversation around this issue, and are interested to hear what you think! 
I am thrilled that Mattel is not only creating this doll, but donating the money to such wonderful causes. For children growing up with alopecia, having a doll from such an iconic company that looks like them is a powerful symbol. Some will want to argue that dolls are not good representations of beauty--sure, I wouldn't want to have a too-tiny waist and permanently en pointe feet--but I think that this is an important step toward fixing the negative perception of beauty that exists in society.

"Free to be me" bracelet from the
National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
I know that if Mattel had created a bald doll when I was growing up, I would've been more comfortable in my own skin. Many of you know that I began losing my hair when I was seven years old. For more than half my life, I've lived without my natural hair, and began wearing a wig when I was 12; currently, at the age of 23, I still wear a wig (the sixth one in my lifetime!).

A couple of years ago, I took a Personal Essay workshop as part of the wonderful Literary Journalism program at UCI and wrote what is now the starting point for a book I plan to write on the subject. People still want to tiptoe around the issue with me, but I have no problems (any longer) about saying, "Yes, this is a wig." The journey it took to get to that place of security and confidence was not an easy (or short) one, and it really was not until after I explored my entire life in workshop (that practically doubled as a therapy session too!) that I understood what my journey really meant.

I think there needs to be more positive role models and images out there that don't reinforce the type of beauty society has come to worship. I want to see more bald photo shoots on reality TV shows and I want to hear more people talk about alopecia--about what it is (and what it's not)--and I want more of us all to celebrate inner beauty, and I mean really celebrate it.

I blogged an excerpt from my piece awhile ago, and wanted to share it again, as it expresses exactly what I feel about Mattel's announcement. You can read it...after the jump!

“That looks dangerous,” I said with worried eyes. I watched as Na climbed onto a small blue plastic chair and reach for the pair of scissors our mother kept on the kitchen counter. 

Na didn’t reply, but grabbed the scissors and jumped off the chair. Her feet landed softly on the linoleum floor and she motioned to me. “Come on,” she said. I followed as usual. Na was almost two years older than I and anything she said, I did; anything she did, I wanted to do. At this particular moment in time, I watched as my ten-year-old idol swaggered from the kitchen to the living room with sharp scissors in her hand and an air of confidence surrounding her.

She bounced toward a bin that was filled with dolls and accessories. We had never been obsessed with Barbie dolls but we had plenty of them and plenty of Barbie-sized accessories: dresses, shoes, t-shirts and skirts. Na put the scissors onto an end table and reached into the bin. She pulled out a brunette doll in a yellow skirt and orange shirt. 

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“Cut her hair.”

I frowned. It was technically my doll. My mother bought it for me after an enormous amount of pestering every time the commercial played. The doll was part of a trio of Glitter Hair Barbie dolls. Each doll came with a special comb and a tube of glitter. The commercial for the dolls showed young girls combing glitter into the dolls’ hair and then into their own hair. I used the glitter once before my mother realized how messy it was. She took the glitter away, but I didn’t protest. I wanted the doll for her neon red palm tree earrings and sleek yellow visor. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I told Na. 

“I’m not gonna cut a lot of it,” Na replied as she prepared to set up shop. She turned Glitter Hair Barbie upside down and combed her fingers through the doll’s long brown hair.

“Give her to me,” I asked. Na ignored me. “Give her to me!” I shouted. I reached over and grabbed the doll from her hands. I could feel myself beginning to cry and turned away so Na wouldn’t see. Na never cried and I didn’t want her to make fun of me.

“You’re such a baby,” she said, rolling her eyes, and left the room. 

I grabbed a Barbie-sized brush from the bin of dolls and sat down on the floor. I ran the brush slowly and gently through the doll’s hair, the same way my mother brushed my own hair. “You have to be gentle,” she instructed, “or you’ll pull more hair out.” 

There were no more tears threatening to burst from my eyes and, instead, I felt proud of myself for saving the doll. Poor Glitter Hair Barbie, I thought. There was no reason she should lose any of her hair. She didn’t do anything to deserve it.

“What are you doing?” 

I looked up. My mother walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa. Still holding the doll, I went to sit next to her as she turned on the television to resume the videotape of a Chinese drama she was watching. 

“Mommy?” I asked after a few minutes of the tape. “Can you braid my hair?” I had seen her braid Na’s hair so many times. She used to braid my hair too, as well as curling it and styling it and pinning it up, but she stopped once my hair started to fall out. Now, she only touched my hair to cover the bald spots. 

She tore her eyes from the television screen to smile her warm smile at me. It wasn’t a smile of glee or amusement; it was a sad smile, one she had worn on her face for the past year since my hair began falling out. “Here,” she said, motioning to the floor in front of her. “Chaw.

I sat down on the worn, maroon carpet and my mother took a plastic comb off of the end table where Na had left the scissors. My mother was always careful when it came to my hair because she was afraid that any tension would pull more hair out. She didn’t want to cause any more damage in fear that one day my hair would all be gone and I would finally break down. 

With her soft hands, she ran the comb slowly and gently through my hair. I knew that was all she would do. We sat quietly as the television played. I bent Glitter Hair Barbie into a sitting position, put her on the carpet in front of me and began to braid her hair.


  1. Your excerpt is wonderful- I hope you do go ahead and write a book. Your storytelling is amazing. You include just the right amount of detail, and never let words get in the way of what they should be doing.
    And I agree, good for Mattel. As the photo shoot proves, bald can definitely be beautiful!
    <3 you as always.
    btw- love the new blog look- very cute.

  2. This was such an amazing post! I heard that mattel was doing this and I agree it's definitely so great! I think true beauty is being comfortable and confident in who you are and in your own skin, and that definitely radiates from this post and you! I remember this excerpt...have you posted it before? It's so amazing and moving and I definitely can't wait for the book!=]

  3. You are such a talented woman, Traci. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading more :)


  4. You're going to write a book?! So awesome, such a beautiful & well written passage Traci :) <3