Sarah Peters is no stranger to standing out.
At age five she was diagnosed with alopecia, an auto-immune disease that caused all the hair on her head to fall out.
Sarah’s sparkling eyes and bright smile show her ability to rise to the challenge and embrace who she is, despite her condition.
life with alopecia
Sarah was diagnosed with alopecia very young, and while it didn’t bother her at first, she became self-conscious heading into high school.
“For a very long time I only had small amounts of hair loss, little patches, and they would fall out and grow back, fall out and grow back,” Sarah said.
Then when she went to university Sarah tried something new.
“I cut my hair really short… and ironically, cutting my hair that short actually meant the bald spots were covered up even better than before!”
She finished her teaching degree then headed ‘out west’ to rural Queensland. Three years later, Sarah's hair stopped growing back completely.
So her hairdresser sister chopped off her remaining locks and Sarah started wearing wigs.
“I was comfortable telling my drama students and I would take off my wig sometimes in class… but I never quite got to the point where I was happy to take my wig off in public.”
When Sarah returned to study, she decided something had to change. She was particularly afraid of what might happen if she met the love of her life while wearing wigs.
“Start how you mean to continue. If you meet people as a bald woman - then you don’t have to go through 'the big reveal'."
On her first day without her wig, Sarah was super conscious of the people around her and what they might think of her. She said she was proud, worried and doubtful all out once but surges of excitement and confidence kept her going. Her sister was with her, but she was nervous too.
"She thought I might have some terrible experience or be embarrassed by people staring, and it would be a huge blow to my self-esteem," Sarah said.
They were both surprised when most people responded well, or hardly seemed to notice!
Sarah said every day for the first couple of weeks she had to actively summon the courage to make what felt like a challenging decision.
"It's no longer a choice I have to make - to go out with or without a wig. I feel like the most authentic and true version of myself now I have embraced being bald. Half the time I completely forget I don't have hair!"
bald heads and blue stars
As part of her study Sarah explored verbatim theatre - a documentary style of theatre which uses the actual words spoken by ordinary people. She interviewed 15 women from the apolecia community, and used their stories (as well as her own) as inspiration for a play.
“I had a hunch that telling stories like this hopefully had the potential to be… empowering,” she said.
“The best part of the play was closing night when seven of the women I had interviewed were there, and they had brought their families and friends. It was just electric… particularly when you’re performing… and you hear someone in the audience saying… shh Bob that’s me! That’s my story!”
While Sarah can make light of her condition, there are challenges that come with alopecia.
“People think I have cancer. One of the things I’ve had to deal with or learn how to navigate is when to disclose why I’m bald - and when not to.
“People always want to tell their story, and sometimes it’s important for me to disclose… I have not had the incredible [cancer] challenge they have gone through,” she said.
“I have the most hilarious interactions in public… a lot of the times with little kids... who say really loudly (but think they’re being quiet) - Mum! You can’t tell if that’s a girl or a boy - and then the parents unfortunately are in this awkward position of - What do we do now, how do I respond to this?"
Sarah has a message for everyone who feels uncomfortable in their own skin. Sometimes our bodies don't measure up to our expectations, but there's more to us than our bodies.
Step inside the shoes of someone who cares about you. They wouldn't stand for hearing bad things said about you, yet we say them to ourselves! It's not ok!
“There’s no way you would let someone say those things about your best friend! So we shouldn’t say those things about ourselves either.
“Every girl should know that they are beautiful, worthy people in and of themselves and not in relation to anything outside of them,” Sarah said.
by Brooke Duncan
Photography by Kandice Orford of Koro Designs.