In January, Daniella Wride was brushing her daughter’s hair when she noticed a quarter-sized bald patch on the back of her head. By the time they were able to book an appointment with a dermatologist, all of 7-year-old Gianessa’s hair had fallen out. “It took a total of 20 days,” Wride says.
The Wrides learned Gianessa had a condition called alopecia areata, a disease that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles and makes hair fall out in clumps. It’s a common condition in the U.S. -- over 6.6 million people will have alopecia at some point in their lives. The first occurrence usually happens in childhood.
Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes it, but research suggests that genes, a virus, or stress may play a role. Because her alopecia first appeared after Gianessa had the flu and after her grandmother died, Wride says her doctor thinks that illness, coupled with stress, may have played a role.
“While there’s no cure, there are treatment options, like topical ointments or steroid injections, that can help the hair grow back,” says Stephanie Gardner, MD, a dermatologist. “But it can be a psychologically disturbing experience for many female patients, since our hair is so tied to our sense of beauty.” The good news? “Because it’s not a scarring condition, the hair can sometimes grow back on its own,” Gardner says.
Wride and her husband leveled with their daughter, explaining that her hair is falling out, but she can still be herself and express her personality through clothing, and doing art, dance, and karate. “You can tell that it bothers her from time to time. Sometimes when people ask her why she doesn’t have any hair she gets really shy,” Wride says.
Recently, when Wride found out about a “Crazy Hair Day” event at Gianessa’s school, she felt nervous. “I didn’t want her to feel like an outcast or that she wasn’t like the other kids,” she explains. Searching for a fun way to let her daughter still participate, Wride found inspiration in shiny rhinestone stickers from a craft store. “They just fit her personality,” she says. “She’s so vibrant and full of life, and she loves everything sparkly.” Wride used them to bejewel Gianessa’s head with designs and shapes like flowers and an owl.
The reaction at school was incredible, Wride says. Her fellow classmates loved it, and Gianessa’s look took first place in the school competition.
These photos of Gianessa’s “crazy head” have been making the rounds on social media, and Wride says she’s astonished by the “phenomenal” response. “I never in my wildest dreams expected for such a little girl to have such a positive influence,” she says. She’s received messages from people all over the world with alopecia or who have children or friends with alopecia, telling her how inspiring Gianessa is. “I hope the body positivity continues and we can promote self-love and a good self-image for other people,” Wride says.