By Evin Billington
Kylie Bamberger looks every bit the blushing bride in her wedding photos. She’s wearing a white ball gown, clutching a bouquet of sunflowers and gerbera daisies, flanked by beaming bridesmaids. But there’s one major thing that sets her apart from typical brides: Bamberger is totally bald.
Bamberger, 27, has alopecia universalis, an autoimmune disease that attacks hair follicles and causes total hair loss all over the body, including the head, eyelashes, eyebrows, and all body hair. She hasn’t worn a wig or covered up her head for more than five years.
“Being blonde is not who I am,” she says. “I don’t identify with my hair color."
When you consider that a bad haircut is enough to send many women into a downward spiral, the fact that Bamberger rocks no hair at all is inspiring. Still, her path to self-acceptance and the unshakeable confidence she boasts today had its ups and downs.
Bamberger, who lives in Los Angeles, first noticed a quarter-size bald spots at age 12. Doctors diagnosed her with alopecia areata, which causes hair to fall out in round patches. Three years later, with no warning, her hair began falling out in clumps while showering. “It felt like when you run your hand through a box of yarn,” she says. “I just remember going, ‘This is not normal.’” That was a Monday; by Thursday morning, she no longer had enough hair to pull into a ponytail.
The teenager tried cutting her hair short and wearing hats, but eventually shaved her head and started wearing wigs. In college, she would work in the morning wearing a blonde wig, and change into a red wig before class. Though wearing wigs made her look more conventionally “normal,” Bamberger hated them. “Just walking across campus, it would be so hot that I would take my hair off and dry it under the blow dryers in the women’s bathroom, because I would sweat underneath it," she says. "That was my lifestyle.”
One day, she forgot to put her wig back on before class. “I just walked in…I was like, ‘Well, this is me!’” she says. That day, she finally dropped what she calls her phase of being two different people: a blonde and a redhead.
The transition from bewigged to bald at times dampened Bamberger's spirits, and often left her frustrated. She felt self-conscious about her appearance, especially when people would stare and ask uncomfortable questions. To her horror, sometimes she was mistaken for a man in the women's restroom, and on more than one occasion, she was called a skinhead.
The turning point in Bamberger's evolution came during collegiate soccer season. Her teammates were out to win games, not to gossip about someone’s hair (or lack thereof). On the field, she developed mental toughness, and discovered her personal power pose: "resting bitch face," as she calls it. Her icy stare intimidated players on opposing teams—and in everyday life, silenced rude whispers about her baldness. “If people were staring, I would stare back," she says. "If you’re going to go out bald, you have to have the confidence to own it. You’re not offending anyone.”
Today, Bamberger—who works full time for her family's British food imports business—spreads awareness about alopecia through modeling and motivational speeches. She also promotes self-acceptance and self-love on social media. In March, she participated in #WhatIModel, a joint social media campaign from Health and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit celebrating body diversity and positivity. Her video was among the most popular of the entire campaign, amassing more than 80,000 views.
Wanted to share with you all a little tidbit on what makes you beautiful & #WhatIModel. @si_swimsuit issue was more diverse than ever before, celebrating women's bodies as they are. We still need more awareness for hair loss, maybe a bald model featured?!?! @mj_day !! #lovemyswimsuit @swimsuitsforall @womenIRL @aerie @healthmagazine #aerieswim #aeriereal #womenirl #siswimsearch
“I model acceptance. I model the ability to show your inner beauty, and that you don’t necessarily need all of this to have all of that,” she says in the video. “When I lost my hair, I was so focused on what I had lost, that I hadn’t necessarily realized what I had gained. I had gained the ability to finally love myself…. No one should ever be alienated because of the way that they look.”
The stares and uncomfortable questions still happen, but Bamberger says she also receives compliments and, sometimes, even hugs. She’s come to appreciate the attention she gets while walking her bald.
“As much as random hugs in the grocery store might not seem appealing, there’s something about the power of a hug, where even if it might not benefit me, that person who had to give me a hug really feels good about it," she says. "If I can be—as my husband calls me—the tortilla chip to their guacamole, if I can be the carrier for that good feeling, then let’s promote good feelings."
Ultimately, she hopes being bald can become as accepted as trends like unicorn hair are now. First, though, must come more acceptance, which she hopes she can have a hand in fostering. “Hair loss doesn’t make you unhealthy, and it doesn’t make you ugly,” she says. “Those are two massive, massive misconceptions. I am not sick. I’m only stronger. If you’re out there, bald, it just means you’re becoming stronger. If you’re out there embracing your bald, you’re stronger. Period.”