December 26, 2017 | UHCL Staff
It’s hard enough for kids to try to fit in with their friends when they’re young without having a health problem that can’t easily be hidden from the critical and often scornful eyes of their peers. Ask Crosby, Texas resident Makenzee Meaux, a senior marketing major at University of Houston-Clear Lake. “The kids in my class noticed something was going on with me when I was 8 years old,” she said.
Meaux, 21, said that she remembered a day in the third grade when she tilted her head forward while laughing. “The kids behind me said they saw a bald spot under my hair. All the kids laughed at me,” she said. “My mom checked me that night, and it was true, I had a bald spot. And within about six months from that time, all my hair had fallen out.”
Diagnosed with Alopecia Universalis, believed to be an autoimmune disease of unknown cause that makes hair fall out all over the body, Meaux faced two very rough years in school. “Kids who were my friends shied away from me,” she said. “Teachers were so mean about me wanting to wear a hat. My principal had given permission for me to wear a hat to cover my baldness, but still, teachers didn’t allow it. I got no sympathy at all, and I lost a lot of self-esteem.”
Meaux remembered herself as bubbly and outgoing at that age before she began losing her hair. “I really shut down and lost all my confidence,” she said. “No one I ever knew had this problem. It was unheard of, but you’d think that after I explained what happened, people would be understanding. But they weren’t.”
A turning point in Meaux’s life occurred when she found a nonprofit organization called Hair Club for Kids, which provides children between 6-17 non-surgical hair replacement services free of charge. “I do not wear a wig. Those are made of artificial hair. My hair system is human hair, and when I got it, things started to get better for me.” Her dark brown hair system attaches to her scalp with adhesive, and she can wash it, curl it, and swim with it.
She said that even though the other kids in school knew it was not her “real” hair, the longer she wore it, the more they started to forget about it. “It became my new normal,” she said.
Fortunately, other than the fact that she’d gone from being a “dirty” blonde in third grade to a dark brunette, people stopped discussing it even though they knew it was not her real hair. “I never brought it up anymore either,” Meaux said. “I just wanted to stay quiet and hope everyone would just overlook me.”
After having been stared at and ridiculed in elementary school, Meaux said that it took till her middle school years to begin to regain her confidence. “I still have confidence issues,” she said. “I still have a hard time looking people in the eye. I am more reserved than I was when I was younger, and I think it’s 100 percent due to the alopecia, but I learned to live with it and try to forgive and forget.”
Since beginning her studies at UH-Clear Lake, Meaux said she didn’t speak to anyone about her alopecia. “I just came, did my work and left and minded my business,” she said. “I don’t think anyone here knows about this.”
Things changed dramatically in high school when Meaux met the young man who would become her fiancé, Bryan Ballard, also a native of Crosby. “He’s the one who helped me grow and feel confident in myself,” she said. “He let me know it’s time to accept and love myself. He proposed in May, and now that I’m getting married, I learned that I can’t love someone else if I can’t love myself, so I am embracing my condition and I stopped worrying about what other people thought.”
She and Ballard decided to have some engagement photos taken by a professional photographer to celebrate their upcoming marriage. That’s when she decided to let the world know what she “really” looked like. “I took the engagement photos without my hair system,” she said. “I did it because I feel most confident with him by my side, so there’s no better time to take those photos than with him.”
She added that their whole relationship has been about him helping her accept herself as she was, without hair. “Those photos show the world what our love story is about and why we fell in love,” she said. “Those photos are the story of our relationship.”
Meaux posted some of her engagement photos on her own Facebook page and got so many “likes” and even more shares. “I got an extremely positive reaction to my photos,” she said. “Then, a Facebook page called ‘Love What Matters’ got hold of my story and my photos and posted it, and that’s when it really took off.”
Media outlets from all over the world have contacted Meaux to ask her to tell her story. “I’ve heard from people as far away as New Zealand and Indonesia,” she said. “Anyone with a problem needs help accepting themselves. People need confidence.”
Through her relationship with Ballard, Meaux said that she learned that everyone has something “wrong” with them. “You just have to find a way to accept yourself,” she said. “People who really love you, will love you no matter the defects.”