When you write for a living, you tend to see a lot of photographs. But I must admit that it's been a hot minute since I've seen one that is quite as striking as the feature photo for this article. Just look at those women. Beautiful eyes. Flawless skin. Each of them with a bold-yet-uber-feminine bald head. And that deep chocolate sistah in the middle? That's Nell Coleman. She's the founder of The Baldie Movement. We'll dive more into that in just a sec.
When I first discovered that today is National Be Bald Be Free Day, it took me back to when I used to rock a shadow fade; one that barely had any hair up top. And although I'm currently on a journey to grow my natural hair out, as I told Nell, sometimes I miss having a close-to-bald head. Looking at her, it almost tempts me to bring my clippers out of retirement. "Girl, I've been bald, by choice, for nine years now," Nell said casually. "You can't get me to go back."
Back to what exactly? A few things. Back to being a slave to relaxers. Back to being consumed by other people's expectations. Back to feeling insecure if there wasn't hair on her head. At almost 30, Nell is confident, focused and determined to help other women, especially bald women, feel the same way—whether they are bald due to alopecia, cancer treatments, an autoimmune disease or, like Nell, it's not by circumstance but by choice. Yeah, Nell and her head are both dopeness personified. But it wasn't always that way. Not by a long shot.
The Journey to Becoming a Bona Fide “Baldie”
"Back when I was 17, I was sick of perms and coloring my hair," recalls Nell. "I decided that I wanted to reflect my true identity as a Black woman, so I went natural. But the dance team that I was on at the time had a coach—a Black female coach—who told me that my hair was too 'African-ish'. She said that I would need to straighten my hair, every day, before practice."
As if that wasn't insulting enough, it gets worse. "There was another girl on the team who had natural hair too," Nell went on to explain. "When I asked the coach why she got to keep her hair the way it was, she said it was because her curls were looser."
Wow Nell. Sometimes, it be our own people. "I know," Nell went on. "I was told that if I didn't straighten my hair that I would be kicked off of the team; that meant I would lose my scholarship. So, I broke down and permed my hair. But guess what? A week later, I ended up fracturing my foot. I should've left my hair natural anyway."
Although Nell didn't quite know it at the time, what she experienced as a teenager was preparing her for a path, a passion—a movement. In 2010, after being tired of, even her natural hair (or a texturized version of it), "dictating to her" how much time she spent in the mirror, how good she felt about herself or even how she should appear to others, Nell decided to shave her head bald.
"I wanted to get to a place where I could feel beautiful without my hair," she explains.
Good for you, girl. "Well, it should've been," Nell stated. "But don't you know that I turned right around and hid my head for another six months? I was still so worried about what people would think of me that I wore wigs. Then, one day a guy challenged me to remove the wig. He told me that I needed to 'own my baldness'. I did—and I haven't looked back since."
December of 2012, Nell officially started The Bald Movement (which is now known as The Baldie Movement). In 2015, an older woman by the name of Adrianne encouraged Nell to hold events for other bald women throughout the country. Since, The Baldie Movement has been thriving, thanks to meet-and-greets in places like New York, Atlanta, DC and North Carolina. There is also a "secret" online members-only Facebook community with over 1000 women—all of which are also rockin' bald heads.
"Whenever I go onto the page, it is such a wonderful reminder that I am not the only one like me," says Nell. "I don't have to feel like an 'outsider' or a 'monster' because there are others who are also learning what it means to see the true beauty of themselves."
The Beauty Within The Baldie Movement
When I asked Nell about how the movement has affected others, what she said was powerful. "I conducted my own study on bald women and realized that, especially when the baldness is due to alopecia or some sort of health issue, lots of stress, depression and even suicidal thoughts are things that many women deal with. That's why I wanted to start The Baldie Movement. It's a place where women can feel totally comfortable being their true selves."
Although there are networking events (including a cruise that's coming up in the spring of 2020) and cool baldie gear, Nell admits that what currently makes her the most proud is the online support group. It's one that consists of women all over the country who are (currently) between the ages of 25-60, although the movement also reaches out to children who are bald as well.
"There are so many women who come to the group and that's where they take off their wig and show us their head," says Nell. "It's empowering that they feel safe enough to do that."
When I asked her if there are any rules or guidelines to join the group or the movement at all, Nell paused and then said, "We encourage members to not wear wigs. We're not out here trying to find a 'cure'. A cure for what, exactly? At the end of the day, we have to take our wigs off. Might as well get comfortable without having it on in the first place. I'm a firm believer that hair is like an accessory. It doesn't determine your worth or value—you do."
And What About the Fears One Might Have of Becoming a “Baldie”?
As Nell and I continued to chop it up, I tried to put myself back in the headspace I was in back when I was on the fence about shaving my own head. I shared with her the pressure that I got from an ex because—how do I put this PG-style?—he used to freak out sometimes during our intimate moments; he used to feel like my hairstyle was too masculine.
"Do you really know what I think about men like that? Girl, excuse me, but f—k him. Leave him too. You need to find a man who's gonna love you for you. Any other one really needs to get to steppin' because you shouldn't have to conform to someone to make it work. When people do too much of that in a relationship, both people end up being dissatisfied. Men who love themselves don't care what their woman's hair looks like anyway. Like I said, get to steppin'."
As our conversation came to a close, I had just one more question for Nell. I wanted to know what she says to women who are contemplating going bald, come across her movement but aren't quite sure what to do. "The right questions will give people the best answer," Nell said. "They need to ask themselves if they're afraid. Are they insecure? Is it that they care too much what people think? Do they not feel like they'll get enough support? When they see what is holding them back, that makes it easier to build up the confidence so that they can be like, 'F—k it. This is me. I'm doing it.'"
Nell knows of what she speaks. It was the question, "Why do so many women lose their confidence if they don't have any hair?" that has totally changed her life—totally for the better.
"It's great to know that I can feel beautiful without relying on hair to do it," she admitted. "There's a quote that I live by—'There's nothing more beautiful than a woman who is unafraid to be themselves." True dat.
Y'all, Nell is out here representing to the fullest for the bald women of the world. But does she ever worry that growing her hair back might contradict her brand? "I can just throw a wig on if I feel like I want some hair on my head," she quips. "But as far as growing mine back out, that's not happening. I'm good just like this." Yes Nell. Yes, you are.
Feature image by instagram.com/maxwillphotography