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How Going Bald Inspired This Woman To Start A Baldie Movement

If you've got a bald head, smile big time. There's a day—and a movement—that's all about you, sis.

Inspiration

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”?

The Baldie Movement/Shop

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.

Be sure to check out the movement for yourself at The Baldie Movement. Then follow it on Instagram @TheBaldieMovement.

Feature image by instagram.com/maxwillphotography

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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