Kaili Fendrick started her year by doing motivational speaking. Even at just 12 years old, she has the intention to make an impact on people’s lives.
“Deep inside her heart, she wants to change this world,” Tina Fendrick, her mom, said.
The preteen pursues modeling and acting, but has found a special purpose in motivational speaking. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Kaili’s pursuits had to pause, but her mission to live each day with confidence continues.
“People are becoming so much more open right now with how people look and accepting [others],” Tina said. “I think that it’s a really great time for her to get out there and show the world who she is.”
Kaili is one of nearly seven million people who have alopecia. September marks Alopecia Awareness Month, highlighting those affected by the autoimmune skin disease. Alopecia can occur in men and women, across all ages and ethnicities. It typically first appears in childhood, but forms of alopecia can vary by person.
Developing differences into strengths
On the week of her second birthday, Kaili developed alopecia. By the time she turned 3, all her hair was gone and it has never grown back since. Kaili grew into adolescence without hair, so it took time to understand why she was bullied.
“A lot of people assume that I do have cancer,” Kaili said. “Sometimes it bothers me that people just assume, instead of asking, which I’m totally fine with because everybody is curious about different things.”
Through the end of elementary school, the Fendricks would write a letter at the beginning of each school year to share with the class about Kaili’s alopecia.
“She’s never wanted to hide it,” Tina said. “She’s never felt like she needed to wear a hat or a scarf or a wig.”
Kai’s testament to never hide her alopecia is reflected by journalist Traci Lee, who started losing her hair when she was around 7 years old. As a kid, she would regularly wear wigs because it was something she thought she “needed” to “look normal.”
Understanding makeup as art
Lee had a pivotal moment in 2013 with her first brief appearance on TV. The studio makeup artists insisted on drawing on eyebrows so that she would “look more normal,” even though she asked them not to.
“I was still at the point where I wasn’t comfortable or confident telling people I had alopecia,” Lee said in an email. “It was kind of a traumatic experience being surrounded by these talented makeup artists and having them tell me all the way they wanted to ‘fix’ how I looked.”
That night, Lee jumped onto YouTube to find makeup tutorials so she could be prepared to do her own makeup if she ever went on TV again. In the process of teaching herself, Lee found herself having fun with makeup.
“Now, I see it as just another way of expressing myself,” she said. “In 2018, I started an Instagram account specifically dedicated to makeup and alopecia-related things, and it’s really helped me uncover new layers of my own identity and given me more confidence, too.”
In addition to makeup, Lee also experiments with different wigs, something she never would’ve considered just 5 years ago. It’s something she’s grown more comfortable with since finding a community on social media.
“I love that I can change my hair day-to-day,” she said. “There are so many silver linings I missed out on growing up because I was so worried about being different. These days, I’m happy to be ‘different.’”
For parents guiding their kids through alopecia, Lee emphasizes the importance of finding ways to normalize hair loss and baldness. She’s a big proponent of the Children’s Alopecia Project’s mission to change the emphasis from “growing hair to growing confidence.”
In her public speaking, Kaili mostly speaks to her UCBU (U Can Be U) campaign, which empowers listeners to be themselves. She uses alopecia to explain the benefit of embracing yourself instead of feeling ashamed.
“I use uniqueness and my differences to help the world understand that it’s OK to be yourself and not hide who you are,” Kaili said. “It helps other people realize, ‘Oh, it’s OK to be myself. And it’s OK to feel this way and to look this way, and I don’t have to hide that or change that.”