Throughout her life, Mckenna Reitz was known for her long, thick brown hair.
The 33-year-old mom from Toledo, Ohio had no idea how much she connected her identity with her hair until it started falling out after the birth of her second daughter. She saw specialist after specialist, but nothing could stop the constant shedding.
A few weeks after she noticed the hair loss, she was sobbing in the shower holding fistfuls of hair. By December of 2015, she was completely bald and diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that affects 6.8 million people in the United States.
Mckenna was devastated. She spent months consulting experts and trying anything to regrow her hair. Weekly scalp injections were painful, but she was determined to beat the disease. She wouldn’t leave the house without a hat or wig on… if she left the house at all.
Although her husband was caring and sympathetic, he didn’t quite grasp how much Mckenna’s hair meant to her.
“He kept saying, ‘McKenna, it’s just hair, it’s just hair,'” she recalled. “But sometimes I’d want to shout, ‘It’s more than hair, it’s my identity.’ It’s one of the reasons I had trouble accepting what was happening at first.”
Mckenna says she couldn’t even look in the mirror after her hair fell out. She could barely get out of bed in the morning, but it was her young daughters who eventually pulled her out of her funk.
“There’s no other choice. I have a 3-year-old daughter who’s watching every step that I take. I have a 5-month-old,” she remembers telling her mother at the time.
Understanding that alopecia is genetic and could someday affect them, she grew determined to show her daughters that hair loss is not the end of the world.
“I kept thinking, What if this happens to my daughters?” she explained. “I needed them to understand that if it does happen to them, they could get through it, just like they witnessed their mom do.”
“I realized I was allowing alopecia to define me, instead of me defining it,” said Mckenna.
From that point on, she stopped trying to make her hair grow back and started to accept herself as she is now. She stopped wearing hats and wigs in public, choosing to embrace her baldness. In time, she learned to love herself again, and she felt so empowered that she decided to become an advocate for others.
“I have the power to change people’s perceptions about a disease that impacts nearly 7 million people in the United States,” she said. “My mom always said to me, ‘God gives the strongest people the toughest challenges.’ I’m so honored and blessed that I was given this condition because it has allowed me this beautiful perspective. It’s made me understand that every person has their own story. Mine just happens to be visible.”
Mckenna is a beautiful person, inside and out. Her important work is helping to remove the stigma around hair loss while reminding us that we are so much more than our physical body!
Share this story to spread her message of self love and acceptance.
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