Abby Wren wants you to watch.
With her face and bald head as her canvas, she creates incredibly elaborate and colorful makeup designs that have earned her more than 177,000 followers on TikTok. She has transformed into an Easter Bunny, the Cheshire Cat and Homer Simpson. Once, she transformed into Bernie Sanders since that 2020 inauguration meme.
Abby, a makeup artist from Los Angeles, didn’t always feel comfortable with people’s gaze.
In 2006, while in high school, she started noticing tufts of hair falling out in the shower. She and her mother had multiple medical visits outside her small town in Montana until she received a diagnosis: alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss as a person’s immune system attacks hair follicles to mistake.
Being stared at while doing normal American teenager things like walking around the mall frustrated Abby. She just wanted to blend in. Now, if you met her on the street and looked at her head, she would probably greet you with a big smile.
“I want to show it’s okay to watch,” said Abby. “I want you to watch.”
She encourages people to ask questions and is eager to educate and connect: “I don’t want this to be an isolating experience, because there is more than people know.”
After high school, Abby attended the University of Alaska to study psychology. She wanted to work as an art therapist, which she at the time felt she was her calling. But after returning home to Montana, she felt a disconnect.
With encouragement from her mother, Abby decided to pursue something she loved since she owned her first sixth-grade eyeshadow kit, a color palette she still remembers today (“a shimmer, a light brown, a teal bright and a purple “).
Abby moved out of the country to participate in one of the best makeup programs in Canada. By that time, about a decade after high school, her hair had grown back. She started modeling her work on Instagram, her face done conventionally and her long blonde hair.
Her talent led her to the Emmy Awards, where she wore makeup for a team of HBO producers, and to New York Fashion Week, where she worked on a show for a Denver-based fashion line. She was doing very well until Abby started losing her hair again.
“I was going completely crazy,” he recalled. “I was really used to myself with hair again.”
She associated her success with her appearance and that made her more embarrassed.
“I was so worried that someone would see the bald patch, or the extension would slip and they would see the trail,” said Abby.
Her partner, Wade, who recently became her boyfriend, encouraged her to shave her head. “He was like, ‘It’s just hair, who cares?’ And I felt the same way, ”said Abby.
Wade kindly brought the clips to his head, a sweet episode Abby shared on her Instagram and TikTok feeds. Commenters responded with messages of support.
“I started painting my head and painting the sides of my face and neck,” said Abby. Her bald head has become her signature.
Abby said she approaches her “little slice of the internet” boldly: “How can I do things a little differently? How can I spread my message in a way that elevates it? I want to make people’s day better.”
She became a supporter of an organization called Baldtourage, where she found a community of “mothers, daughters and kids” affected by hair loss.
“There are all these other people who had alopecia that I didn’t know existed before the internet brought us together,” said Abby.
Of course, he said, there are still moments that are far from perfect.
“Someone in a bar the other day asked me ‘what’ I was,” he said. “My approach is always like, ‘Well, I’m a woman. And I’m a makeup artist. I am a home chef. I am my fiancé’s partner. There are so many things and my hair doesn’t define me. ‘”
Abby said she recognizes the privilege of having a platform, which has allowed her to extensively tell her full story through collaborations, including with Firefox.
“The internet is really powerful, so I don’t take responsibility lightly,” he said. “I always try to communicate my message with lots of love and color”.
Abby finds joy in working with young children who suffer from alopecia. She recalled receiving a business card from an 8-year-old girl who had a picture with a message saying, “I’m bald with a painted face. I’m beautiful. And so are you.”
She said she is so happy with the person she has become that if her hair grew back, she would probably shave it again.
“I wish 15-year-old Abby could see it now,” he said. “All I can do is hope to be there for other kids who are going through this. … Knowing that someone else is facing it with you and facing it, is powerful.
He said if he could, he would tell his younger self that “it’s okay to just be the way you are. You don’t have to wear anything to cover up your baldness. Be bold. Be lively. Be brave. Everything will be fine in a couple of years. “
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