America’s Next Top Model made news this season when it featured a model with alopecia areata. Little did we know the show would feature not one but two models with the autoimmune disease, which can cause people to lose all their hair.
Jeana Turner, who has alopecia areata, was a contestant on Cycle 24 of the reality TV show, and she was the recipient of what may have been the most inspiring Ty-over ever. Jeana was challenged to go wigless for the first time. She was shown having her brown wig removed, and it’s incredibly emotional.
“It’s actually been over a year since I’ve been ‘wigless,’ and it’s amazing!” Jeana tells Yahoo Lifestyle. She does still wear a wig from time to time when a client requests it, but now that she doesn’t wear one every day, putting one on is a treat. “I love myself with and without hair. It was just sharing something I felt kept me hiding and not having the freedom of options! Now everyone knows it’s fake hair, so I can do whatever I want!” She says it wasn’t difficult to remove her wig, just “different.”
But she wasn’t the only bald model featured on the season. “Backstage of the final runway for Philipp Plein last year I met Kaili,” says Turner. Kaili is a 9-year-old model who also has alopecia areata. “I was in the finale, and the designer also does children’s fashion, and she was cast to walk in the fashion show. I was lucky enough to be paired with her! We were to strut the runway while the minimodels threw flowers.”
Over the past year, they’ve grown very close, and they showcased their friendship recently in a gorgeous photo shoot captured by Phillip Reardon, twinning in more ways than one — not only were they wigless, but they also wore matching outfits. Pictured in a desert, their poses range from fun to fashion-forward. Jeana points out some more of their similarities in her Instagram caption of the shoot, including their matching beauty marks, before sharing a sweet message with Kaili. “In a world of so much chaos and so much hate, you have brought me so much life, love and happiness,” Jeana wrote. “I’ve never seen a child harbor so much happiness. Especially dealing with alopecia. I certainly hope and pray to whoever that I have carved even a small path for you to live a life where you’re not scrutinized for what you can’t control.”
Jeana tells Yahoo Lifestyle the two are like sisters who always get along. They FaceTime often, and while Jeana lives in Nevada and Kaili in California, they get together frequently. “She’s like a little sister that I never had and so much more than I can even put into words. She’s a blessing because she did more for me than I think I could ever do for anyone.”
Along with a chance to celebrate their similarities and their ethnically diverse backgrounds, the photo shoot inspired Jeana by the way it captured the “past and the future.”
“The message conveyed is one of protection, happiness, love, and a bond. Empowerment,” she says. She also wanted to show alopecia and unconventional beauty from a fashionable perspective and normalize it. “That’s the most important thing to us. We’re all about acceptance because we know how hard it can be to accept cards you been dealt — we just say keep playing! Unconventional beauty is so beautiful when you can embrace it!”
Jeana loves having a mini-me. “I see a lot of my younger self in her, and it’s crazy to me because I always felt others had a twin or look-alike. I was never the person people pointed out [and said], ‘You look like…,’ and I hated that.” Now she has a stunning mirror image, inside and out.
“She uses this word ‘funky,’ and that word is strictly a part of my daily language!” Jeana says of Kaili. “French fries are our favorite food. Our moms look so much alike! We love hairless animals, especially cats and skinny pigs (hairless guinea pigs), and we love modeling.”
But one way in which they differ is that Kaili has never worn wigs.
“Kaili is comfortable in her own skin 100 percent,” Jeana says. Kaili lost her hair when she was 2 years old and has never worn a wig. “Her mom, Tina, gave me pointers about how she managed to balance Kaili’s understanding of our differences and being normal. So it’s all she’s known. She has beyond accepted that hair doesn’t make you beautiful. At 9 years old that, to me, is stellar. And I love that, because for me it was the total opposite.”
Jeana started losing her hair when she was 10 and was completely bald by the age of 12 — “when puberty hits; not optimal, at all” — she points out. She got her period and boobs and lost her hair all at the same time. “And I grew up with a heavy influence of black culture in my family. So a weave was the fix.” But that became a problem. “My wigs were a cover-up, because I had never come to terms with it, just hid it,” Jeana says.
That is … until last year, when Tyra Banks saw beauty beyond hair in the model. “Being someone who has gone from wearing a wig to acceptance of alopecia, that doesn’t mean that I would never wear a wig and that they repulse me,” she explains. Surprisingly, Jeana now gets a negative response when she dons a wig. “The point of it all isn’t to wig-shame, because there are people out there who may never come to terms or just wear a wig for the f***ing fun of it! And that’s OK, too,” she proclaims. “It’s just hair or none; it’s not the gospel, and I don’t think others should have an opinion about the hair choices of others — including wearing fake hair or wigs.” She points out that our favorite celebrities do it. “Maybe you just can tell!”
All that matters to her now when it comes to wigs is that her little “sister” has a fair choice. “If one day Kaili wanted to wear a wig, I can only hope that everyone would be just as accepting of a good weave as they are a bald head.”
America’s Next Top Model played a major part in society starting to accept bald beauty. “It’s different now because the show shed a light onto ‘being bald is beautiful,'” Jeana says. “Hopefully it evolves into not just being ‘unique’ but society can just accept it for what it is — among many other differences. At the end of the day, that’s a win for alopecia and anything else that’s not the norm.”
It’s also a win for little girls like Kaili, says Jeana: “She has a fighting chance now at a career that maybe once wouldn’t have accepted her.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- 23-year-old self-taught body painter creates a work of art on friend’s bald head
- ‘Bald Is Beautiful’: Mom with breast cancer poses with daughter who has alopecia
- How Tinder helped this woman with alopecia reclaim her ‘femininity’