Everyone knows engagement photos always get a ton of likes. But when Makenzee Meaux, a 21-year-old senior at University of Houston-Clear Lake, posed in hers without the wig she's worn since she was 8, and then published them on Facebook, her post went viral.
After getting her hair cut into a bob before picture day in fourth grade, Meaux's friends teased her about a bald spot that had gone undetected by her hairstylist. When she told her mom, Meaux's mother later confirmed the 8-year-old did have a bald spot. Otherwise perfectly healthy, Meaux immediately saw a doctor for testing and was diagnosed with alopecia universalis, the complete loss of hair. Considered an autoimmune disease, according to the , there's no known cause or cure, although hair regrowth can happen in some cases. (Doctor's don't know why.) Within six months, Meaux lost all the hair all over her body.
Although Meaux's hair loss hurt her confidence and self esteem, once she lost the last of her hair at age 8, she was fitted for a natural hair wig that adheres to the scalp so securely that you can style it, swim in it, and sleep in it. She's worn a wig ever since, washing it every other night and replacing it every three to four months.
"People still knew that something was wrong with me and always assumed it was cancer," Meaux says, of wearing a wig. "I never clarified because I didn't want to talk about it with anyone — I'd avoid the subject completely."
Nothing changed when she met Bryan Ballard in high school. It wasn't until they'd been dating for three months, at the end of Meaux's sophomore year, that her friend's father mentioned Meaux's condition in front of Ballard. But it didn't scare him away, as she'd feared.
"He came to me and said, 'Hair doesn't matter to me. I love you and I'm here for you 100 percent. You have my support,' " she says.
Two weeks later, Meaux, who was 16 at the time, took off her wig in front of Ballard for the first time. Initially, he was shocked, she says, but still thought she looked beautiful.
After Meaux and Ballard got engaged in May, they booked their engagement photos, which were taken by , for early November. Meaux knew she'd pose without her wig in some of the pictures and post them on social media, even though she'd never showed anyone her bare head besides Ballard and her family members.
"I knew it was time for me to open up and stop hiding. I knew I wanted to expose myself and thought, 'What better time to do it than when I'm next to Bryan, who makes me feel my most comfortable and confident?' " she says. "It speaks volumes to our love story, since I've battled this disease throughout our entire relationship." Ballard supported her decision.
The feedback from Bryan's family, Meaux's friends, and scores of strangers coping with alopecia — who reached out to Meaux on Facebook after seeing her photos — has been overwhelmingly positive, she says. The post has been shared more than 250 times with more than 1.7 likes and thumbs ups.
"I did it mainly for myself to help with my confidence my self esteem. I didn't ever expect it to get that big," she says.
Meaux plans to wear her wig down the aisle when the Houston couple gets married on Oct. 13, 2018. "I'm still not 100 percent confident [without it]," she says. That said, she plans to remove it either for her first dance or certain pictures. For now, she feels lucky to have her fiancé's support — and to raise awareness about alopecia and other conditions that impact people's self esteem.
"Everyone is battling something, everyone has something wrong with them," she says. "It's just that some things you can see, others you cannot, you have to find your own beautiful and embrace yourself."