Firefox Presents: A makeup artist with alopecia redefining beauty online
Abby Wren wants you to look.
With her face and bald head as her canvas, she creates wildly elaborate and colorful makeup designs that have gained her more than 177,000 followers on TikTok. She’s transformed herself into an Easter bunny, the Cheshire cat and Homer Simpson. Once, she turned herself into Bernie Sanders from that 2020 inauguration meme.
Abby, an L.A.-based makeup artist, didn’t always feel comfortable with people’s gaze.
In 2006, while in high school, she started to notice clumps of hair falling out in the shower. She and her mother made multiple doctor’s 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 by mistake.
Being the subject of stares while doing normal American teenager things like walking in the mall frustrated Abby. She just wanted to blend in. Now, if you ran into her on the street and you looked at her head, she’d probably greet you with a big smile.
“I want to show that it’s OK to look,” Abby said. “I want you to look.”
She encourages people to ask questions, and she’s eager to educate and connect: “I don’t want this to be an isolating experience, because there’s more going through it 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 felt was her calling at the time. But after moving back home to Montana, she felt a disconnect.
With her mother’s encouragement, Abby decided to pursue something she’s loved since owning her first eyeshadow kit in the sixth grade, a color palette she still remembers to this day (“a shimmer, a light brown, a bright teal and a purple”).
Abby moved out of the country to attend one of the top makeup programs in Canada. By then, about a decade after high school, her hair had grown back. She started modeling her own work on Instagram, her face conventionally made up and her hair long and blonde.
Her talent brought her to the Emmy Awards, where she did makeup for a team of HBO producers, and New York Fashion Week, where she worked on a show for a Denver-based fashion line. She was riding a career high — until Abby started to lose her hair again.
“I was completely freaking out,” she remembered. “I had really gotten used to myself with hair again.”
She associated her success with how she looked, and that made her more self-conscious.
“I was so worried that someone would see the bald patch, or the extension would slip and they would see the track,” Abby said.
Her partner, Wade, who recently became her fiancé, encouraged her to shave her head. “He was like, ‘It’s just hair, who cares?’ And I felt the same way,” Abby said.
Wade gently took clippers to her head, a sweet episode that Abby shared on her Instagram and TikTok feeds. Commenters responded with supportive messages.
“I started to paint my head and paint the sides of my face and down my neck,” Abby said. Her bald head became her signature.
Abby said she approaches her “little slice of the internet” with boldness: “How can I do things a little differently? How can I spread my message in a way that’s going to uplift? I want to make people’s day better.”
She became an advocate with an organization called Baldtourage, where she found a community of “moms, daughters and little boys” 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,” Abby said.
Of course, she said, there are still less-than-perfect moments.
“Someone in a bar the other day asked me ‘what’ I was,” she said. “My approach is always like, ‘Well, I’m a woman. And I’m a makeup artist. I’m a home chef. I’m a partner to my fiancé. I’m 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 tell her full story widely through collaborations — including with Firefox.
“The internet is really powerful, so I don’t take the responsibility lightly,” she said. “I always try to communicate my message with a lot of love and color.”
Abby finds joy in getting to work with young kids experiencing alopecia. She recalled receiving a card from an 8-year-old girl that had an image with a message saying, ‘That is me bald with a painted face. I’m beautiful. And so are you.”
She said she’s so happy with the person she’s become that if her hair grew back, she’d probably just shave it off again.
“I wish 15-year-old Abby could see this now,” she said. “All I can do is hopefully be there for other young kids going through this. … To know that someone else is going through it with you and has gone through it, it’s powerful.”
She said if she could, she’d tell her younger self that “it’s OK to just be the way you are. You don’t have to wear anything to cover your baldness. Be bold. Be vibrant. Be courageous. It’s all going to be OK in a couple of years.”
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