Tell us about No Body’s Perfect and how you came to be involved in the show…
I saw post advertising for a participant for a TV show that Alopecia UK's Communications Manager, Amy, put in the Alopecia UK Facebook group. It was from Reef TV, looking for contributors for a documentary they were filming about body image, the selfie age and how media puts so much pressure on individuals to conform to what society deems to be beautiful. I read the brief and it sounded really good, something that would be positive and a great opportunity to work with Alison Lapper and Rankin.
However, I read Amy’s post and passed it by as it’s not something that would appeal to me – I’ve never liked being in the limelight and to be on national TV for everyone to see?! Definitely not!! But in a moment of madness between Christmas and New Year, after a couple of festive drinks(!), I emailed them with my story. I didn’t think I would hear back but a few days later an email appeared, then a phone call and 2 days later they were on my doorstep! I figured that even if I make a fool of myself for 15 minutes on national TV, if it helps just one person going through what I had (and was still going through to be honest), it would be worth it.
How did it feel to be photographed by international fashion photographer, Rankin?
The day at Rankin’s studio in London was the best day of my life!! I was so nervous. I had already spoken to Rankin on the phone and he sounded like such a lovely guy. I felt he totally had my back so I knew if at any point it all got to much for me, I just had to give him a nod and he would clear the room. I got picked up from Liverpool Street Station and was whisked to the other side of London. When I arrived and walked through the door, my heart was in my mouth. I didn’t know what to expect and then the day turned into an overwhelming blur.
I was taken to a dressing room, my clothes hung up, my nails done, make up artist working her magic and someone bringing me refreshments. I even had a hairdresser on hand that specialised in wigs just in case I needed him. Stepping in front of Rankin’s camera for the first time was terrifying but he has a way of making you feel so relaxed that it didn’t take me long to get into the wing of things and I was actually disappointed when it was all over. I could have had my pictured taken all day long. He is such an incredible man and so talented yet so normal and down to earth. We had such a laugh and by the time I walked out of the studio, I was on cloud nine and feeling the best I have ever felt.
The show is presented by artist Alison Lapper. Did she help to put you at ease when filming?
Alison Lapper is an incredibly inspirational lady. I remembered seeing her on ‘Child of Our Time’ many years ago and thinking them how amazing she was. She is so lovely and to see how she hasn’t let her disability stop her or hold her back from doing anything in life is truly inspiring. She was so encouraging and supportive throughout. Her words really rang true and have stayed with me since.
She embraces her differences and I wanted to be like her. She loves who she is and that made me want to love who I was too! Oh and she can drive a people carrier far better than I ever could!! She’s a beautiful person inside and our and I’m glad to have her in my life as we’ve now become firm friends. She made me see myself in a completely different light and for that I’ll always be grateful.
How has taking part in the show changed how you feel about having alopecia?
Before I starred in the show I was very self-conscious and was constantly in a hoody, my security blanket, even around the house, as I would’t let anyone see me without a wig on. If someone knocked on the door, I’d panic and get the children to answer it. My alopecia did control my life and was constantly on my mind. I pretended everything was ok but inside I was a nervous wreck. I hated looking in the mirror and seeing myself. I felt ugly. I didn’t feel feminine. I felt lost. Doing the documentary totally changed my life. When I look in the mirror, I see a beautiful and strong person looking back (sometimes I actually think I look better without my wig). I answer the door and walk around the supermarket or the town centre without a wig on like it’s the most normal thing in the world….which it is!
I am more confident than I have ever been in my life. I've embraced my alopecia. It's now my friend and i'm thankful for it as it's made me realise what true beauty is and i'm no longer trying to be what society deems to be beautiful. I am perfectly imperfect and unique. I am bald, I am beautiful and finally free.
What advice do you have for anyone struggling with their alopecia?
My advice for anyone with alopecia is to surround yourself with positive things and positive people. Positivity breeds positivity! And the mind is the most powerful tool that you have so use it to your advantage. I found that trying to find just one positive thing (there’s positivity in everything if you look hard enough) soon made me have many more positive thoughts. Confide in family and friends; don’t bottle things up. My family and friends were my rock and are what kept me going on my bad days. We all have bad days but just remember that it’s s day and tell yourself that tomorrow will be a bit better….and it will be! If you’re thinking of wearing a wig, don’t be scared. Try and have fun with it. I used that as one of my positives; at least now I can change my style and colour whenever I want. One day I’m long and blonde and the next day short and red! I decided to go with it rather than fight it. There’s nothing I can do to change it and it was draining me trying to fight it so as soon as I made that decision, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and the big, dark cloud that hung over me had disappeared.
Becoming part of a good support network is so important. Being able to read other people’s experiences and realising that you are not alone helped so much. It helped me realise that what I was feeling was completely normal. I went to Alopecia UK’s Alton Towers event in April and it was amazing. It was the first time I had ever gone without my wig in public and it was so empowering! I had such a great day. Being surrounded by others in the same position, all giving strength and enjoying rides that they might have otherwise shied away from for fear of wigs or hats flying off. I remember when we all met for lunch, I stood up and looked around and saw the sea of blue t-shirts and bald (and patchy) heads and tears stung my eyes. You could feel the strength and see the pride and the smiles! If you can get along to an Alopecia UK event or support group, please do. Or access the online support via their Facebook group or email or forum.
Always hold your head high and be proud of being you. Don't be afraid to ask for support!
Well done Carly for taking part in the show. No Body's Perfect will be shown on Thursday 10th November on BBC4 at 9pm. Tune in if you can.
Carly has set up a Justgiving page for Alopecia UK and is welcoming donations from anyone who may be inspired by watching her story on TV. You can visit her Justgiving page here.