Photos c/o : Larry H
Nell Coleman, born to a Barbadian mother and an African American father, wears many hats — from bartending to modeling to managing her non-profit The Baldie Movement, where she advocates to normalize baldness. She enjoys binge watching Netflix, skating, trying new vegan recipes, yoga, meditation, running, mountain climbing, hanging with friends, and dancing to soca music with her mother.
Hate is a strong word, but when I was growing up I hated everything about myself because people bullied me about my teeth, hair, and skin.
In school, someone cut off a piece of my hair without my knowledge. Another time someone wrote “kick me” in permanent marker on my brand new jacket. I even had someone spit in my food. I switched middle schools and changed high schools, hoping it would put an end to the bullying, but things only got worse.
My peers made me believe that who I was wasn’t good enough. I would fix my hair and dress a certain way so I could be accepted, not realizing I needed to accept myself first. My parents knew about the bullying and my mother would tell me, “it’s just words dear,” but that wasn’t enough.
I felt alone, misunderstood, and unloved.
After high school, I decided to embrace my natural self instead of wearing weaves and applying chemicals to my hair just to fit in. It was time for a new me.
I joined the dance team at college and was told — after being picked — that my hair needed to be straightened for performances. We did a calendar shoot to raise money for uniforms and my coach angrily said I had the worst photo in the calendar.
That broke me to my core. I thought embracing my natural look was good. It felt like being in middle school all over again.
We practiced for 4 hours a day and none of the girls came to practice with their hair done. But the coach said I had to have my hair straightened for practice – even though she knew it would damage my hair.
Another girl had hair like mine, but she didn’t have to have it straightened. When I asked the coach about it she said, “Your hair is more African, therefore we need you to press yours. Hers is more loose and curly.”
By that time, my confidence was shot. I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t just leave — I had a dance scholarship and I didn’t want to lose it.
My friends convinced me to stand my ground and attend practice with my hair how I wanted. One night my coach and the band director approached me and said, “If you don’t perm your hair, you will be removed from the team and lose your scholarship.”
I was devastated. How dare they threaten me and tell me what to do with my hair?
I thought long and hard about what to do. At the time, I felt like being on the dance team made me look good to my peers. It wasn’t easy to get on the dance team, and we were the most admired girls on campus.
I finally decided to perm my hair to save my scholarship. That same week, I fractured my foot and my dance career was over.
The mental, emotional, and physical pain I experienced was indescribable. I mentally checked out, and for the rest of my sophomore and junior year I failed almost every class, lost friends, and eventually transferred to a new college.
I moved back home with my mom while I finished school, cut my permed hair and went back to being natural.
But I felt like my mother didn’t like my Afro because she would always encourage me to put a texturizer in it to give it that loose curl look. She said it looked better that way, and I thought she felt uncomfortable being in public with me with my Afro.
It was the last straw. I was tired of not being accepted no matter where I turned.
I felt like I wasn’t good enough for anyone – including myself. I was convinced there was no way out until one day I decided I’d had enough of being tormented about my hair. There had to be a major change, and it needed to start with me.
I sat down and told myself
– I will not run or hide from others
– I will not fix myself so that others feel comfortable with me
– I will not allow the opinion of others to dictate my life
– I will take a stand to love and accept myself for WHO I AM
Hair is a huge deal within the black community and I no longer wanted to depend on it to feel or look my best. So I shaved my hair to prove to myself that I didn’t need hair to be beautiful. Who I am is what makes me beautiful, and I determine my beauty and my worth, not those around me.
Though I chose to be bald, it took some time to fully embrace it because I still cared what others thought of me. It took a while to learn that self-acceptance is far greater than the acceptance of others.
I still face challenges as a bald woman today but the best thing about this bald head of mine is, I don’t wake up feeling dependent on my hair to feel beautiful. I wake up with pride and say to myself, I am bald and free and hair will never define me.
As I continued my journey to feel beautiful just as I am, I thought about those who do not choose to be bald, and feel unattractive because, like, me, they allowed the world to determine their beauty and worth.
I started the Baldie Movement to empower women who are tired of feeling like their beauty is determined by their hair and discouraged because they do not have any.
Through community groups, service, events, campaigns, and more, we celebrate, support, and empower women who battle with hair loss to love themselves more–without the need of hair.
B.A.L.D.I.E is our favorite word because it has a very special meaning: Beauty And Love Demonstrated in Everything. Bald women and children face daily pressure to cover their bald heads with scarves, wigs, or whatever else. Here at The Baldie Movement, we welcome all B.A.L.D.I.E.S with open arms and encourage them to love themselves and each other.