(CW: bullying, quotes from video making fun of bald people)
I was introduced to the dark side.
The dark side of Social Media and its cruelty to those who look different when I started researching ableism. Via the awesome @disabled_eliza I learned about the many TikTok accounts and challenges that use the images and attributes of people with disabilities in hurtful and often cruel ways. This isn’t just isolated to TikTok either, all social media platforms suffer from this stupidity. These so called “pranks” and “challenges” take those that don’t fit into society’s very narrow standards and make fun of and misuse them.
This lack of empathy for those who are different is infuriating.
So when I heard about James Charles’ bald “prank”, I immediately got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I saw the photo he posted on his instagram account and it was gorgeous, but I then saw the video posted last week.
Those who know me know, I have been bald my entire life. I have been an advocate (actively and passively) for representation of bald people, especially women, my entire life. This is a big part of who I am, and of what I want to do with my life.
As soon as the video was announced, he was called out by members of the alopecia community with a hope that the video wouldn’t be negative. Specifically he responded to the gorgeous model @christie.valdiserri - that it would be a super positive video.
My Take on the James Charles “Prank”
Throughout the video, James spoke thoughtfully about how beautiful he felt and how empowering it was to be bald. However, there is a massive gap between his experience of one day in a bald cap where he was all done up and knew it was temporary - and the experience of many who lose their hair unexpectedly and involuntarily. As an influencer with millions of young people watching, the responses from his friends and family were disheartening to say the least.
Then I started to hear phrases from his friends and family that I have literally heard numerous times in my life.
“You look like an Egg. " “You look like an Alien.” “Can I rub your head for luck?”
I couldn't help wonder..
Would they have responded the same way if it weren’t a prank?
How do you think he would have felt if they had?
To say I’m unaffected would be a lie. It hasn’t changed my relationship with alopecia or being bald, but I live life as a bald woman every day and this video did create a response in me.
I felt Protective - of little me.
Of every child, teenager, young adult who follows James and has involuntary hair loss.
Considering 2% of the population have alopecia, not to mention other forms of medical hair loss - it’s easy to assume there would be some amongst his followers.
He looked gorgeous, objectively attractive.
Perfect features, perfect makeup, perfect nails, and those closest to him still responded in a largely negative way. All of these responses were filmed and shown as part of the video with - along with much laughter from all involved.
I experienced life as a bald child, and seeing these words thrown at someone who is SO beautiful AND bald, would have made little me feel even more left out.
If people can’t accept James when he is bald, how could they ever accept me?
I’m sure this thought isn’t isolated to young people. Everyone I’ve ever known has had days where they have felt bad about themselves because they don’t fit the Cookie-cutter beauty ideal.
When my eldest sister started losing her hair whilst undergoing chemo, it was identity shattering for her.
If people respond like this to someone who is stereotypically beautiful - how will they respond to us mere humans?
I felt angry - that yet another marginalized group has been targeted. This trend is very disconcerting. Not only because of those directly impacted by such content, but also because of the example it sets for others. That it’s okay to make fun of, exclude, fear or disregard someone just because they are different from you.
I felt sad. Sad that he chose to do this. To gloss over the negatives and insist the video would be positive and then call it a prank. Sad that such a popular influencer with a young audience and still felt this was an okay thing to do. Sad that people I see as advocates for other groups liked his video and shared this display of disregard.
It is stunning, unique, incredible.
I LOVE that there are incredible people representing, speaking out, raising awareness for the condition I have (Alopecia Universalis) - but also generally for appearance diversity.
My love says, ignore it.
It’s just the internet being the internet.
I 100% encourage this approach if it works for you. But this is my passion, and I need to respond. Our unique differences in this world are a super power, not something to be borrowed, abused, misused and made fun of in the form of a prank.
Moments of this video truly have the ability to be re-traumatizing to those of us who have experienced this kind of bullying or careless comments before.
Why it matters
Everyone with hair loss is on their own journey of acceptance.
They are struggling to hide spots, learning how to wear wigs, spending money on treatments, rocking the bald look, or preparing to shave their heads.
There is so much energy, effort, emotion that goes into managing this loss. To make light of the identity changing impact it can have on someone is so outside the scope of empathy that I really desire for this world.
I wrote earlier in the year about the impact of this kind of disregard for those who are different.
When HBO’s The Witches came out, I expressed the following:
I strongly believe that empathy and compassion in our society comes from being able to take one of our own experiences, understand how it made us feel, and use this to consider how others might feel in their unique circumstance. Taking a small piece of who we are and seeing it reflected in someone else is a super power. It manifests as seeing someone else who looks a little different and not approaching them with questions because we know what it’s like to be questioned ourselves.
James is a representative of a marginalized group already. He advocates for those who are different and admits to being bullied at various points in his life. In 2017 he made a video about being an easy target for bullies online.
For many he has been an inspiration and a role model for living the life you want. Being yourself. Utilizing your Unique Beauty. Our message aligns there, it’s literally what I’m all about.
Maybe in the growth of his online platform, he has lost this connection with those past experiences and is no longer able to connect with them. They were certainly not on his mind when he chose to proceed with this as a “prank”.
On reflecting on how this type of content gets made, I try to feel into where the creators and those involved are at themselves.
Confidence they will never experience this themselves, enables them to make fun of others.
I said earlier that everyone I’ve ever known has felt less than at some point in their lives.
Society sets us up to feel insecure. The beauty industry, diet culture, social media algorithms, glossy magazines - all set us up to ensure that we feel less than. In doing so we are positioned to crave, buy and consume the solutions to our insecurities.
This is not a new idea, it’s something we have been aware of for many years. Change in this arena has been slow and challenging. Everyone’s got their battle right?
How does this relate to the “prank” video?
I believe that for someone to be comfortable making fun of and laughing at those who are different from them, they are doing so to feel better about something they are insecure about. This is the simple theory around bullying, but I think it 100% applies.
How to respond?
If you are personally impacted by this type of content - remember your feelings are valid.
It is valid to take time to allow your response to settle - physically, emotionally, mentally. If you need to talk to someone, reach out to your support network, share your feelings with those around you, lean into those who can relate.
There is no need to jump into the comment section, the social media outcry or advocacy unless you are called to. This is a personal choice. Just because you disagree with the content, does not mean you need to speak publicly about it.
If you’re not personally impacted, but know anyone making this content, or finding it entertaining and you want to bring it up with them, I recommend coming in from the perspective of curiosity.
Maybe you don’t actually want to know why they find it funny or entertaining, and that’s alright. But I encourage you to enquire. What about this content entertains them?
Aligning yourself alongside them and making an enquiry into their thinking, puts you in a conversation rather than a confrontation. It also prompts them to think about what is entertaining about it, questioning their own position, and hopefully sparking some understanding of what could be unsympathetic, re-traumatizing or objectionable about said content.
Again, if they’re open to the enquiry - great. If not, you are not obliged in any way to stay in that conversation. Take it or leave it, but if you are interested in attempting to open up others to a more empathetic future, I encourage enquiry.
For anyone out there who saw the video and was impacted by it - my heart goes out to you. I repeat, your feelings are valid. We are all unique, that’s what makes us beautiful. Our differences are our power to change the world. Let’s embrace them.
I stand by my earlier writing, and I’ve been unable to get it out of my head.
While for many the beauty industry provides an outlet and fun way to explore their identity, just like social media, there is a dark side. The Cookie-cutter beauty ideal that the beauty industry tells us we can all live up to is so narrow.
We are told we need to be a certain color, size, weight, age and shape to be beautiful. This is wrong. The world would be so boring if we all looked the same.
We are all unique, that’s what makes us beautiful
Cookie-cutter beauty is boring
Difference is power to change the world
Pleasure, desire and love is for everyone
Confidence is a feeling for all
Save the Date
I've been working on this event for Women** with all types of hair loss for a few weeks now. While it is not a response to the video (above is pretty much all I'm going to say about that) - the timing couldn't be more perfect.
** (Women, Femme Presenting and Non-Binary all welcome - anyone with an interest in a feminine approach to combatting beauty standards is welcome!!)
* The Title for this post was borrowed by the trending hashtag #ImNotWearingABaldCap on social media in response to James' video. I specifically chose not to link to James' video in this post as it could be triggering for some. I would put a trigger warning on it for bullying and hurtful remarks on bald people. It's very easy to find if you just search for his channel on YouTube.