Beautiful and Bald

Cancer: the word alone packs a powerful punch. Most of us have felt it’s sting, either personally or through the experiences of close friends or family members.

There are any number of small and large losses and humiliations that go hand-in-hand with the disease. One of them is the loss of hair that frequently occurs as a result of chemotherapy.

It can be particularly challenging for children to face the prospect of balding in themselves or a loved one. If it happens to them, they may feel uncomfortable about their appearance and have a hard time dealing with the sidelong glances and awkward questions from curious friends and strangers.

For girls, it can be especially tough. Many of them see the onset of baldness as freaky and come to believe that they are no longer pretty once their locks have fallen out.

When it’s a parent or other family member who suddenly loses their hair, the child may be filled with a sense of anxiety or even grief. Let’s face it, we just aren’t that familiar with seeing bald heads. And because baldness is usually reserved for people who are much older, its appearance can be frightening and may serve as a grim reminder that something is very wrong.

So when I heard that Mattel Toy Company was releasing a brand new Barbie who was bald, I was initially curious and then delighted. This special Barbie is the result of two awesome moms in different parts of the country – one with a daughter fighting leukemia, the other undergoing chemo herself – coming together to help kids cope with cancer treatment baldness.

Several months ago, Beckie Sypin and Jane Bingham started a facebook campaign to urge Mattel to produce a bald and beautiful Barbie. Their idea was that such a doll could help girls to explore and share the physical and emotional challenges that accompany hair loss from cancer treatment or other diseases like alopecia and trichotillomania.

The campaign got so much online support that Mattel eventually took notice and decided to get on board with the project. As a result, 10,000 bald friends of Barbie will be donated directly to hospitals that treat children with cancer this month. They will come with a full line of hats, scarves, wigs and other fashion accessories that can be interchanged or completely removed.

Mattel has agreed to make doll and monetary doantions to CureSearch and the National Alopecia Areata Foundation as well.

But that’s not all: MGA Entertainment also responded to the brainchild campaign of Sypin and Bingham and created their own version of bald dolls to support the cause. Under the banner “True Hope” they are releasing three hairless Bratz dolls and and three Moxie Girlz dolls this month. They will be available at Toys “R” Us and $1.00 from each sale will be donated to City of Hope for cancer research.

I do love this idea and can clearly see the psychological benefits of having it available in hospitals and homes where kids are being treated. I only wish they had given Barbie’s boyfriend Ken or his buddy G.I. Joe some bald friends, too. Young boys are not immune to the emotional pain of losing their hair from chemo and could also benefit from having a therapy doll to help process some of their feelings.

This is not a gender-based issue, after all. But I do salute the effort and I challenge one of you mamas to go after Mattel and get that bald boy-doll made a.s.a.p. Go on … I dare you!





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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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