Rebecca Saunders is a hugely successful live virtual event expert; she’s known as the Video Ninja. But for 25 years she’s also been using those ninja skills to hide a secret.
When Rebecca was seven years old, all of her hair fell out and it never grew back.
She developed Alopecia Universalis, an extreme version of Alopecia where she has zero hair on her body, caused by an autoimmune disease.
“They have no idea what caused the disease and there’s no treatment for it either,” Rebecca says.
“As a small child it made me quite insular, I was sort of quiet. I just kept to myself and keep busy. I was very much head down and focused.
“I was very lucky to have doctors and my mum who fought for real hair wigs for me. But kids get bullied at school for anything. And when you’re wearing a wig plus you’ve got huge googly glasses, because my vision is also quite shocking, I was an easy target because I looked very different to the other kids.”
As a teenager and as a young adult, Rebecca wore outrageous wigs to have fun with her hair loss, but she was never confident to go without a wig.
“Even with my fiancé I would sleep in my wig,” she says.
“I destroyed them, because they are not designed to be slept in and they were uncomfortable, but I just didn’t want to be seen as different.”
Throughout her working career she dreaded questions about her hair because people assumed she was sick, “It almost becomes a pitying conversation, ‘Are you going through chemo?’ Because why else would you not have any hair?”
It’s only recently that she decided to free herself and let her bald head shine.
It started at a couple of women’s business conferences where she was encouraged to be her authentic self.
“Plus, I remember my fiancé Alex coming home one day saying to me, ‘It’s 44 degrees outside, why on earth are you wearing your wig?’ And I was like, ‘Because that’s what I do. I wear it all the time.’
“It’s actually much less itchy in the heat without one on. So, it became a gradual thing at weekends, very gradually still, if I was going out places, I’d put hair on,” she says.
Then she set herself a challenge.
“I thought, ‘I’m just going to see if I can do it. I’m just going to see if I can go to a client shoot without hair on’.
“And I thought ‘I can do this without hair, and I’ll just wear a sparkly beanie. That’d be fine.’ And so, I went to my first shoot with no hair on, and it was a pretty big client, and I was comfortable-ish with it,” she says.
Since that big step, Rebecca hasn’t looked back. She started being bald and proud on her personal social media and got a positive response, but it was when she changed her LinkedIn profile photo for a wig free shot and an explanation why that everything changed.
“It’s been incredible. It absolutely blew my mind. That’s been 45,000 views of the post. People have commented on it from all around the world, which has been mind-blowing,” she says.
“People saying things like, ‘Thanks for being brave and letting me show up too.’ And ‘I have hair loss and wear a wig for work. It comes with huge inconveniences. Thank you for sharing your story.’ I find messages like that spine-tingling.”
Rebecca thinks it would have made a huge difference to her self-esteem if, when she was younger, more people embraced their authentic self and she saw other role models without hair.
“That would have changed everything. I wouldn’t have felt as though I had to hide. It’s okay to be different, everyone’s got their quirks so to see that from a role model perspective and represented online and in magazines anywhere would have meant the world.”
Now, Rebecca is that role model.