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January 23, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
I felt nervous going into my conversation with Madelyn Munsell, the young woman whose face you’ll find on this issue’s cover. Our staff was excited to run such a compelling story, written by a talented writer. Before publication, I needed to confirm the details of her experience growing up and living without hair due to a medical condition called alopecia. I didn’t want to print the wrong thing.
We talked about how she faced bullies in kindergarten and the acid treatment she received as a toddler to trigger hair growth, but these anecdotes never caused her voice to falter from a bubbly, warm tone.
She didn’t have to explain what became clear to me quickly: this is not an awkward subject for her. It’s one of the many pieces of her life. The conversation returned to her music, which was at the forefront of her thoughts.
The story we tell is about overcoming adversity — if being called “bald bitch” in the fifth grade doesn’t hurt you, I don’t know what will — with a condition unrelated to character or health. It’s also about Madelyn’s accomplishments as a singer and her role as a daughter in a loving family.
In an appearance-obsessed culture, one in which many of us experience a bout of self-loathing every morning as we look in the mirror, Madelyn inspired me to think bigger. She explained her outlook in one phrase: “Love yourself, and others will love you.” Her perspective will move our readers, too.
No matter how much space we’re allotted, the people we write about will always be so much bigger than that. We do our best to capture Madelyn’s complexity and nuance. But we recognize that the alopecia narrative doesn’t define her, and at only 20 years old, she will have so many more stories to tell.
Caroline tweets @CarolineFeeney