Instantly recognizable for her smooth bald head, model and fashion show producer Pierre McCleary always seems to exude confidence as she makes her way around the city. But it wasn’t always that way.
She remembers one of the first times she stepped out on the town without the wig, lashes and painted on brows that she used to mask the fact that she had alopecia.
“I would never come outside looking like that,” A woman remarked as McCleary, dressed to the nines, made her way into the nightspot.
She started to fire back – but chose to ignore the woman.
“What is my purpose if I’m going to let one comment from one person, who is probably more insecure than I am, tear me down?” McCleary said.
In her eyes, Alopecia is not a curse or an affliction. It is a gift from God. It took her years to see it that way, but Alopecia is the blessing that led her see her true beauty – and put her on a path to help others find it.
It is with this in mind that she created her Hats Off to Alopecia Runway Show, which returns to The Polish Heritage Center on Sunday.
“I feel like everyone has their eyes on fashion, so what better way to bring awareness to alopecia than to put it on the runway,” McCleary said. “Beyonce never woke up like this. We wake up and one of our eyebrows may be gone. We might wake up with no eyelashes. Or they might wake up like me – not knowing who I was, because I felt like I had no identity with my hair gone.”
Not having hair didn’t hinder her modeling career – and she eventually got to the point where she was confident enough to walk the runway without any hair. As long as she was out of town.
“I was free there, but when I got on the plane I had to go back into my shell,” McCleary said. “I didn’t want to embarrass my family. I don’t want people to talk about me.”
It took the words of her seven-year-old grandson, who told her she was beautiful with her bald head to ease her into the idea of being her whole self 100 percent of the time. Then a small voice, that she calls the voice of God, confirmed it – and affirmed her grandson’s words.
The voice said, according to McCleary, “How are you going to be a blessing to somebody else, if you cover yourself up?”
She says that having the strength to be her authentic self has helped other women – those with alopecia and those without it.
“I know in our culture, we were taught that our hair was everything – but at the same time, in our culture, we never wear our hair,” McCleary said. “We are in the beauty supply. We are gluing. We are pasting. We are wigging. We are doing everything but showing our hair.”
But when she lost the wig, she found herself.
“I gained so much love for myself,” McCleary said. “And that’s what I’m trying to show people who might be going through the same thing. This is me. Without the wig, without the lashes or the makeup.”
Her runway show will feature models with alopecia and standard models.
“I heard so many no’s, that I said, ‘I’m going to create my own yeses,’ McCleary said. “In my fashion shows, I want those models who feel like they can’t do it. Those are the people that I want, because those are the people I can reach. My shows have meaning. My show has a purpose. I don’t do it to make money. I do it to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Sunday’s show will feature 40 models and 15 designers, with bald beauties strutting right along with models with hair.
“I do it for that little girl who was made fun of at school because she has alopecia,” McCleary said. “I do it for the little girl who feels like she has to wear hats to school. I do it for the people who don’t believe enough in themselves to take that wig off.
I was every one of those persons in my own insecurities – the ones that couldn’t accept that I have alopecia.”
She is grateful that God chose her to be a vessel of transparency and beauty beyond the traditional standards.
“I want them to leave the show inspired enough to be free, even if it’s just a piece of freedom,” McCleary said. “I want everyone who enters to leave free enough to be themselves – to receive who they are as a whole person, whatever their perfect imperfections are.”
Pierre McCleary presentation of her Hats Off Alopecia Fashion Show will take place on Sunday, September 8 at The Polish Heritage Center, 1413 N. 20th Street. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m. For more information, call (314) 933-4405.