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Actress Jannica Olin Shares Her Personal Journey Living With Alopecia: “How Can This Become My Superpower?”


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Actress Jannica Olin was 32 years old when symptoms indicating what would eventually be diagnosed as alopecia began to show. The Swedish born actress and TEDx speaker goes by “Hollywood’s Bald Blonde” and has worked across theater, film, commercials and music videos; her TEDx talk, “Welcome to My New Normal,” asks the question: “If I am not my body, who am I?”

Olin’s one-woman show, (IM)PERFEKT, is inspired by her journey living with alopecia and had its world premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June 2019 before being on view at the Santa Monica Playhouse. The actress spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about navigating the entertainment industry, doing her own research and how she felt about the now-infamous Oscars slap.

What has your journey living with alopecia looked like?

I discovered my first bald spot in August of 2013. And it was like having my heart just jump up in my throat. I had a bald spot that was perfectly round with no hair. It was the size of a quarter and then a couple of spots around the neck area that were just not as perfectly round. But it made me so scared.

I didn’t realize at the time how much of my identity was in my hair. I mean, we kind of all know — especially as women — hair is everything. It represents your femininity and sexuality; it symbolizes health and fertility, all these things that we have been taught through history and culture. And I was born and raised in Sweden, so I had blonde, long hair; I felt I had to keep reinforcing the stereotype to fit into being a beautiful blonde woman in other people’s eyes.

How have doctors helped and supported you through this?

I never had any good doctors, really. I went to three different doctors in three countries: [the U.K.], Sweden and here [in the U.S.]. Everyone is looking at it from a dermatology point of view, like it’s about your hair. But when you start looking at what an autoimmune condition actually is, it means that your white blood cells are overactive. So your immune system is overactive in treating a part of you — in my case, my hair follicles are seen as a virus like the flu, for instance, and my immune system has to treat it. So by keeping my hair away, my immune system thinks it’s doing a good job. Alopecia is the name for the symptom that is hair loss, and it was triggered by something else.

What has it been like navigating the entertainment industry — going on auditions, booking jobs — as an actress with alopecia? 

It took me six months to lose all my hair; you have to go through the traumatic experience of what you’re getting confronted with, both on a personal level and a societal, cultural level. I tried to do everything to have my hair come back. I tried everything to keep it from falling out, and nothing worked. So I had this moment of like, “Well, what if I just embrace that which I can’t change? What would that look like?” Because I know I’m the same person on the inside. It’s just when I look in the mirror, I’m different, and how people perceive me is different, but how can this become my superpower if I just allow it to be?

Then I started going on auditions and booking a lot of work that is all about being empowering and being outside of the box of “normal.” It’s a process, and it’s a practice. Of course, I still have days where I don’t want to be looked at today; I just want to blend in. But overall, it’s been a good experience for me — it really comes from you doing your inner work and not resisting it. I think I gave up resisting it. And once I did that, there was a space open for something bigger.

How did the moment at the Oscars land on you? What was your perception of Chris Rock’s G.I. Jane comment and Will Smith subsequently slapping him?

I didn’t watch it live. I watched it the day after and tuned into some of the clips, and I was still waiting for the offensive part. I didn’t see what was offensive about it — in my eyes. And I’m very aware we all have different experiences, and we’re all in different places. To me, personally, that G.I. Jane joke was not offensive. I think that’s cool. That’s a character that’s representing someone who’s a rebel and who’s a strong, independent woman. I would have loved to have that said to me. But that’s me, right? I can’t speak for anyone else.

I thought the slap in the face was staged at first, but then when [Will Smith] said what he said when he sat down, that didn’t feel staged. Are we condoning behavior where people are allowed to react however they want because something is being said to them? That’s where you have to stop and think: “Am I in fight-or-flight mode right now?” We’re all human. We’re all going to get triggered by things. But you have to be an adult and sit with something and maybe not react that way, no matter what.

Maybe it’s a silver lining, but it seems positive that this got more people talking about alopecia. Does this feel like an important moment despite the obvious poor behavior?

There are people suffering from anything and everything. So if we can shed a light on something and bring awareness, it will make people feel heard and seen. In my own case, it’s no one’s responsibility to know about what I have, or why I have no hair. No one has to take that on. We can’t walk around feeling like we have to know everything so that we can be respectful with people. We’re always going to mess up, but we can have a curiosity and be open to understanding what people are going through.

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