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Odd Anderson  /  AFP - Getty Images
Britain's Dani King (L), Laura Trott (C) and Joanna Rowsell (R) pose with their gold medals after winning the London 2012 Olympic Games women's team pursuit final track cycling on August 4. Roswell was applauded for accepting her medal without a wig.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 8/14/2012 10:57:05 AM ET 2012-08-14T14:57:05

Bald is beautiful, especially according to British Olympian Joanna Rowsell, who accepted her gold medal in cycling at the London Olympics without her wig and instantly became a world-wide symbol of inspiration.

Rowsell suffers from alopecia areata, the most common form of the medical condition alopecia, in which the hair follicles attack themselves and cause baldness. While treatment exists and some people experience full regrowth, there is no known cure. Rowsell has suffered from the disorder for the last 13 years.

Now 23, Rowsell chose the moment she accepted her medal to show the world that women don’t have to have hair to stand proud. “On one level it was a case of ‘this is just me,’" she told The Daily Mail. "I get off my bike, take my helmet off and that’s who I am. I did know it would be making a statement — I just didn’t anticipate the size of the reaction.”

Rowsell’s bravery has been lauded by both fellow competitors and those who suffer from the disorder. Fans on Twitter have said that she “impresses without tresses” and style website Refinery29 tweeted, “Why should this athlete with alopecia need a wig? (Answer: she doesn’t).”

"I’ve had tweets and emails from all over the world from people telling me how much it has helped," Rowsell said. “One mom wrote to say her daughter had developed alopecia and was worrying so much about it, but that now she had seen me she felt more confident about the future. Stories like that make me realize it was worthwhile."

Rowsell isn’t the only Olympian who has gone bald due to alopecia. Bob Samuelson of the U.S. Olympic volleyball team also suffered from the condition. His teammates shaved their heads in support when they played the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. It may have helped their game — the team won bronze that year.

Image: Dani King, Joanna Roswell, Laura Trott
Christophe Ena  /  AP
Joanna Roswell (R) shown competing during a cycling event during the 2012 Summer Olympics on Aug. 3.

As TODAY.com reported, Kayla Martell, the winner of the Miss Delaware 2010 pageant, also stood up for alopecia areta by competing in beauty pageants without her wig. She wasn’t silent about her disorder, and said when she gained the crown that she would continue to stand up for those with alopecia by making it her platform. She kept her promise. Just recently she promoted her upcoming speaking engagement at Alopeciapalooza, which is a camp for kids suffering from alopecia that helps change the focus from “growing hair to growing self-esteem.”

Other notable bald moments include Melissa Etheridge’s performance at the Grammy’s in 2005. She had gone bald from a chemo treatment after being diagnosed with cancer and performed Janis Joplin’s "Piece of my Heart." In an interview with NBC's Dateline, Etheridge spoke of her decision to perform, saying, “Maybe this'll help somebody who's sitting on chemo laying in bed and going, ‘God, I'm bald. Isn't this weird?’ Maybe it'll help them feel a little better.”

More from TODAY Beauty:
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