Sports Illustrated model with alopecia pulls off her wig on the runway

"We weren't born believing hair makes you pretty, but society has lead us to believe that."
2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Runway Show During Miami Swim Week At W South Beach - Front Row/Backstage
Christie Valdiserri poses backstage during the 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit runway show at Miami Swim Week on July 14.Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Lindsay Lowe

Sports Illustrated is celebrating the 17 finalists of their annual "swim search," including one gorgeous model, Christie Valdiserri, who has alopecia.

The magazine shared a photo of Valdiserri on Instagram, along with an inspiring message from the up-and-coming model.

“I truly believe we need to educate the next generation that beauty comes from who you are, not from what you look like,” Valdiserri said in SI’s post. “Associating hair with beauty was taught to us. We weren't born believing hair makes you pretty, but society has lead us to believe that. So I plan to let my personality and my positive nature shine through regardless of if I ever have hair on my head again.”

Three years ago, out of nowhere, Valdiserri began losing her hair.

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“I found a small bald patch on the top of my head, in the center of my part,” she told Sports Illustrated. “The next month I found another patch, and then my showers were spent watching chunks and chunks of hair clog my drain with tears running down my face.”

The process of losing her hair was an emotional roller coaster, but Valdiserri was determined to keep pursuing her dreams. The dancer and fitness instructor moved to Los Angeles and ended up scoring a spot in the Sports Illustrated Swim Search, the magazine’s annual open casting call to find a new model to pose in the famous swimsuit edition.

Valdiserri walked the runway during the SI Swimsuit runway show during Miami Swim Week in July.

Valdiserri pulled off her wig on the runway. Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

In an empowering move, she took off her wig on the runway.

“Taking my wig off in front of hundreds of people will be a moment I tell my kids about someday!” she told Sports Illustrated. “I was so nervous backstage leading up to the moment, but knew in my heart I had to do it. I had to do it for myself, for all the tears I've cried about this condition, for all the girls and women out there who want to rip off their wigs but are too afraid to.”

Valdiserri is embracing her hair loss.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Valdiserri joins 16 other women vying for a spot in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Her inspiring co-finalists include Kathy Jacobs, a 55-year-old model who is embracing her silver hair, and Courtney Lynne Smits, Miss Virginia 2019 who also serves in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Valdiserri says she has grown more comfortable modeling without her wig.Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images

Regardless of how the swimsuit search ends, Valdiserri says she wants to use her platform to inspire others living with alopecia.

"I want to show the confidence that I've worked so hard for and my love for life to radiate through my posts and through my presence everyday, so young girls or other women who are losing their hair or have been hiding under a wig for years have at least a small glimpse of hope,” she said in SI’s Instagram post. “I want to give people the little push they need to go from being bald to being bold.”