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Norman Freeman, 22, is a successful makeup artist launching a nationwide tour. But he won't be hanging out in celebrity dressing rooms — he'll be in cancer wards, offering free services to those who need a little confidence more than ever.
Freeman was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease causing chronic hair loss, at age 5. By 7, he had lost all of his hair, including his eyebrows and eyelashes. “I was teased. People didn’t know if I had cancer or what … They thought I had cancer, and they still teased me!” Freeman told TODAY incredulously.
Though his hair intermittently grew back throughout his teenage years, it ultimately fell out again while he was in college. Freeman was, in his words, “in a dark place.”
It was then that the aspiring makeup artist enrolled in beauty school, turning the passion he’d discovered by watching YouTube tutorials into a bona fide career — and building confidence through the glamorous looks he did on himself and others.
Freeman is a gifted artist, and his work quickly gained traction on social media. But it took on a deeper meaning when he decided to pay it forward by launching a self-funded project offering free service to cancer patients.
“Being sick, not having any hair — that is really devastating,” Freeman explained. “But I can give you those eyelashes, those brows, and make you feel better.”
“I know how untouchable makeup can make me feel,” he continued. “I want help people say, ‘I’m sick, and it's awful, but I can still feel beautiful.’”
Right now, Freeman’s efforts are focused on the East Coast, where the Pittsburgh native can easily travel. He has visited hospitals in New York and Philadelphia, and hopes to continue as long (and as far and as wide) as funding permits.
Having struggled with a lack of control over his own appearance and also lost family members to cancer, Freeman’s stake in the project is personal — and doing the makeovers has already had a profound impact.
“There was a girl about 12 or 13 at a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh,” Freeman said. “She has no hair, and she’s missing homecoming, school dances, holidays … When I saw her mood, she was so positive. It warmed my heart. For her to be dealing with this at such a young age … I thought, if she can get up every day and be happy, why can’t I?”
While Freeman has set up a GoFundMe page to offset travel costs, money is the last thing on his mind. “I don’t want anything — one girl drew me a picture, and I loved that,” he said. “I wish I could do 20 on Monday and 20 again on Tuesday."
"It makes me a better person," he added. "I want to use my talent to help others.”