It started with just two strands of hair gone missing. One fall morning in 2004, Rosanna Savone, then 28, pulled back her long dark brown locks—a proud asset for Detroit-native of full Italian heritage—to find, inexplicably, two distinct bald spots above each ear.
Doctors diagnosed her with Alopecia areata, an autoimmune skin disease that affects 2 percent of the U.S. population, some 6.5 million people, resulting in the loss of hair patches on the scalp or elsewhere on the body. They attributed it to stress, one of the common conditions known to trigger the internal inflammation in the little-researched disease. Shortly thereafter, Savone began a treatment of regular cortisone injections, which was but a short-lived solution.
By the time her wedding day rolled in the following year, Savone was completely bald, unable to locate a single hair on her entire body. Her eyelashes were the last to go. Alopecia universalis, she learned, was the most extreme form of the disease, resulting in complete hair loss, striking a mere 2 percent of those with Alopecia.
“It derailed me initially,” Savone, now 37, recalled.
As the Hermosa Beach resident recounts these memories nine years later, she is anything but derailed. Donning long dark locks, a vibrant Savone has a contagious sense of humor about the condition that once crippled her conscience. She’s currently working on two books slated for publication next year – “Memoirs of a Bald Bride” and a self-help book based on her program called “Fearlessly Love Yourself in 60 Days.” She’s opened an office in Manhattan Beach for her production venture called liv.luv.rayht.inc. to kickstart her projects.
When she was first diagnosed, she had recently transplanted to the heart of Hollywood to pursue her lifelong dream of writing screenplays. As a fresh graduate out of University of Michigan’s School of Law, she landed an assistant job at William Morris Talent Agency, wide-eyed and eager.
But as her hair continued to “fall out in chunks,” Savone left her high-stress job to focus on health. She became acquainted with wigs, moved to Hermosa Beach with her husband Howard and shortly gave birth to their son Evan, now 5. While close friends and family knew about her condition, she avoided talking about it until very recently.
“I didn’t want to be known as the Alopecia girl,” she said. “I wanted to be known for my talent. But then that was my realization: What I found as my misfortune in the end could be my fortune.”
At the beginning of this year, with encouragement from friends, she launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign with the intent of writing and publishing a memoir recounting her journey in the last decade. The campaign page displayed a short creative video by Savone showing her return home from a fictional first date and in a raw, emotive scene peeling off her hair before a mirror to reveal her bald scalp and the false eyelashes adorning her naked eyelids.
“People who I knew since moving to the South Bay five years ago would say they had no idea I was wearing a wig the whole time,” Savone recalled.
Though she would end up falling short of her campaign goal and not see a penny of the funds raised, “going public” about her baldness changed her life, she said. She learned that her newfound vulnerability allowed her to connect with others on a level she never thought possible, both in person and virtually. People wrote in, expressing their fear of dating or other pursuits due to their body image.
This feedback, she said, stirred in her a desire to use her personal experience, as well as years of studying the field of personal development, to coach others who are struggling with crippling self-image issues.
“I knew through what I was doing for myself that it all really starts with your belief system,” Savone said. “How you think, feel and behave about yourself, you will manifest those results in your life. You’re going to act out on that behavior. You can never outperform your self-image, so you have to work with creating one that you want first.”
Having recently finished a six-month training as a life coach under the guidance of her five mentors, including experts Bob Proctor and Mary Morrissey, Savone has coached some 10 clients through her devised program and is looking for more. The program includes 12 areas of focus to create the optimal self-image, including self-compassion, self-trust, self-confidence and self-care, which many conflate with self-indulgence, she noted.
“We’re conditioned beings – we are who we are through repetition,” Savone explained. “So not only do we have to learn a different way of being, you have to repeat it for a while for it to really stick. That’s why a lot of people would know things but never change their lives because you basically have to create and maintain a new habitual pattern.”
Her condition is lifelong, as no cure is known: Alopecia strikes uniquely in each person and is highly unpredictable. Because hair follicles remain intact, hair can grow back or fall out at anytime.
Savone has gone through many a cycles. After a summer of falling off her strict diet – she noticed certain food groups like dairy exacerbated the hair loss – her freshly grown hair began receding again last month. But she considers herself lucky that it’s not life-threatening, like chemotherapy patients who essentially experience the same process of hair loss.
She’s recently begun reaching out to local cancer support communities to help guide these patients through bettering their self-image, for a happier, more peaceful and fulfilling life. Next January she’ll be speaking at the Cancer Support Community of Redondo Beach.
“How can I put my life on hold?” she said. “How much would I have missed out on my life? People are putting their lives on hold, until they’re 20 pounds lighter, until their hair grows back. We believe we have to be a certain way in order to be loved and accepted. We put up our own stop signs.”
For more information about Savone’s life-coaching program, visit rosannasavone.com.