She calls herself “the first bald beauty queen of North Carolina,” and for good reason.
But it’s not by choice.
When Sandra Dubose-Gibson of Raleigh was being crowned Mrs. Black North Carolina last weekend at St. Augustine’s College, it was indeed with a beautiful, yet hairless head. A bold, daring fashion statement of personal choice and style perhaps?
A bold and daring personal statement, for sure, but about courage in the face of physical challenge. Gibson, a happily married woman of 15 years and proud mother of two girls, has suffered from the autoimmune disease alopecia areata - a condition of patchy hair loss that can be brought on by iron deficiency - since the age of 25.
The resulting loss of hair 12 years ago, at such a young and vital age, forced Gibson to deal with deep issues of low self-esteem and purpose in the face of an irreversible disease that threatened many of her hopes and dreams in life.
But only if she let it.
“I entered [Mrs. Black NC] because I know that it would be bigger than me,” Gibson told The Carolinian Monday. “If I could stand and represent women like myself who have been challenged with low self-esteem, whether it be because of hair loss or whatever the issues were, that it was going to make such a powerful statement to so many women.”
“I did it for myself, I did to prove that it can be done, and to help other women be inspired, and motivated to liberate themselves.”
Leading by example for her two daughters, ages 13 and 9, was also part of Gibson’s mission, not just in entering the competition, but also in her roles as motivational speaker, actress, singer and documentary filmmaker.
The Bronx, NY native has appeared in theatre productions across the nation, including in the popular gospel musical, “ Mama, I Want to Sing.” Gibson has performed with gospel great Walter Hawkins and R&B veteran El Debarge.
And in 2008 Gibson produced the documentary, “Project Liberation: My Alopecia Experience,” from which her song, “I’m Beautiful” comes from.
Why did this disease strike Sandra Gibson?
She doesn’t know. Though there is a history of autoimmune deficiency in her immediate family (Gibson’s father died of lupus), she is the only one with alopecia areata.
Born healthy with a full head of hair, Gibson began noticing a bald patch in her hair in her mid-twenties. Soon more little circles of patches began to appear over time.
“That’s not a style that any women would chose,” Gibson quipped, noting how alarmed she became as the condition progressed. It was more than a “bad hair day.” She didn’t want to leave her house, and indeed couldn’t without a hat.
Gibson felt helpless; she couldn’t even look in the mirror. One of a woman’s most personal cherished and coveted attributes was disintegrating every day, right in front of her.
“There was nothing I could do about it, other than cover it up,” she recalls. Gibson admittedly went through a period of “shame and hiding,” fearing that others would find out, and be judgmental.
A dermatologist told Gibson what it was, and that there was no cure. It wasn’t long before her eyebrows and eyelashes were gone as well.
“It took me through a period of depression,” Gibson recalls, “and I had to redefine and rediscover who I was outside of those physical attributes, and really tap into the woman that I am inside, which is really the essence of beauty for everyone.”
That is the lesson that Gibson says she is “passionate’ to share with the world.
Today Gibson feels empowered enough to wear stylish wigs when she wants to. She is not hiding shame anymore, and her triumph in the Mrs. Black North Carolina Pageant is self-confirmation of that, given that she was crowned bald, photographed bald, and has done TV interviews sans a full head of hair.
Turning “lemons into lemonade” is Gibson’s mission in life now. As the new Mrs. Black North Carolina, she will travel the state making appearances, and speaking to women and at gatherings about her condition, and the strength it has taken her to overcome it.
“If you don’t love yourself,” Gibson says, “How are you going to expect anyone to do it? It’s not a choice. It’s something that you have to do to have a happy life.”
For more information visit: www.SandraDubose.com