Actress Jannica Olin shares her personal journey Living with alopecia – The Hollywood Reporter



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Actress Jannica Olin was 32 years old when symptoms began to appear indicating what would eventually be diagnosed as alopecia. The Swedish-born actress and TEDx speaker goes by “Hollywood’s Bald Blonde” and has worked in theatre, film, commercials and music videos; her TEDx talk, “Welcome to My New Normal,” asks the question, “If I’m not my body, then who am I?”

Olin’s one woman show, (IMPERFECTInspired by her journey with alopecia, it had its world premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June 2019 before being featured at the Santa Monica Playhouse. The actress spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about navigating the entertainment industry, doing her own research, and how she felt about the now infamous Oscars blow.

What was your journey with alopecia like?

I discovered my first bald spot in August 2013. And it was like my heart jumped into my throat. I had a bald spot that was perfectly round without hair. It was the size of a quarter and then a few spots around the neck that just weren’t that perfectly round. But it scared me so much.

I didn’t realize then how much of my identity was in my hair. I mean, we all know – especially as women – that hair is everything. It represents your femininity and sexuality; it symbolizes health and fertility, all these things that we have been taught through history and culture. And I was born and raised in Sweden, so I had blond, long hair; I felt like I had to keep reinforcing the stereotype of being a beautiful blonde woman in the eyes of other people.

How have doctors helped and supported you in this?

I’ve never really had good doctors. I went to three different doctors in three countries: [the U.K.]Sweden and here [in the U.S.]† Everyone looks at it from a dermatological point of view, as if it were about your hair. But if you’re going to look at what an autoimmune disease actually is, it means your white blood cells are overactive. So your immune system is overactive in treating a part of you — in my case my hair follicles are seen as a virus like the flu, and my immune system has to handle it. So by keeping my hair away, my immune system thinks it’s doing a good job. Alopecia is the name for the symptom that is hair loss, and it was caused by something else.

What was it like navigating the entertainment industry – auditioning, landing jobs – as an actress with alopecia?

It took me six months to lose all my hair; you have to live the traumatic experience you are confronted with, both on a personal and on a social, cultural level. I did everything I could to get my hair back. I tried everything to keep it from falling out, but nothing worked. So I was like, “Well, what if I just embrace what I can’t change? What would that look like?” Because I know I’m the same person inside It’s just when I look in the mirror, I’m different, and how people see me is different, but how can this become my superpower if I just let it?

Then I started auditioning and booking a lot of work that is all about empowerment and outside the box of being ‘normal’. It’s a process and it’s an exercise. Of course, today I still have days when I don’t want to be watched; I just want to blend in. But overall it has been a good experience for me – it really comes from doing your inner work and not resisting it. I think I’ve given up resistance. And once I did, there was room for something bigger.

How did the Oscars moment come to you? What was your perception of Chris Rock’s? GI Jane comment and then Will Smith slap him?

I haven’t seen it live. I watched it the next day and tuned in to some clips, and I was still waiting for the offensive part. I didn’t see what was offensive about it – in my eyes. And I’m very aware that we all have different experiences, and we’re all in different places. For me personally that is GI Jane joke was not offensive. I think that’s cool. That’s a character that represents someone who is a rebel and who is a strong, independent woman. I wish I had said that to me. But that’s me, right? I cannot speak for anyone else.

At first I thought the slap in the face was staged, but then? [Will Smith] said what he said when he sat down, that didn’t feel staged. Do we condone behavior where people are allowed to respond as they please because something is said to them? That’s where you have to stop and think, “Am I in fight-or-flight mode now?” We are all human. We are all triggered by things. But you have to be an adult and sit down with something and maybe not react that way no matter what.

Maybe it’s a silver lining, but it seems positive that this made more people talk about alopecia. Does this feel like an important moment despite the obvious bad behavior?

There are people who suffer from all kinds of things. So if we can shed light on something and create awareness, people will feel heard and seen. In my own case, it’s no one’s responsibility to know what I have, or why I don’t have hair. No one has to take that on. We can’t walk around feeling like we need to know everything in order to treat people with respect. We always make a mess of it, but we can be curious and open to understanding what people are going through.

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