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From Penn State Grad To Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model: Christie Valdiserri Finds Beauty In Baldness

When Christie Valdiserri graduated from Penn State in 2016, she felt as if she had the world at her fingertips.

Still basking in post-graduation bliss, Valdiserri was preparing to go on a celebratory graduation trip with her best friend and her best friend’s family. There was a tiny patch of her hair missing, but she figured whatever was causing it would pass.

Fast forward nearly four years later, Valdiserri is now Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s first bald model. The journey from blonde to bald certainly wasn’t easy, but she’s maintained the same fierce and driven attitude since being diagnosed with Alopecia Areata.

Valdiserri grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and chose Penn State for many similar reasons that other in-staters do.

“West Chester was too small for me, Temple was what I felt like secondary to Penn State when you’re from outside of Philly or Pittsburgh,” Valdiserri said. “I wanted it to be a big school, have the full experience of the football games and all the hoopla.”

During her time at Penn State, Valdiserri was a member of the Kappa Delta sorority and a dancer. She was active, happy, and living her best life. Just a month after graduating, though, Valdiserri lost her first patch of hair. Little did she know her life would forever change.

“I really thought the first patch was nothing. And then as it progressed, I still believed it was nothing. I felt invincible that this wouldn’t take over my whole head and it’s going to pass,” Valdiserri said. “Just like anyone who has something like this happen to them, you’re in denial. I truly didn’t believe it was going to happen.”

Validserri remained positive as she began her dream job working on a cruise ship for a seven-month stint. However, after only holding that job for three months, she was very abruptly fired due to her looks and shipped back to Pennsylvania. Within three weeks of that devastating point, her hair was completely gone.

“I was in a horrible very low place after I got fired from this job and I glued on a wig and was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to be this blonde girl that I know myself as,'” Valdiserri said. “I moved out to LA because my gut was telling me to, and I was really sick of hiding and portraying myself as something and having people take me as being happy and having it all. But inside, I was really suffering.”

Valdiserri lost a part of her identity when she began losing her hair. She tried to continue being the bright, bubbly blonde she once was, but that wasn’t entirely who she was anymore. She then began opening up to people in her life about her struggles. Eventually, their praise for her strength and bravery helped motivate her to live a more authentic life.

Once she moved to Los Angeles, Valdiserri had an upsetting conversation with an agent where she revealed she was wearing a wig and wanted to take bald headshots. Her agent said it wouldn’t be necessary and didn’t think she should. This conflict helped Valdiserri realize her baldness was a part of her identity that she wanted to fully embrace.

Later, at a dance intensive, Valdiserri joined attendees in sharing something they were insecure about.

“My heart was beating out of my chest and I was, like, so nervous and started crying and I was like, ‘Well, I wear a wig and I lost all my hair and that’s the root of all my insecurities,'” Valdiserri said. “By the end of the week, I had danced without my wig, [my teacher] inspired [me] to take my wig off, and that was the first time I had ever been in public without my wig.”

Valdiserri’s hair started to gradually grow back, but she continued attending auditions with patches of hair. Despite it growing back, she was reminded her condition wasn’t temporary when her hair began falling out yet again.

“A year ago it fell out again. It was all over my pillow, my sweatshirts, it was everywhere,” Valdiserri said. “I was like, ‘Okay, got to take the power back and shave my head.'” And she did just that.

Courtesy of Christie Valdiserri

When her hair was growing in patches, Valdiserri had the idea of auditioning for Sports Illustrated but thought she should wait until her hair would fully grow back in. However, when her hair fell back out, she realized there was no time like the present to follow her dreams.

“I thought, ‘That’s it, this is the time to make a point,'” she said. “This is clearly my calling. It was my calling to be bald and spread awareness because I really had thought in my heart it was going to grow in and be over with. So then I made a video and submitted it and went down to Miami for open call and the whole weekend was so amazing. I can’t even put it into words.”

By the end of the open call weekend, she walked in the runway show for Sports Illustrated and got to rip off her wig on stage. That liberating and powerful moment is certainly one that will stick with Valdiserri forever. She made it to the top six for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and shot for that edition one month ago in Turks & Caicos.

Courtesy of Christie Valdiserri

“I just feel so comfortable as a bald woman when I am around that company and that organization,” Valdiserri said. “It’s so eye-opening that for so long I felt like I needed to hide and now that I’m involved with this huge, iconic brand I feel so comfortable as a bald girl.”

Valdiserri has done work with the Children’s Alopecia Project in attempts to spread her message and get involved within the community. Last June, she went to speak as a mentor at Alopeciapalooza in Maine.

“Seeing these kids, like, not care and just live and laugh and dance with their siblings and other family members, it was just so normal to be bald,” Valdiserri said. “I felt so at home by the end, it wasn’t like I stood out like I do in so many other aspects of my life.”

For many young adults, especially college-aged women, there is a certain social pressure around beauty that brings a great amount of pressure to be living in today’s society. Now, Valdiserri hopes to redefine beauty standards for people everywhere.

“I would say you have to stay true to who you are. Like actually take some time to think about like what makes you happy, what you love about yourself,” Valdiserri said. “Whatever it is that’s authentic to you, absolutely follow that dream and do whatever it takes to make that happen in your life and believe in yourself.”

So, what does Valdiserri think beauty is these days? Well, her answer just about as badass as she is.

“Beauty is just so much more than what you look like. No one or no circumstance or no authority or no media can tell you what beauty is,” Valdiserri said. “It is so much more about who you are and what you bring to the table and if you’re authentic to yourself.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a junior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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