When we think of engagement shoots, the first thing that comes to mind is all the love the photos will get on social media: likes, shares, and hearts in the comments are addictive, right? But one bride has gone viral for using her beautiful shots to send a message.
Makenzee Meaux has worn a wig since she was eight. She and her mom discovered a bald spot after she cut her hair into a bob in elementary school. Meaux's diagnosis came shortly after: alopecia universalis, complete hair loss. U.S. statistics on the autoimmune disease are unavailable, but data out of Europe estimates that 1 in every 4000 people experiences alopecia universalis, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Science.
Once the last of her hair fell out at age eight, Meaux started wearing a special, custom-fit wig that she keeps on for three or four months at a time before replacing. It adheres securely to her head so she can treat and style it like her own hair—she even swims in it. But that didn't stop people from finding out about her hair loss.
"People still knew that someone was wrong with me and always assumed it was cancer," Meaux says of wearing a wig. "I never clarified because I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone—I'd avoid the subject completely."
By high school, Meaux was still wearing the wig and people were still speculating about her hair. She'd only been dating her now-fiancé, Bryan Ballard, for a few months before a friend's parent mentioned her condition. Even though she and Ballard had met nearly a decade after her diagnosis, Meaux still had reservations about sharing that with him. But he didn't.
"He came to me and said, 'Hair doesn’t matter to me. I love you and I'm here for you 100 percent. You have my support,'" she says.
With that confidence boost, Meaux, then 16, decided to remove her wig in front of him for the first time. And when she did, he was as shocked as she'd expected, but he told her she was beautiful, too.
Fast-forward five years: Meaux, now a senior at University of Houston-Clear Lake, is preparing to walk down the aisle and say "I do" to her high school sweetheart. Ballard proposed in May and the pair took engagement photos in early November. When they were booking their photoshoot with The Frost Collective, Meaux decided it was time to show off the beauty beneath her wig.
"I knew it was time for me to open up and stop hiding. I knew I wanted to expose myself and thought, 'What better time to do it than when I'm next to Bryan, who makes me feel my most comfortable and confident?'" she says. "It speaks volumes to our love story, since I've battled this disease throughout our entire relationship." Just like he did when they did when they were teenagers, Ballard supported her choice to remove the wig.
When she shared the photos on Facebook on November 19, she received even more support from friends, family, and—most overwhelmingly—strangers, some of whom have also battled alopecia. She started the post by saying "This is probably the most difficult thing I will ever do in my life," but she ended more confidently by declaring, "So this is me, the true me."
She originally planned to only show photos without the wig to immediate family, but reactions to her public post were incredibly positive. The over 300 comments overflow with messages of congratulations, and people telling her just how stunning she looks.
Meaux has been overwhelmed with the response. "I did it mainly for myself to help with my confidence my self esteem," she says. "I didn’t ever expect it to get that big."
But even though she posted these photos, showing the world a part of herself she'd kept hidden for most of her life, Meaux plans to wear her wig when she gets married next October. "I'm still not 100 percent confident [without it]," she says. She might remove it to take some photos or during her reception, though.
More than anything, Meaux says this has been an opportunity for her to raise awareness about the disease she's battled since childhood, and to empower others who have challenges that weigh on their self-esteem.
"Everyone is battling something, everyone has something wrong with them," she says. "It's just that some things you can see, others you cannot, you have to find your own beautiful and embrace yourself."