By Laura McAlister
To describe it as a bad hair day would be an understatement.
Instead, Liz DeFuniak Landgren of Homewood refers to it as “the day my hair fell out.”
It happened some eight years ago. The model and mother was just weeks away from the arrival of her second child.
“I was in the shower, and my hair just started falling out,” she said. “I called my nurse, and she attributed it to hormones and the pregnancy.”
The hair loss was likely triggered by the pregnancy, but it wasn’t ordinary. The condition turned out to be much more long-term and something that would test the young mom, who had made a career from her good looks.
Liz was diagnosed with alopecia areata, a condition that causes patches of hair loss and, in some cases, total hair loss. Liz’s friend and dermatologist, Dr. Lauren Hughey, diagnosed her with alopecia.
At first Liz was dumbfounded. She’d never heard of the disease.
Then she was devastated. A model since she was 15, Liz had graced the covers of local magazines like Birmingham magazine and had even been featured in some national ad campaigns, including Weight Watchers.
The stylists, who loved working with Liz, adored her stick-straight blonde hair, commenting on how easy it was to work with, and Liz was always the girl with new “it” cut.
“All these things were flashing through my head, and I just freaked out,” she said. “It really showed me how insecure I was with my identity. I thought about what people would think of me. If I lost my looks, who would I be?
“Then I learned a huge lesson about myself. I knew God had a plan for me. Then, everything just kind of clicked.”
God did have a plan for Liz. Today, she and her husband Brett have three children – Bess, Fox and Banks. She still models some, and she’s also an artist, in addition to a mom, wife and friend.
For Liz, her diagnosis of alopecia was a new beginning — one she now uses to help others. Liz said she shares her story with civic and church groups, as well as individuals, to let them know it’s not just the outside that counts.
Liz should know. Her problems were just beginning after her alopecia diagnosis.
Her second child, Fox, was born Aug. 4, 2003. Although Liz was receiving steroid shots in her scalp, her hair continued to fall out. Shortly after her son’s birth, Liz would be challenged again, this time with Bell’s palsy, a disorder of the nerve that controls movement of the muscles of the face.
“I was outside talking with a neighbor, and I felt a resistance in the side of my face,” she said. “I thought I was having a stroke.”
For about three weeks, the right side of Liz’s face was almost paralyzed. She had to wear any eye patch over her right eye, and through it all, she was still losing her hair.
“I wore a scarf on my head, and I painted an eye on my patch,” she said. “I know I scared children.”
Doctors could never fully explain what brought on the Bell’s palsy, but it went away in three weeks. So did more of Liz’s hair. Eventually, she shaved her head, and eventually, her hair did grow back.
Today, she has an almost full head of hair. Most people who see her wouldn’t know she had alopecia, but she’s quick to pull back her chin-length hair to uncover the growing size of her part, as well as a bald patch about the size of a golf ball on one side of her head.
Liz still receives treatments for alopecia and knows that any day she could begin to lose her hair by the handfuls again. But she also knows now that it’s not her looks that define her.
“I think now, I identify myself as a child of God,” she said. “I could tell this story without Christ, but it wouldn’t be a very good story. This isn’t just about alopecia. This is about confidence and how our confidence needs to be in Christ.
“This really helped me figure out who I was inside. I’m a wife, mom, an artist and a friend. Those are more important than being a model.”
Liz will also tell you that if you think you’re having a bad hair day, think of her.
“If I’m in a public bathroom and hear women talking about their hair and a ‘bad hair day,’” she said, “I tell them they don’t even know.”