Interview: “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Alyscia Cunningham is a US-based portrait and editorial photographer who recently launched a crowd-funding campaign for “I Am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”.

“I Am More than My Hair” is an awareness/social-change photography project that focuses on the beauty of being bald and follows Alyscia’s first book “Feminine Transitions” featuring a series of portraits that reveal the natural beauty of women of diverse ages and backgrounds without make-up on. Alyscia’s work celebrates natural beauty while also inviting us to challenge what beauty – real beauty – means to us, even when hair is lost.


Amy – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

We reached out to Alyscia to find out more about her project and share her insight throughout this experience below:

1. In October 2013, you decided to make the cut and donate your hair to a cancer organization. This move, as well as the reactions of those around you, raised many questions for you about beauty standards. What were some of the notable reactions you received after cutting your hair so short and how did this inspire your latest project “I am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”?

I’ve often heard, “A woman’s hair is her beauty” and “Your hair is your strength” from two different communities. I completely disagree with both statements.

It got to a point where I would tell myself “I am not my hair”. That single thought gave birth the the idea of my project I Am More Than My Hair, which is a response to that fact that I wasn’t my hair.

On that day, 16” [approx. 41 cm] of my locks were cut by Johnny Wright, Michelle Obama’s hair stylist, and donated for cancer patients. I’ve always had long hair and this was the first time I had ever cut my hair into a short style. I’ve wanted to cut it off once I realized my consistent head colds after swimming were related to the heavy weight of my locks not drying in time. Two years later, I was informed about the “Big Chop” and I gladly volunteered my hair to be donated.

2. You’ve been interested in beauty and addressing our relationship with it for a while now. Your previously published “Feminine Transitions” book features women without make-up and highlights the struggle of being vulnerable behind a lens. How are your two projects linked and how are they different in your perspective?

Both “Feminine Transitions” and “I Am More Than My Hair” relate to each other because they deal mostly with vulnerability. The participants were required to shed a layer to be photographed, whether it was make-up or a wig. The immediate difference that comes to mind is the subject matter.

However, there are more similarities than there are differences.

3. Tell us about your journey driving throughout Washington D.C. photographing girls and women for “Bald and Beautiful Me”. What stories came out of this experience and did you face any obstacles taking the photographs?

It has been a wonderful experience visiting new places within the DC metro area and meeting women I may not have bumped into otherwise. All the photos were taken outdoors or in a natural lighting environment: a favorite park, the backyard, by their bedroom window..

I wanted everyone to choose a location they connected with most.

I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me

Tamela – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Most women opened up, telling me their personal stories about their experience with hair loss. Some shed tears. Others simply accepted it for what it was. Either way, it is a blessing to connect with women from all walks of life.

4. You have photographed more than 35 women of different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities for your project so far. What were common themes you encountered and how did your definition of beauty change as a result of those interactions?

My first reaction was noticing so much more than the hair of bald women and girls. I really got a chance to see the beauty in their features, their smile.

Hair not being there was less of a distraction. They had a natural radiance. It was raw beauty in all colors, shapes and forms.


Sala – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

5. What message would you like to get across to women struggling with insecurities about their beauty? What would you tell your younger self today?

I always tell women that we are all uniquely beautiful. Don’t look to the media for an answer to beauty. The media bombards us with Photoshopped images and Photoshop is a lie.

I would tell my younger self to look for my worth within myself, and not from what others say to or about me.

6. In Lebanon (and much of the Middle East), beauty standards are quite high and this add lots of pressure on women to constantly keep up appearances. As such, when a woman loses her hair as a result of cancer treatment, it is even more difficult for her to cope and the majority will avoid being seen or opt to wear wigs during this period. This is also related to the taboo linked to cancer still being witnessed in our society, but the issue of beauty and social perception remains. What insight can you shed for women living in our part of the world on this issue and what kind of awareness do you think is needed to help overcome it?

In no way do I tell a woman going through cancer treatment how to feel. What I can offer is encouragement. I will do my best to let her know that she is beautiful despite her temporary (or permanent) hair loss. I can also offer a connection with another women on this side of the world going through the same experience, who can also encourage her.

I also make it a point to speak about the media’s view of beauty as compared to reality. Showing non-Photoshopped and Photoshopped has a huge impact on our self-perception.

From my experience, real pictures of well-known people in the media make the idea of beauty less threatening. The media sells insecurity. I use that outlet as a tool to sell positive self-imagery, showing individuals as everyday ordinary people.

Erika - Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham's photography book "I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me"

Erika – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

7. You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary you’d like to develop based on “Bald and Beautiful Me” How was the experience for you and do you plan to relaunch the campaign in the future?

Unfortunately, there were complications with Kickstarter so I decided to launch my crowdfunding campaign on My goal is to raise $25,228 in order to be able to produce 1,000 copies of the book and 500 copies of the DVD documentary. Many people don’t understand that this small number of production still takes a great deal of work and dedication, which in turn takes money.

The money raised will also go towards the marking cost of producing both the book and DVD. At first, I was recording the stories of the participants for my crowd-funding campaign but decided to actually compile them into a documentary.

There stories are so personal and heartfelt that I had to share them along with the book.

8. In closing, please continue the statement in your own words: “I am more than my hair and/because …”

… my hair does not determine my strength or ability.


Jameelah – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Keep posted for more on “I Am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me” here.

We’d like to turn to you now: How would you continue the statement “I am more than my hair and/because …”Please share in the comments section below.


Let’s WhatsApp: What Can I Eat?

We’re excited to announce the launch of our first online patient support program launching next month (it’s going to be quite a busy month for us, considering another program happening then too).

The “Let’s WhatsApp” series will be a monthly activity and service we provide to patients by connecting them to specialists discussing topics they are interested in.. from the comfort of their own home! This will allow any patient or survivor to join the group chat for an hour to ask any questions they may have while also having the opportunity to connect to other patients from across Lebanon.

Our first “Let’s WhatsApp”chat will be all about nutrition and clinical nutritionist Diane Nicolas, Msc, RD will be our guest speaker. You may be familiar with her name on our blog through these previous posts:

Spots will be limited to ensure everyone gets a chance to take part so be sure to register asap!

Full details are in the flyers below:




Blossom زهري : Art Therapy Workshops


Give yourself a chance to RELAX, REFLECT and RECONNECT with yourself (and others) through art. Blossom_Instagram “I never imagined the amount of information that would come out of a small drawing on paper. It was amazing how much did come out of that.. I was given insight that I wasn’t aware of, which gave me a sense of empowerment, and then I was able to make the decision that I wanted to from that.” – Patricia, Breast Cancer Patient (Source)

Artichoke Studio and One Wig Stand invite you to take part in a unique art therapy workshop to delve deeper into matters of importance to you and reshape your cancer experience.

“Art Therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the Art Therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” – American Art Therapy Association, 2015

Through art-making and intimate group discussions, the workshop aims to help each participant express her emotions, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of herself. In a playful and nonjudgmental environment, important issues will be tackled through different artistic mediums (such as drawings, collage, clay, etc.) over a course of 8 sessions.

The workshop will provide you an opportunity to:

  • Relax, play and get distracted from any pain you may feel.
  • Express any emotions that may be difficult to verbalize.
  • Build your self-esteem and strengthen your body image.
  • Cope better with stress, grief, fear, anxiety and depression.
  • Become more self-aware of your emotions and needs.
  • Communicate and interact more effectively with your family and surroundings.
  • Connect with others who are going through or have been through a similar experience and find comfort, freedom and hope through this support network.

Sessions will be lead by Myra Saad – M.A. in Art Therapy & Mental Health Counseling. No prior experience in art is required to take part in, or benefit from, art therapy. Confidentiality is highly respected.

WORKSHOP DETAILS The workshop will start in March and will take place once per week over 8 weeks.

  • Time: TUES: 6:30pm – 9pm OR FRI: 9:30am – 12pm (to be set based on majority preference)
  • Location: Artichoke Studio, Sin el-Fil
  • Fee: $145 for 8 sessions (includes cost of art materials)


Fill-in the following online registration form: OR download it (from here) and send it to us on: Kindly note that places are limited!

Deadline for Registrations: Friday March 6, 2015

ABOUT US ARTICHOKE STUDIO is committed to providing art therapy for individuals, groups and communities seeking mental health and self-development, based on high professional and ethical standards.

ONE WIG STAND is a breast cancer awareness and support non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness among young women through its engaging campaigns and targeted support programs for patients and their families.

For more information, please contact: 03-545281 or 79-158471


Nerves and Boob Exams

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but I never quite found the right time to do it and kept putting it off. Not unlike the routine breast exams I find myself pushing off to the very last moment. Or until I get fed up of the constant reminders from my mom and husband to do it (Thank you both for that!).


On my way up to the center, doctor’s note in hand.

Doing any type of check-up brings along a certain type of anxiety. Multiply that by 100 for those check-ups that have to do with cancer detection. Yeah, it’s stressful. And I completely understand why others may put it off too. I relate so much more to that anxiety especially since I’ve started doing it too. Even as someone working in the field and constantly asking others to get checked, I get nervous. Possibly, slightly even more so because I’m reminded daily of cancer’s realities through the patients we work with. And as the daughter of a former breast cancer patient, I’m at added risk which means I need to get screened at a younger age (usually 10 years before the age of diagnosis of the person in the family that had it). I did my first mammography at the age of 29 and today went in for my yearly check-up. The reason I’ve wanted to write this was to actually take you through the experience with me so that you may feel better prepared for what’s to come when you get checked. Just a small disclaimer here: This is my personal experience and views on the matter that should not be taken as a general example nor reflect the views of the NGO in any way. So before even going to the hospital, clinic or center you plan to get screened at, you need a doctor’s note, an ID and your insurance card. The insurance I’m currently on doesn’t cover much so I actually pay 78,000 LL for a mammary echograph (mammographs are for every other year in my case and I don’t remember how much the first one cost). That will differ based on your coverage. I’ve been doing my screenings at CEDIM in Abraj Center for the past three visits so they are my reference point (although I’d love to hear more from you on how it is in other places in Lebanon). I’ve been happy with their service so far and although they are professional, there is a lot of waiting in the process.


Waiting is probably the most stressful part of the experience.

That’s probably the part that plays the most on my nerves, especially as I go on my own for these routine check-ups. A lot of the women I see there actually tend to be on their own too but if you’re one to panic, bring someone along like your mom or sister. It will help to have company. So after waiting for the form processing and your turn in the “salon” (usually full of several people each keeping to their own), you’re escorted to the top floor where the actual exams take place. I tend to get the most nervous in this part of the clinic because that’s where people  also tend to get their diagnosis. It’s really hard when someone sitting next to you gets some bad news. Even though you’re complete strangers, you just want to reach out and hug them. At the same time, it gets you worried about your own turn. It’s human nature to feel this way.


The machine used for the mammary echographs.

Once you’re in the exam room, the doctor comes to check you. I’ve been doing my mammary echograph exams with Dr. Carla Hobeika, who put me at complete ease and doesn’t mind explaining things to me during the process (I always have a ton of questions).


The decorative items in the exam room were quite fitting for the occasion!

The time I did the mammograph, it was with one of the young busy-body nurses (often in a pair of bright Converse shoes) that assist around the clinic. I’ll admit: it’s not a pleasant exam, but an important one so you put up with the discomfort that comes along with it. I can’t wait till someone invents a new mammography machine that caters to women’s chest comfort (if that term makes sense?). I believe it would play a big role in encouraging more women to get screened more regularly if so. So back to the exam room: the screening takes around 20 minutes. Dr. Hobeika is quite thorough and it is interesting to see the breast tissue on the screen as she does it so you feel more engaged in the process. You’ll see some dark circular shapes in the tissue now and then, but don’t be so quick to worry: they may simply be naturally-occurring cysts in the chest that are nothing to worry about. Asking when you see something is important and I find having a doctor who’s patient with that part really helps. After checking the chest and armpit area, we’re done and out I go. The results tend to take 1-2 days so mine will be ready tomorrow. The doctor put me at ease by mentioning that everything looked normal (thank God!). I’ll be back next year for my annual so until then, mission accomplished.


The card they give you for when the results will be ready (They spelled my name wrong.

Well, there you have it! My personal account of a routine chest exam. The process itself will differ from place to place and doctor to doctor, which is why I’d love to hear more from you on this. How has your experience been if you’ve done this? What can be better? What helps? What doesn’t? And if you’d like to find out more on this, you know how to reach us.


7 Gift Ideas for a Loved One Fighting Cancer

With the holidays less than a week away, it is easy to freak out if you haven’t finished all your gift shopping. It’s tricky and perhaps a tad stressful when you don’t know where to begin, especially if its for a family member or friend fighting cancer. What can you get that will make her feel better yet at the same time be of benefit during her treatment period?

We’ve spent the past few days online window shopping for some ideas for you – all of which can be found in Lebanon and vary in price to suit any budget:


1. For Laughs: Add a little laughter with a funny movie or DVD box set of her favorite series. Laughter is the best medicine after all, right? // We recommend: Two and a Half Men DVD Box Set, or something similar to take her mind of what she’s going through.

2. For Passing the Time: Download some of her favorite tunes into an iPod that she can take with her to treatment or while in the waiting room. If she’s more into app games, splurge on an iPad and install a few of them to get her started. // We recommend: iPod Shuffle, or something similar that’s small and easy to carry around in a purse.

3. For Comfort: Help her cozy up in a warm robe this winter season with a soft fleece robe. The best part is it can be thrown over anything she is wearing when she feels cold. // We recommend: The featured robe available at Oysho, or something similar as longer lengths tend to provide more blanket-like warmth.

4. For Cold Feet: Grab a pair of funny socks or fuzzy slippers for her to wear around the house or slip into while getting treatment at the hospital. Select a design she’ll be comfortable wearing when friends or family come over and she doesn’t feel like dressing up. // We recommend: The featured slippers also available at Oysho, or something similar she can easily slip in and out of.

5. For Soft Skin: Makeup can go a long way when you’re not feeling particularly “hot” about yourself, but be sure to avoid anything that contains parabens, which are harmful chemicals used in cosmetics linked to cancer. She may feel an aversion to smells if she’s undergoing chemotherapy so avoid overly-fragant or floral creams. // We recommend: The featured “Joy to the World” gift box at LUSH that contains “Dream Cream” – a hydrating cream recommended by other patients, or something similar that is made organically.

6. For Support: Although she may not openly admit it, she may be in need of support from time to time during her treatment and a reminder that she’s not alone in her battle. Boost her morale with small gifts of support, whether it’s a inspirational book or by connecting her with other patients to let it out. Make a difference on her behalf by donating to a cause close to her heart. // We recommend: The featured “Pink Pulse” bracelet designed exclusively by One Wig Stand, the full proceeds of which is directed to our patient-support programs, or a similar gesture or donation to an NGO of her choice.

7. For Pampering: Who would ever say no to a massage, right? Patients undergo tremendous stress and aches along their journey so give her some TLC in the form of a pampering massage to rejuvenate her. // We recommend: the “Sensitive Body Skin Honey Treatment” at Elixir Spa in Habtoor Hotel, or something similar that is gentle and soothing for her.

Or Get Creative! A lot of the times it pays to be creative and prepare a unique gift (or gift basket) to match her personality. Make her something special, like a scarf or a hand-painted mug with words of support, or do little things for her, like taking her shopping or even baby-sitting her kids for the afternoon.

Truly, the best gift you can give to any patient is your love and time. Try to really be there for her during this time, especially if she’s feeling a bit more sensitive or stressed during the holiday period. And be sure to give her plenty of hugs – 100% free but priceless.

We hope these recommendations help you as you finish your holiday shopping your weekend. We’d love to hear any additional ideas or tips you may have too!


Disclaimer: All of the above suggestions are based on the personal preference of the author and do not reflect any influence or affiliation with any of the brands mentioned to the organization itself.