Hedly bares all in documentary premiere

Jun 19, 2019
Ann Hedly of Appleton is the subject of "Mop Cap: An Alopecia Story,” directed by Nicolle Littrell of Belfast.

BELFAST — After more than two years since its sneak peek, locals can enjoy the Midcoast premiere of "Mop Cap: An Alopecia Story” on Sunday, June 23, from 5:15 to 7:15 p.m. at the Colonial Theater, 163 High St.

The documentary is about one woman’s experience with the auto-immune condition alopecia, which causes patchy hair loss and baldness. Director Nicolle Littrell tells Ann Hedly’s lifelong story of how this condition has created conflict and creativity in her life and how self-love is the key to lasting acceptance. The film explores universal themes of femininity, beauty, personal loss and transformation.

"I'm thrilled to be premiering 'Mop Cap' in my hometown of Belfast, where we previewed the film,” Littrell said. “Much has changed since that time… change… an important theme of this film. What remains is a film I'm proud to share with the Midcoast community."

Since the film was produced, Hedly has twice attended Alopeciapalooza as a speaker and mentor. It is a children’s summer camp run by the Children’s Alopecia Project, which offers camps all over the country, including Naples, Maine.

“Meeting children and other adults with alopecia for the first time has been life changing. I felt a kind of understanding and integration around this strange disease that has been missing in my life up to this point,” Hedly said. “Finding a place of home where I can be absolutely myself and free has been deeply liberating. Showing the kids that you can be a happy, free and bald adult is the best kind of reward for a life of unpredictable hairiness.”

Hedly also talks about changes in her life that have occurred since the film was made. “As I navigated becoming a bald woman again, I could feel myself remembering a lot of old dreams I had set aside to become a wife and mother. I started dancing again and felt my old dreams waking up. In the meantime, my marriage was going through changes.” Hedly is recently divorced.

“It’s crazy that there is a piece in the film about comfort and other people’s comfort with baldness. My ex-husband appears and it is clear that there is discomfort. I don’t think either of us knew at that point we would be divorced at all, much less so quickly,” she said. “The film really marks a huge change and shift in my life, not just from a haired to a bald woman, but also from married to single. It’s quite a remarkable time capsule actually.”

Hedly recently spoke at Alopeciapalooza. Here is an excerpt from her speech: “Alopecia forces us to look beyond the surface of our identities and begs the question: Who are you really? We cannot hide very well from a constructed idea of normalcy. In that story of discovering our own individuality a beauty emerges, which is beyond convention, yet is undeniable. It is the feeling of acceptance, and the feeling-tone of that acceptance includes forgiveness and unrestrained freedom. That freedom is so contagious. It feels like love with no story, just wide open life-is-good love.”

Editor’s Note: The following backstory of this piece originally ran as a longer May 2017 article by Dagney C. Ernest.

The film takes its name from the vintage-styled mob cap — the family called it a mop cap — Hedly wore in elementary school to cover her head. Around the age of 5, she began losing her hair in patches; by 7, she had no hair at all. Living in Williamsburg, Va., the historic headgear made perfect sense.

“Then I loved going to Colonial Williamsburg because I blended in — I didn’t get stared at,” Hedly said.

It took the family and its medical practitioners a while to figure out what was happening, but finally the diagnosis was made. With alopecia, the body attacks the hair follicles. It presents in several types of hair loss, and seems to come and go at whim. But even at a tender age, Hedly was sure about one thing.

“As a child I was very clear that I didn’t want to wear a wig and pretend like I had hair. That was very important to me,” she said. “That’s not everyone’s choice, and I think some alopecian children simply do what makes their parents the most comfortable.”

Her parents did not insist their active, athletic, outspoken child wear a wig. However, they did offer to buy her a custom wig or a computer. “And I said, 'The computer!'” Hedly recalled.

After years of fluctuating between growing hair and losing it, Hedly is no longer concerned with covering her smooth dome.

“This whole project is about me not having hair, but I love the juxtaposition of allowing myself to think of myself any particular way,” she said. “And I find that thrilling, a kind of personal activism of allowing myself to believe exactly what I want to believe about myself, despite what I see in the mirror.”

Hedly did have hair from the ages of 21 to 41, she said. “I had a strange hairline, had no sideburns; it was a little strange, but people didn’t give me a second look. And then, at 41, poof.”

Alopecian hair loss isn’t quite that instantaneous, but it is fast; Hedly said it happens inside of a month. And she had three young sons who, while they’d seen pictures of her mob-cap youth, had always known their mother to have hair.

It began shortly after Thanksgiving 2015. The homeschooling mother and yoga instructor started trying to prep her boys, because she knew it was going to be a big deal for them. Ultimately, they were “very sweet and supportive,” she said. “And at this point, they say, ‘Mom, I can’t even remember you with hair!’”

Hedly brought in Woman in the Moon Films’ Littrell when she realized that documenting the process could be worthwhile, and when she decided it was time to shave her head for the first time in 20 years.

“I had done some self-filming… and thought, this has got to be better than just a selfie. There needs to be more depth to this,” Hedly said.

The women have known each other for years, having been part of a local cohort of women who had homebirths working with the same set of midwives.

“There was a night that I woke up when I was losing my hair, and it was clear that it was all going to come out,” said Hedly. “I just had this very comforting vision of doing this project.”

Littrell has taught in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Maine for eight years. As a documentary filmmaker, she has produced a film series about homebirth, among other subjects. As an activist, she is cofounder of BelFem, an education-focused group exploring issues pertaining to gender, race, sexuality and health. She said she was interested right away.

“It intersects very succinctly with the issues that I look at and I saw a lot of potential around that to parse out the beauty ideal, the male gaze around beauty — these were areas I was definitely interested in exploring with Ann,” she said.

Originally planning to only share with friends and family, the women ended up filming for just shy of a year, beginning in March 2016 and covering the four seasons. In March 2017, they screened the first half of the then-rough cut at the Colonial.

A crowdfunding campaign followed shortly after, as Hedly wanted to pay Littrell; and the finished film was screened in July 2017 at the 20th annual Maine International Film Festival.

“One thing that’s been important to me, and I keep reflecting back to Ann, is that this has more resonance and a personal message, it goes beyond people who have alopecia,” said Littrell. “It touches on what is femininity and looking at loss, these broader themes of paths to healing and self-acceptance.”

Hedly said she thinks as a child, she didn’t allow herself to feel as much.

“As an adult, I am so much safer to feel all the uncomfortable feelings about what it is to be so different … So lately I’ve been just sort of enjoying what it is to make my own decisions about how I’m going to feel about it,” she said.

Her hair could grow in, and fall out again, but Hedly said it doesn’t matter. “There was this idea I was winning the game if I had hair and losing the game if I didn’t have hair, and now, I’m done with that — there is no game.”

Following the film, there will be a discussion with Hedly and Littrell. Tickets are $10. For more information, please find “Mop Cap Film Premiere” on Facebook.

 

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