Olivia Rusk overcomes her disease with optimism

Hannah Troyer, Editor-in-Chief

As a third grader, Olivia Rusk was tired of pretending. She was tired of putting on a wig in the morning and tired of hiding who she really was. So, as she was getting ready one morning for school, preparing to put on her natural-looking wig, Rusk made a decision. She was not going to wear her wig to school that day or ever again.

Since she was eighteen months old, Rusk has been living with Alopecia, an autoimmune disorder where the body’s white blood cells attack healthy hair follicles causing hair growth to cease. The disease approximately affects two percent of the population, including five million people in the United States. Alopecia and its effects show in each individual differently. No matter how widespread the hair loss may be, all of the follicles remain alive and can re- grow hair at any time. A signal just has to be received.

“From 18 months until I was about four, I was bald like I am now. [Between the ages of four and eight,] I had hair, but I had spots that were missing,” said Rusk. “When I was eight, all of my hair fell out again. One morning I woke up and took my wig off. A lot of adults were encouraging me not to. Ever since I have been ‘naturally bald.’”

After that fateful day in third grade, Rusk hit a turning point and has embraced who she is on every level. She has walked down the runway for designers in New York and Los Angeles, has been photographed for print work and has even shot commercials. Most recently, Rusk has completed her book entitled, “Your Average Teenager Who Happens to be Bald.” On Feb. 28, Rusk will be appearing on the Today Show with Kathy Lee and Hoda to promote the book and discuss its positive message about self-image and how Rusk has been able to showcase such an

upbeat attitude. “The book is a way for me to spread mymessage without having to physically be with someone. It mostly talks about self-image andhowIamokaywithwhoIam.Ifeellike everyone is too obsessed with self-image and it really doesn’t matter,” said Rusk. “I just try to tell people about being optimistic because no matter what you face in life, things could always be worse.”

Entering high school and dealing with peers that sometime stare has also been an easy transition for Rusk. By participating in drumline, most people already knew her as “the bald girl” when she began freshman year. She believes that by being confident in who she is has led to very little problems with her classmates and their opinion of her.

“Many people call me inspiring, but I don’t see it. I’m just a girl who decided to be myself. No big deal. I feel like in order for someone to be respected, they need to respect themselves first,” said Rusk. “I know from experience that viewing highly of yourself can be challenging, but you just have to find that within yourself.”