BOISE -- A 13-year-old girl from Boise was on the Today Show Monday morning, and she was talking about something pretty personal and emotional: A health condition she's had for two years that's caused her to lose all of the hair on her body.
For plenty of junior high girls what you look like can be pretty important, but Caitlin Bishop and her friends say they've learned from experience that it's what's on the inside that really matters. Bishop wants other kids to understand that too.
'I had very long and very thick, wavy hair'
Bishop showed KTVB old photos and videos of herself before she lost all of her hair when she was 11 years old. She had no idea she would ever lose all of it.
I had very long and very thick wavy hair, Bishop said. Looking back on it, seeing the pictures and videos, I actually realize I had very pretty hair, it's just at the moment I had it, I did not want it at all. I was always complaining about my hair. I wanted perfectly pin straight hair.
Two years ago, Bishop's mom was combing her hair when she noticed a bald spot. She was eventually diagnosed with Alopecia Universal, a condition that causes the teen to lose all of her hair, including her eyebrows and eyelashes.
For months and months I had been losing hair, but we just figured it was just how you lose hair regularly and we didn't think it was anything too drastic, and then my mom found a large bald spot on the back of my head, Bishop said.
'I have spent a lot of time trying to hide it'
Bishop first told one of her longtime friends who lives next door, 17-year-old Marissa Jerome.
She was just like I need to tell you something, and she just spilt it all out there that she had alopecia and that she was going to be losing her hair and she was really afraid of what people were going to think of her, Marissa Jerome said. At that time I just remember just trying to comfort her because that's so hard, being 11 years old, almost going into junior high and having to deal with that.
Bishop says most of the other 8th graders in her class at Cole Valley Christian Schools know she has alopecia, but outside that group, Bishop doesn't tell many people.
A couple people at my school know, but not many of them, and I definitely have spent a lot of time trying to hide it and I guess now I'm just like coming out and telling people about it and hoping that people accept it, Bishop said.
Caitlin talks about alopecia on national television
After concealing her condition for about a year, Bishop and her parents agreed to do a story with The Today Show. A camera crew followed her earlier this year as she went to Seattle to get a new type of hair, called a Bio-Matrix system. The system gives Bishop a full head of human hair.
It's a lot different and a lot better than wigs. They are glued to their head. You can shower with them, swim with them, curl, straighten them, and they're real hair, Bishop said.
Bishop says she decided to share her story in a national spotlight so that other kids with alopecia could see how she's been coping.
I definitely wanted to share the story just so I could help somebody else. And I wanted to have this have a reason, and I definitely found it, Bishop said.
'Who you are inside'
Even before the Today Show story aired, it was clear Bishop had already helped others: Her friends, other teenagers who at a young age have learned a valuable lesson.
I think it's changed dramatically how I think of how it really doesn't matter what you look like or what has happened to you, but it just matters what you are and who you are inside, Nicole Jerome said. She never is like, 'you should feel bad for me'. She's got the most positive attitude I know.
Bishop says when she first was diagnosed, she was definitely scared and self-conscious, but through her faith, family, and friends, she's stayed positive.
I do have moments when I just feel upset about it, but I think anybody who has alopecia has those moments when they just feel a little insecure. But I know that God did this for a reason and that I'm going to be okay, and that my hair doesn't define me, Bishop said.
Hair Club for Kids helpsCaitlin
Caitlin gets new hair pieces every four months, and she gets them for free. The organization Hair Club for Kids helps her and many other kids who have lost their hair because of medical conditions.
Because alopecia is an autoimmune disease, Caitlin also gets tired quickly and has to be careful not to get sick because she takes longer to recover.
Though some people with alopecia have had their hair grow back, Bishop explains that the disease is tough to predict, and she has no idea what will happen. At the end of each day though, she says she feels blessed and knows other people are dealing with more problems than she.
I say my prayers at night, and I know that when I wake up in the morning, I'm not going to have hair, but there are people who go to bed at night and say their prayers and don't know if they're going to wake up, Bishop said.