How surfing helped Julia Shells overcome her insecurities from total hair loss.

Interview by Anushka Bovill

Julia, when did you first start to surf?
I still remember my first ever time in the water with a surfboard, it was on December 24th of 2015, I was about 18 then and didn’t have alopeci. My sister and her boyfriend were hosting a surf and music festival in Morocco named Roots Surf Fest and I went to help them out. I took my first surf lessons there and I managed to stand up and ride a wave. That feeling and that trip changed my life for ever! I started to travel for surfing on my vacations ever since and now moved to another country next to a surf spot.

How has your life changed since you started to lose your hair?
It hasn’t only changed my life, but it has changed me as well. When I lost my hair I became super insecure about my looks, but with time it made me stronger as I had to do very tough and in-depth work on myself. I also started to see life from a different perspective and finding beauty in other little things, where before, maybe I didn’t. On a day-to-day basis it affected how I got ready before leaving the house. At first, I didn’t open up about alopecia. I used to take so long to get ready as I had to do a perfect make up for my eyebrows, get my wig on and etc. Afterwards, it got easier. I got my eyebrows tattooed with micro-pigmentation, and once I opened up, I would just go with a scarf on to class instead of a wig.

Has loosing your hair changed the way you look at surfing?
At the very beginning of my hair loss I was like “oh my god, I will never be able to go into the water or surf again. I’ll never be able to really be free”. I really didn’t want anybody to see me without my hair. I even tried to find wigs that could stick on while surfing… but I’ll let you know something: there’s no wig or glue strong enough to stay on through a duck dive or white wash on your paddle out haha! When I reached a point where I stopped doing the things I loved because of fear of what other people could think, my mindset shifted immediately. For me surfing was and has always been about fun, about feeling independent and connecting with nature. And nothing or nobody would change the way I feel about it.

Have you noticed any other surfers looking at you differently since loosing your hair?
Since I lost my hair people noticed me faster. But not only in the water, outside as well. People stare at me wondering, “what’s wrong with her? Is she sick?”. Because (sadly) it’s not usual to see a woman without hair. And it’s not because there aren’t any women without hair, believe me, there’s lots of them. But it’s because society and it’s perfect beauty ideals don’t allow it. Therefore most of the women who are bald hide it for years and years with the anxiety of always having to be under a wig and hoping people won’t find out, which won’t let them live to the fullest. Something funny in surfing is that if I screw up in the line up once, it’s easier for local surfers to remember me and be like, “huh yeah she’s that one bald chick that fucked up the other day” haha.

I just wanted to say, you have awesome style! Has it always been something you take pride in?
Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. I don’t try to follow a certain style but to just show myself as who I am. I have been insecure about my alopecia for a long time, and to be honest I still am and still have to work on so many things around it. But revealing myself on social media and to the world it’s a way of pushing myself a little bit further and to work on those insecurities as well.

Do you hope to inspire any other young girls who may be going through similar experiences to take up surfing?
Definitely. My two main goals of opening up about alopecia on Instagram were to take a big weight off of my chest by not having to hide anymore and to help other people on the same situation. I want to encourage women and young girls to stop hiding and start living the life they would like to have, even though they have alopecia. And that means trying new things such as surfing, diving or anything that makes them feel alive. For me surfing has helped me a lot to step out of the box and face a lot of the insecurities that alopecia put me through. And when I’m riding one of those waves with that stoked feeling, I realize that all the effort and self work have been worth it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

Your page is full of positivity, is there anything else you want to add about being yourself?
Never stop doing something for fear of what others might think. It’s your life and no one else’s, so do with it whatever you want and what makes you happy. You don’t want to wonder tomorrow what you could have done today because of fear, not loving yourself harder or for what people could have thought. The only light that matters is the one you bring within you, and to make it grow you have to feed her with positivity, good energy, self-love and little things that make you feel fulfilled.