Thea Chassin, who has alopecia, founded Bald Girls Do Lunch.

Jennifer Izatt will tell you she's vain, so she's not quite sure why having her hair fall out in huge clumps didn't bother her too much. Instead of fretting, the West Bountiful woman let her three children help her shave her head.

Then she went shopping for wigs and scarves in various colors and lengths. Her "look" is whatever she wants it to be, including bald.

Thea Chassin has no hair on her head, no eyebrows, no body hair. Her eyelashes "come and go."

She's not shy around cameras or strangers or pretty much anyone, either. She's made peace with the condition, called alopecia areata, which first appeared when she was in her 20s, in the form of a quarter-sized bald patch on the back of her head, surrounded by otherwise long, thick hair.

Chassin had a couple of bouts of partial balding before, but in 1997 her hair started thinning and disappearing entirely at the lower back of her head. Then the baldness worked its way up. "It was falling out all over the place, and I lost it all in the back," she remembers. It never grew back.

Alopecia is an immune disease that affects about 2 percent of the population. Some people have little round patches with no hair that regrow on their own schedule without treatment. Others, like Chassin and Izatt, lose most or all of their hair. That form affects men and women equally and can occur at any age, but often it affects children and young adults.

Izatt struggles a bit with her partial eyebrows and eyelashes. As for the hair on the rest of her body, she jokes, "good riddance." It's been easy, she admits, partly because her husband Daimian tells her she's beautiful. And she was familiar with the condition, which her little brother has had for seven years. He, too, copes well and talks readily about the condition.

"I teach special education and I've taught for years this is who we are and let's embrace what's different and learn to work with things that are difficult. Now I'm doing that," Izatt says.

Chassin says she was helped immeasurably when she met other women who had alopecia areata. "That was a turning point. It lifted my mood. I hadn't realized how alone with it I felt."

That feeling of solitude is something she's been trying to help other women overcome.

For five years, Chassin, who lives in New York, has been a support-group leader for alopecia areata, dealing with women, men and children of all ages. Getting people to attend isn't easy, so she has tried different situations. She found the most successful ones were those that were purely social, where people with the condition could mix and mingle. That was the birth of Bald Girls Do Lunch, a nonprofit support and education organization — a meet-and-greet she's taken to different cities nationwide. "It's been a huge hit."

This Sunday, she's hosting a Bald Girls Do Lunch gathering at noon at a downtown Salt Lake restaurant. She has found, she says, a situation where women feel comfortable. And it's a natural way to bring together women who might otherwise never meet each other. That's something Izatt is looking forward to. She doesn't really know any women with the condition, she says.

Despite the name, not all the women who come to the lunches are bald, like Chassin. And some who are choose to wear wigs or scarves. That's great, she says. The point is to get women with alopecia areata together to talk and laugh and realize they're anything but alone with the condition.

"Once you meet another person and just have that sense that someone understands what you're going through, it makes a huge difference."

This is a first Utah lunch, but she says it won't be the last. And there's still time for women who are interested to contact her and join the fun, although she needs a head count. Cost is $30, part of which supports the group's image and beauty workshops.

"One of the missions of Bald Girls Do Lunch is to mainstream the idea," she says. "There are people with long hair, short hair, no hair. People with freckles, tall people, short people. I am determined to do my part to mainstream acceptance."

She sees women become hermits over hair loss and it breaks her heart. "They're shortchanging their lives," she says.

The gatherings boost self-confidence, she notes. They expand the circle of friends, and who couldn't use another friend?

To find out about the group or RSVP for the lunch, e-mail Chassin at

[email protected].


E-mail: [email protected]