Paris-based artist Maya Gering had just graduated from college when her hair started falling out at an alarming rate. After consulting with a doctor, she was diagnosed with androgenic alopecia, also known as female pattern baldness, a condition that affects millions of women in the U.S. alone.
“It began this long period of hiding and obsession. I didn’t tell anybody about my hair loss — it was shameful,” Gering recalls. “Most of the people around me didn’t know that hair loss could even happen to women because there’s no representation involving women in pop culture, in the media, or anything that would have made it normal,” she continues. After years of struggling with costly and time-consuming treatments and hiding her condition from friends, Gering knew it was time to do something differently. She slowly started discussing her hair loss with others. “It had this chain effect where the more I told people about it, the better I felt. It was liberating to take off the weight of the secret,” Gering remembers. “That’s what eventually led to me deciding to make the film.”
The film in question is La Chute, an animated short chronicling Gering’s experiences with alopecia and the questions it’s brought up for her in terms of sexuality, femininity, and her place in society. The name is French for “the fall,” which Gering intends to address both the literal idea of hair falling out and her own spiraling following her diagnosis.
Gering was introduced to Rachel Fleit, a filmmaker who would become the executive producer of La Chute, through a mutual friend. Fleit, meanwhile, has lived her entire life with alopecia universalis, the most extreme form of alopecia, which means that she has never had — and will never have — the ability to grow any hair whatsoever. Despite the fact that she’s at the opposite end of the alopecia spectrum from Gering, the latter’s film spoke to Fleit, and she volunteered herself as executive producer. “The thing that compelled me so much [about La Chute] is, ‘Wow, doesn’t matter what kind of alopecia you have, when you get it, how you get it, what it looks like.’ It’s always a big deal and there’s always a hiding, there’s always a shame,” says Fleit. “Hair is currency in our society. When you have good hair, you’re somehow more fortunate. When you have bad hair, you’re somehow less fortunate. So when you have no hair or it’s falling away, you have to figure out some other way to have currency.”
The two are releasing the film exclusively on the Cut in honor of Alopecia Awareness Month, in hopes that other women who are either bald or experiencing any degree of hair loss will see themselves reflected, perhaps for the first time. They also hope to initiate a dialogue around female balding or baldness that will educate the general public about the condition and cause us to reexamine our definitions of femininity and beauty. “The amount of people who misidentify me as a person going through cancer is really intense,” says Fleit, who is also currently working on a feature film centered around a protagonist dealing with alopecia. “I can talk about what beauty and femininity is to me,” she adds, “but society as a whole is still seeing this woman with long hair in a cinched-waist dress and a high heel. I can wear the dress and the heel but will still never, ever fit into that.”