Sharon Blynn is Bold, Bald, and Beautiful!
September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which is important because ovarian cancer is often known as the silent killer. To be diagnosed is to have around a 30% survival rate, as it is only diagnosed when it is late term cancer. At 28 years old, Sharon Blynn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Not only did she survive, but she is stronger than ever! She has become an actress, credits include being in Captain Marvel, and started Bald is Beautiful for other women going through cancer, especially ovarian cancer, to give them a resource and inspiration. To let them know that to be Bald is to be Beautiful! Please read our exclusive interview with Sharon Blynn below.
Where are you based?
I guess I’m what you would call bi-coastal, and that’s mainly because of the acting biz. New York is my home and Los Angeles is my home away from home.
What got you interested in acting?
If you would have told me years ago that I would be bopping around Hollywood pursuing a career as an actor, I would have thought you were nuts — either that, or confusing me with my twin sister, Elisa, who has always been a talented performer and multidisciplinary artiste! My path to becoming an actor — or what I call an “actorvist” — was sparked by my experience with ovarian cancer, which led me to start my Bald Is Beautiful movement/mission. The idea behind Bald Is Beautiful is to create a shift in perception of women’s beauty, wholeness, and how we as women define those for ourselves by putting the image into mainstream consciousness through visual media. Going through treatment for ovarian cancer made me take a deeper look at myself from a very different perspective, and the idea of working within a medium that can transform how we see ourselves, and how we see and receive each other as humans, is what inspired me to do this work.
You were Soren, a Skrull who is Talos' wife, in Captain Marvel. How was it for you to be a part of such a feminist focused super hero movie?
I love being Soren! She’s a fierce, passionate, and caring creature, and I hope to bring her to life again and again! As a lifelong Marvel fan, being part of a blockbuster movie of this magnitude, and being in MCU in general, has been an absolute dream. Since women’s empowerment is the fuel of what I am doing as an actor, it makes the entire experience that much more meaningful. Not only is it the first Marvel movie to feature a female superhero with the first female director in the MCU, one of the core messages about the movie is about finding our voices as women, and not being shamed or diminished into silence. As an added bonus, the storyline for the Skrulls has some profound and prescient messages about society and humanity.
You founded Bald is Beautiful. Can you please tell us about Bald is Beautiful and why you started it?
Yes, indeed! I started Bald Is Beautiful because of my experience with ovarian cancer at age 28, in particular losing my hair from chemo and ultimately losing both of my ovaries. Those “losses” represented both aesthetic and biological aspects of how society defines beauty and womanhood. So I had to ask myself, what does this mean for me as a young woman? As a tomboy and a dorky nerd gal, I’ve always had strong feelings about not conforming to social norms of what was expected of me, personally or professionally. But as I met many women in the cancer community who were more distressed about something like hair loss than having cancer, I felt compelled to do something to alleviate that emotional burden on a larger scale beyond my individual, personal experience.
Throughout my life, I have always recognized the power of TV and film and print media to shape cultural values and concepts. Bald Is Beautiful is how I choose to actively engage these outlets in telling a fresh, new story, not only about cancer, but about beauty and femininity in general. To put it simply, I felt that if people saw a joyful, pretty bald face in a movie or magazine, or on their TV screens regularly, it would destigmatize the look and transform it from something terrifying or devastating or “ugly” to now women seeing themselves as whole and beautiful regardless of what is happening with their bodies.
Bald Is Beautiful is also specifically about ovarian cancer awareness. As I very quickly discovered after I was diagnosed, there is a paucity of information and resources for this particular cancer, and especially for a younger woman like me. Ovarian cancer is the pancreatic cancer of gynecological cancers — it has no screening or early detection test and the symptoms are easily and typically attributed to benign or even normal gynecological functions. As a consequence, it is most often diagnosed late-stage with an only 30% survival rate (with a 70% recurrence rate with treatment) and it has the highest mortality rate of all women’s cancers. And the media is virtually silent about this “silent killer”, and without mass media awareness campaigns to generate research dollars that other cancers have, we need to somehow turn up the volume!
Do you find you are often an early resource for women going through cancer?
I can’t always be sure at what point in someone’s cancer journey they might find me and my website. I’m always humbled and happy when they do make it to my little off-ramp on the information superhighway, and especially if what I share there is of comfort or encouragement, or the resources help them move through the cancer experience in a positive or whole way, be it at the beginning, during treatments, or in remission trying to figure out life-after-cancer survivorship. In addition to messages from people going through cancer, I have also gotten lovely and touching messages from family and friends of a cancer patient. We’re all taken on this life’s road trip detour together, and caregivers also need support and care alongside what we the patients are going through.
Why is it important that you offer reading suggestions and music that have nothing to do with cancer?
Just as is the case for people in general, I think it’s vital that we live a full life, explore new things, have adventures, spend time with loved ones, enjoy the vast array of cultural and social experiences available to us as humans being while we’re here on this spinning space ball in our rented space suits. For someone going through cancer, there’s a palpable urgency to activate that even more.
Also, a cancer diagnosis and all that comes after that is, well, frankly . . . extremely time-consuming! Aside from the emotional and physical upheaval and distress, there is an immediate shift into research mode to gather information and resources, especially if it’s a cancer that we are either not aware of or is a rare type. There’s even a certain amount of new understanding we have to develop about our own anatomy that we may not have known. Then we have all of our tests, doctors’ appointments, procedures, and treatments, plus the logistical time it takes to get to and from all of those things. On top of that, many of us do all of this while still working and/or raising children and/or whatever our “regular” lives include, so we have to navigate that landscape as well — while trying to literally survive!
All this to say, very often what is most needed while we are going through cancer — is a break from it! A way to immerse ourselves in something that is cancer-free, that makes us laugh (or cry, if we need that pressure-release valve to be opened), something that just feels “ordinary” (or extraordinary). Cancer is kind of like a tornado that rips through everyone’s lives and turns things upside-down and inside-out. And as we are perhaps more acutely aware beyond the cliché expression: Life is short. It’s fickle. Unpredictable. And its duration as a long one is not a given. So . . . we must do what we can to cultivate a fully expressed, mind-body-spirit connected, emotionally rich and invested LIFE . . . while we still have one to live. Carpe diem!
I feel like many parts of cancer treatment are hard. What was it about the hair loss that was so significant to you?
When the oncologist told me that I had cancer, my second thought after “Oh my gosh, I don’t wanna die!” was “Holy sh*t, I’m gonna lose my hair!” Yep. Thought #2 . . . right after Death. My long, hippy hair was all-natural, never permed or colored, only the split ends trimmed off to keep it healthy. It was a central part of my identity. It was also my shield, and sometimes my “invisibility cloak” as I often hid behind it and my all-black baggy men’s clothes. Although I was shy and introverted, I was also confident, but it wasn’t rooted in my looks. I shined academically, intellectually. But still, deep inside, losing my hair felt like I would be losing myself. Who am I without my hair? Will I still be pretty? Will my boyfriend still love me? These are all questions that went through my mind like little bursts of lightning.
Losing our hair from chemo is the outward manifestation of the lack of control of what’s happening in our insides — the physical embodiment of complete and utter helplessness. I think this is what makes it so difficult to go through on top of having cancer to begin with. We can’t see the cancer cells, but the hair loss is something that we — and everyone around us — can actually see. We can physically watch it happen and there is no stopping it once the hair begins to fall out.
Aesthetically speaking, what makes it even more challenging is that everything around us, in terms of beauty and fashion, tells us that we need hair to be beautiful. Culturally, socially, and historically, hair has always been a significant part of the feminine identity. It’s a central aspect of what makes us beautiful, powerful, attractive, alluring, sensual, sexy. While the styles vary from culture to culture in terms of length, texture, how it’s cut and shaped, and so on, it still at minimum requires hair. And conversely, shaving it often represents something negative — a disempowerment, or masculinization, or a punishment, or insanity, or … imminent death.
This is why it’s so important to me to add bald into the zeitgeist of how we as a global society perceive beauty and wholeness. When I lost all of my hair and looked into the mirror, I truly saw myself for the first time ever. Unveiled and completely bare, it was just me and my eyes — the windows to my soul. And I was surprised to see how much I actually dug that girl in the mirror staring back at me through a tearful smile.
Femininity is ours to define for ourselves on our own terms, and it’s vital that the media imaging supports that idea — for women in general, and also for those who cannot find it within themselves, and especially for women whose lives are at stake and could really use that extra positive reinforcement from the surrounding world.
I assume you stay bald as a form of solidarity, which is beautiful, but do you think you will ever grow your hair out again?
Thank you! Actually, choosing to stay bald is not so much solidarity as it is about fully embodying and realizing the vision of Bald Is Beautiful, in particular getting the image of a bald gal on small and big screens everywhere. Otherwise, to answer your question, I’m not sure if or when I’d ever grow my hair out. When I first started Bald Is Beautiful, I thought I’d give it a year to see if it worked. If it seemed to stall out after a year, I’d let my hair grow back. As things progressed and I saw that this wasn’t a completely bonkers idea, I decided that I’d wait until my five-year cancer-free anniversary and then see how I feel about it. Thankfully, long before that time came, I had already accomplished so much and made great strides toward my goals, so I dropped the timeline completely.
Should the moment or inclination come, though, I think I’d probably have fun playing around with different short styles and maybe even change colors — things I didn’t have the stones to do when I did have hair! Because of what I’ve gone through and how I’ve deepened my sense of self and self-love, I have completely unfettered freedom to do whatever I want with my hair at any time — if I don’t like the look or feel, I can simply shave it off and start again! I encourage every woman to shave her head at least once in her life — to experience this liberation. For now, though . . . I absolutely love being bald!
What do you tell women going through cancer treatment to help them get through it?
That’s an interesting question. There are a lot of similarities in what cancer patients experience on this path, but still, every person’s cancer journey is unique to them. Everyone’s overall life journey and their circumstances up to that moment of diagnosis create the context within which their cancer story is being experienced. Because of that, there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to how to handle it. (And this might even be something I share with someone who reaches out to me!)
What I do often share is one of the most profound insights I gained from my ovarian cancer journey about anatomy. Specifically, spiritual anatomy. Cancer is something occurring in our physical anatomy, even though it impacts and shakes us up mentally and emotionally as well. The things is, I can’t necessarily control the physical part of cancer, but my spiritual anatomy — how I choose to move through cancer or any other life challenges — is in my control. From this perspective, I encourage women to find ways to experience joy, to empower themselves in various ways — as I did with haircut and head-shaving parties during chemo, or watching funny movies, or exploring alternative complementary healing modalities, or spending time with my loved ones who supported and cared for me all along the way.
The companion piece to this is to let women know that it’s okay to also feel rage or frustration or sadness. In fact, it’s healthy to feel those things, and conversely, it’s potentially bad for our health to deny or squash those emotions down inside us when we need all of our cells to be about Love! The added layer, though, is to not attach our identity or our entire experience to those feelings. Let them in and then let them flow on through, and instead focus our energy on what brings us peace and joy. Even if the condition is terminal (and all of our lives technically are, we just don’t know the precise end date), we can decide how we ease on down that road.
We can choose to ascend out of these bodies on waves of Love and Light. And if our time wasn’t up? Then all the better that we filled our time here with vigor and passion and joie de vivre, which we can continue to bring into our daily lives for as long as that lasts!
What inspired you to get more involved in the fashion world?
If we’re talking about the fashion world separate from the TV and film arenas, I would say that my work in this medium in particular fully embodies the adage that “A picture paints 1,000 words.” The image of a bald woman in a beauty or fashion campaign visually represents the Bald Is Beautiful message without uttering a word. It says that being bald does not detract from a woman’s beauty and wholeness, that a bald woman can be included in the spectrum of what is considered fashionable or beautiful or cool. This is not to say, however, that our measuring stick for feeling beautiful is rooted in what the fashion world tells us. Rather, it’s inviting that industry — to which many people, for better or worse, do look for that kind of reference or guideline — to expand beyond what is still a narrow, and sometimes impossible, standard for all women.
Why do you think it is important that we see more bald heads in the media?
Well, to be blunt: Representation is an extraordinarily powerful thing. The images of beauty and femininity in the media generally are/were already very distant from what was happening to my body (inside and outside) because of cancer, but even when depicting cancer patients in TV shows or films, the women were much older than I was and they always looked frail and sickly, with ill-fitting scarves or bad wigs bearing an undertone of shame or embarrassment — even if they were strong and triumphant against the cancer. As a vibrant twenty-something woman, I did not see myself in any of it. And what I did see made me feel worse!
When we see more of ourselves by expanding the palette of what beauty looks like, what femininity looks like, what the vast array of WOMAN looks like, this will empower us to love and embrace ourselves, in sickness and in health.
What is your motto in life?
I actually have one! It came to me as I was moving through my cancer experience, and is at the core of my Bald Is Beautiful message: “Always smile from the inside out!”
Please list any websites or social media you would like Jejune to promote:
My website, which I encourage folks to peruse and also share with anyone for whom they feel it could be a source of inspiration, information, encouragement, maybe even a laugh or two, is www.baldisbeautiful.org. I also have a Bald Is Beautiful blog on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/baldisbeautifulblog/. And I’m reachable on Instagram at @bald.is.beautiful.