For years, Marisa Kimmel was her own biggest bully. Diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease, at 9, she was led to believe she was to blame for her hair falling out, not simply genetics. So she endured the special shampoos and hundreds of shots in her head to make her hair grow back.
“I just wanted to look normal. I wanted to look like everyone else,” she says, remembering how she would go home after school, lock herself in her room and just stare into the mirror. “For me now, for who I am, to look back on teenage Marisa, it makes me cry.”
Her journey to loving herself began at 19 when her boyfriend-turned-husband, Drew, first shaved her head. What she’s learned she now shares with other teens with alopecia to help them learn to love who they are, too.
“Alopecia was the start of becoming who I am today. It’s a huge part of who I am. They say hair isn’t everything but to me, my alopecia has shaped me into viewing the world differently,” Kimmel says. Once she let go of that heavy weight of expectations, she says, the world opened up.
“There’s pressure to look a certain way, to be a certain way. We don’t have to fall into that.”
Now her journey also includes becoming mom to her sweet Abraham, 2 卦, and this year, enduring a preventative double mastectomy without reconstruction because she carries the BRCA1 gene with a deep family history of early breast cancer.
Now her mirror — and her @marisakimmel Instagram feed self portraits that are a combination of strength, beauty and vulnerability — reflects back a confident Marisa who says she is happy and feeling grateful to be alive.
“With the way I look, people assume that I’m not healthy. I have done everything in my power to make sure I stay healthy and if that means losing body parts along the way, then that’s just what I’m going to do,” she says.
Originally from Bay City, Kimmel says she knows she was raised in a bubble. She and Drew moved to Chicago for a short time, and it was there that Kimmel first picked up a camera and started shooting self-portraits, beginning to tell her story. That has since evolved into becoming a storyteller capturing others’ moments through her viewfinder.
What do you hope people think when they see you?
“I feel like anyone that feels like they don’t fit into the mold of what society says beauty is. Who makes those rules? None of it makes sense. I like to remind people, there aren’t any rules to this and when it comes to motherhood and the way that we care for ourselves and the way we raise our children, what works for you is what you should be doing.
“Now I am just me.”
How do you describe your parenting?
She and Drew wanted to have a baby before she turned 26. Her first pregnancy was a blighted ovum, breaking their hearts. As soon as doctors allowed, they tried again and got pregnant with Abraham, then moved back to metro Detroit to be closer to family.
“When I wanted to be a mom, I didn’t realize then how important it is to be raising another human. So it starts with how I treat myself and how I care for myself. It trickles down to how I care for my son and how he cares for himself. It’s so deep, everything that goes along with it, with his emotions and trying to remind him whoever he is, even as a toddler, you get to pick how you want to be, what you want to do. Just because he’s a child doesn’t mean I’m in control.
“… I just want him to enjoy life without any pressures from anyone else.”
She calls breastfeeding one of the most emotionally tolling things she’s ever done. She thought it would be easy. It wasn’t always. She breastfed Abraham for the last time the night before her mastectomy.
Your biggest lesson learned in parenting?
“As much as you want to be in control, it’s a lot of being not in control. Sometimes you just got to go with it.”
Fast Talk with Marisa Kimmel
What is your superpower:
I can read a room. I am very aware.
Your biggest fear:
Alligators. I don’t know why.
One thing you do just for you:
I spend a half hour in the shower.
Your most hated chore:
The dishes. We have a dishwasher too and it doesn’t matter.
One quirky thing most people don’t know About you:
I don’t like to cut my own fingernails.
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