CHICAGO – Rosie Quinn, 8, was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease alopecia when she was 2. All of the hair on her head and body fell out within three weeks and never grew back.
She was largely unfazed.
“My husband and I would say, ‘If you want to go bald or wear cute little hats or anything, either way we are totally supportive,’ ” Paula Quinn, Rosie’s mom, said.
“I did not want to wear cute little hats or anything,” Rosie remembers thinking. Too scratchy, too fussy, too much to keep track of when you’re busy being 2.
But a year or so later, the stares and the questions were starting to weigh on her.
“Around age 3-ish, her little flame started to extinguish,” Quinn said.
Kids would call her a baby. Strangers would mistake her for a boy, which she didn’t like. Customers would approach her mom at Starbucks and ask whether she was receiving cancer treatments, why she wasn’t wearing a wig, whether it was healthy to let her go around with her bare head uncovered.
“As parents, we were trying to wrap our heads around waking up one day and having a bald child in a society where everyone places so much focus on exterior beauty and not much focus on inner beauty,” Quinn said. “It was challenging to make Rosie feel special and awesome.”
Rosie, a third-grader, lives in Chicago with her parents and her younger sister, Caroline, 6, and their dog.
She’s wise and full of Rosie-isms. Take, for example, her approach to bullies.
“There was this girl, she wasn’t that nice,” Rosie said. “She would bully me a lot at school. She called me really mean names every day. It was getting so old! You can’t just make fun of how somebody looks! Anyway, I stood up for myself and now that’s over.”
Paula Quinn, who worked in human relations for Google, was telling a friend one day that she wished she could take Rosie’s paintings and have them made into scarves Rosie could wear on her head for the days she didn’t feel like telling people all about her alopecia.
“You can transfer a kid’s artwork onto a phone case, a cake,” Paula Quinn said. “Why not a headscarf?”
Her friend connected her with a business called McGovern and Co., which transposes photos of state parks onto bandannas, socks and blankets. Armed with that knowledge and a recommendation for a custom printer, Quinn took one of Rosie’s creations, snapped a photo of it and sent it away to be made into a scarf. A few weeks later, it arrived in the mail.
“I put it on and I looked in the mirror and I was smiling for five minutes straight,” Rosie said. “Then I said, ‘I want to give this to all the bald children!’ ”
In 2016, the Quinns launched Coming Up Rosies, now a nonprofit. The online store uploads children’s artwork and turns it into a scarf. Proceeds and donations all go to “smile kits” — a canvas, markers and paints — that the Quinns donate to children’s hospitals around the country. Since 2016, they’ve donated an estimated 1,200 smile kits.
Rosie has many scarves made of her artwork, but she’s back to mostly leaving her head bare. “I’m confident and I love my body,” she said. “But some of the kids might not feel like that, so we started this charity to help them feel confident and then they can make other kids feel confident.”