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CBS News Philadelphia's Aziza Shuler shares her alopecia journey: "So much fear and anxiety about revealing this secret"

Aziza Shuler opens up about alopecia
Aziza Shuler, CBS News Philadelphia anchor, opens up about her journey with alopecia 07:45

For most of her life, CBS News Philadelphia anchor Aziza Shuler kept her struggle with alopecia — an autoimmune disease affecting more than 300,000 people in the United States every year — a secret.

"I just thought, okay, that's something that I'm going to keep buried," Shuler said.

Her battle with alopecia began when she was 12, when she says she woke up one day with a bald spot, then lost all her hair within a year. She wore a wig, personally and professionally, to conceal it. 

But in September, during alopecia awareness month, Shuler revealed to viewers that she has the condition, describing how she would spend hours in the mirror meticulously styling her hair so that her wig would appear as natural as possible. 

"But I'm tired," she said on air. "I'm tired of hiding and I'm tired of living in fear and that starts with living without my wig."

Looking back on the announcement, she said it still makes her emotional.

"I can't believe I harbored so much fear and anxiety about revealing this secret that no longer is a secret now," she said.

The decision to go public was partly inspired by her boyfriend, Vaughn Pole, who asked one day as they were about to go to the gym if she was going to take her wig off. 

"I think I felt like I was waiting for him to ask me that question," she said. 

"I think I just said, 'Okay'....and I took it off, and he is like, 'Okay. Now, let's go outside,'" she said. 

Going outside bald would be a first for her. 

"I didn't even know how it would feel for the wind or air to hit my bald scalp," she said. 

But she started to feel relief when a woman stopped and said she looked beautiful. Two others also gave her compliments.

"These people gave me affirmations that they didn't even know I needed," she said.

Shuler, however, continued to wear hairpieces at work, influenced by a lack of bald female anchors in the media. Then she realized the only way to liberate herself would be to reveal her truth publicly. 

She received overwhelming support from her colleagues, including general manager Kelly Frank and news director Kathleen Gerrow.

"I was fortunate that I work with women who are my cheerleaders, who are uplifting, who were ready to see something like this on their television screens," said Shuler. 

"We sat down and everything was, 'Whatever you want to do. Let's tell your story,'" Frank said.

Her public unveiling was a triumphant moment for a woman born into trauma. She was born inside of a jail and says both her parents struggled with addiction. By 5 years old, she and her six siblings were in the foster care system where she says she was physically and sexually abused.

She went on to compete in pageants, graduate from St. John's University and get her first job in television in Yuma, Arizona, before later making her way to Philadelphia, where she told her story. 

Shuler's courage to reveal her condition has resonated with viewers and people nationwide, bringing attention to alopecia and challenging societal norms about beauty and professionalism in the media industry. 

Her story even inspired some to reach out about their own experiences, including Jami Flack, who wrote to Shuler from Montana about her alopecia. 

"Mine was totally hormone, monthly," she wrote. "Had the hysterectomy at 31...took a few years and hair back but thin. Still gotta do my brows...myself. you're beautiful!! And you make me feel that way!!"

Flack later told Shuler, in a surprise call set up by "CBS Mornings," that not a lot was known about alopecia when she went through it, "and so there was a stigma attached and it was ... humiliating."

"But I can tell you girl, I cannot rock it the way you can," Flack told Shuler.

Shuler said she "can't even put into words how much meaning it brings me to know that people all across the country are reaching out and embracing me with such support."

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