Rising to beauty: Kathy Giles chooses to see beauty despite adversity
Published 2:29 pm Monday, August 1, 2022
Editor’s Note: This story originally published in Faces and Places 2022. Copies are available at The Clanton Advertiser office, 1109 Seventh Street North in Clanton.
Story and Photos By ELISABETH ALTAMIRANO-SMITH
Friends and family of Chilton County native, Kathy Giles, will attest that she is “as candid as they come.” Giles, age 45, spends her days living at the end of Higgins Ferry Road with husband Donald, who works as a park ranger there.
Her warm smile and friendly disposition allow her to greet and help campers from across the country at the park’s campground and boat launch. One of things people might first notice about Kathy Giles is that she is bald. She struggles with Alopecia Areata, an immune system disorder that attacks hair follicles, many times leaving the person completely without hair. It can last for a few months or years, which has been the case for Giles. Her history of Alopecia Areata started as a quarter-sized bald spot of the back of her head that she had since childhood.
Eight years ago, the quarter sized spot began to get bigger and over time left her completely bald. Her journey living without hair has been difficult at times, redefining her identity but shaping her confidence as a beautiful new woman.
“I have a beautiful custom-made wig that cost a ‘pretty penny’ sitting in my closet,” Giles said. “I have bought and been given so many hats and scarfs. I have worn hats every minute of every day since 2014, except when in my home. I don’t care if it’s a wig, hat or scarf — it’s not your own hair! It is hot, uncomfortable and itchy. Try wearing something on your head 24/7 for years and see how well you deal with it. It really takes away from a woman when she loses her hair. It is part of her identity. Think about every time you have your hair done, cut, braided, washed or anything. You do those things because your hair is your looks and your confidence. Now imagine it all going away. That’s when you really realize what means the most to you. When you have nothing left to give the world but your heart and soul; no bells and whistles, just 100% you.”
Dealing with baldness is not her first encounter dealing with difficult life issues. As a small child growing up in Jemison, she was abused.
Later in junior high school she experienced bullying, which prompted her to drop out of the eighth grade and get her GED. She began working as a construction laborer, but stopped working after she became pregnant so it would not injure her baby. She soon moved to Georgia with her child’s father and found herself living in her car and in dangerous circumstances.
“I was living at rock-bottom and eventually decided to move back home to Chilton County for a better way of life,” Giles said. “I take everything that has happened in my life and use those experiences as steps. When someone is going through something difficult, it might be awful but give it five minutes. Things will change.”
After moving back to Chilton County, she met her future husband, Donald during a traffic incident that he responded to as a police officer.
They married in May 2012.
After her diagnosis with Alopecia Areata in 2014, Giles said that she woke up one day with the realization that she was beautiful regardless of her diagnosis and no longer needed to wear hats or cover her head.
“We went to an amusement park, and when I got into the roller coaster, they asked me to take my hat off because hats weren’t allowed on the rides,” said Giles. “I got off and went to the front of the park and cried. It was an emotional moment. Living on the river and being out in the boat, you also always hear ‘hold on to your hat, so it won’t blow away.’ It just became a daily struggle to always cover my head.”
During spring of 2022, Giles wrote on her social media page:
“I refuse to wear hats for another minute. This is my new normal! Everything happens for reason, this was my sign.”
She has not used any type of head covering since that post in April.
Giles said that all people have an insecurity that they are dealing with in life and the only way to conquer that fear is to talk about it.
“If you talk about what you are going through, it isn’t a secret anymore,” said Giles. “Don’t keep it to yourself. Start talking about it. Ask yourself ‘is this something temporary that will go away?’ If you don’t think you can get through it alone, focus on getting through it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time.”
In recent years, Giles has found several people who were experiencing a crisis sitting at the boat launch (next door to her home) and spoke with them about the issues they were facing.
During the pandemic, Giles along with the Lake Mitchell Home Owners and Boat Owners Association (HOBO) and help from the community created “Kathy’s Playground.” The playground, which is named after Giles, is located at Higgins Ferry Park and features equipment that is age appropriate
for 1-17 years old. The wide range of playground amenities were modeled with her grandchildren in mind to reach multiple age groups.
In her spare time, Kathy enjoys spending time with her husband, her four children: Micheal, Jacob, Kim, Jason and seven grandchildren.
She also enjoys collecting driftwood pieces she finds on the lake and making furniture with them. Several of her driftwood pieces are featured in Much A Brew About Something Coffee Shop in downtown Clanton.
The playground at Higgins Ferry Park is named Kathy’s Playground in honor of Kathy Giles.