My Story A Flower Amongst Thorns

A Flower Amongst Thorns

My Story

Photographer Ernesto Sambrano designed the wire headpiece for McClure’s shoot, and the razor wire crown was intended to symbolize emotional imprisonment through the negative treatment she often received. “The modern-day ‘crown of thorns’ formed a path to the floral neckpiece that represents her strength and bravery to speak up and own her space in a positive manner,” he says. Photo by Ernest Sambrano

I recently had the pleasure of working with an amazing young lady named Kaleigh McClure, a 21-year-old aspiring model from central Maine. We met on a popular modeling website in September of 2017 (I’m a professional photographer), and as we became better acquainted during the planning phase leading up to our photo shoot, it became clear that Kaleigh had a story worthy of being told beyond the two-dimensional boundaries of photographs. This is Kaleigh’s story.

From the age of 2, Kaleigh began showing signs of a condition called alopecia areata, which causes hair loss. Initially, she experienced hair loss in small patches. Over time, her condition progressed into alopecia universalis, which results in the complete loss of scalp and body hair. During the span of time between meeting Kaleigh and writing this article, I have earnestly come to appreciate the way in which she has chosen to embrace her baldness in a society that expects a healthy woman (not undergoing chemotherapy) to have a full head of hair.

Most of us are aware that discriminatory behavior sadly still exists within our “civilized” society. That being true, it is probably not too difficult to imagine the amount of emotional and sometimes even physical abuse Kaleigh was subjected to during her childhood. I learned that she was often called “towel head” in middle school because she was permitted to wear head coverings to accommodate her condition. During her freshman year of high school, the very first wig she ever owned was ripped from her head; Kaleigh described this as a “horrifying experience.” Make no mistake, the list of unkind acts and derogatory remarks she has received is extensive. Worse still is the fact that the emotional abuse continues on into her adult years.

However, in spite of the negatives associated with Kaleigh’s alopecia, both past and present, the real focus and moral of her story is that of beauty and self-love. Kaleigh made the choice to grow, not wither away in anger and bitterness. She has been a cheerleader and has danced, modeled and loved her way past the ignorant and the mean-spirited while maintaining a sense of decorum. At 5 feet tall, Kaleigh is a giant among society, a society that could take a lesson from her as to what defines core beauty. The priceless specimen of beauty I am referring to is not unlike what occurs in nature upon certain landscapes that are seemingly barren and inhospitable. A mere seedling can rise from the ashes produced by a wildfire and thrive in the aftermath; an otherwise fragile flower can blossom among the thorny barriers and competing growth which surround it.

During my interview with Kaleigh I asked this concluding question: “What does that flower growing among thorns mean to you?” I have chosen not to include her answer because it is really our answer to that question that matters most—it is society as a whole that needs to re-evaluate what is deemed as the “standard of beauty” by a superficial system that measures such.

Ernest Sambrano of Posh Rocket Studio, located in central Maine, is a contemporary portrait photographer originally from southern California who specializes in working with the non-model/everyday woman. His fashion and beauty-inspired brand serves to produce an experience of transformation and self love. (

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