I remember my junior high and high school days of fragile awkwardness. My wardrobe consisted of overalls, tennis shoes and oversized shirts to cover the physique I was adamantly convinced was overweight and unattractive. Self-esteem was a concept only for those who were brave enough not to wear long sleeved shirts in the summer. My days were buried in books and piano and my goals beyond the halls of Carver Magnet High were the standard 20th century goals for a woman; go to college, get a job, and have a family. None of those goals quantified my levels of happiness; only what was expected.
Mona Bailey seems to be everything to the contrary of that. By all accounts at first glance, she’s an unassuming, happy teenager who loves food and is deathly afraid of bugs. All bugs. Initial interactions are met with soft-spoken shyness that alludes to homebody-ness. Who Mona really is goes beyond excellence and the status quo. She’s a Jiu Jitsu competitor ranking as a high blue belt with nasty technical skills and poise beyond her 16 years on this Earth. What’s more impressive is her physical convictions without the crown young women, and older women for that matter, hold tremendous aesthetic value and regard to perfection; the absence of all her hair.
Mona was diagnosed with Universalis which is an advanced form of the medical condition called Alopecia. Alopecia Universalis is a rare condition that is the complete loss of hair that includes eyebrows, eye lashes and body hair. Diagnosed at 9 years old after just beginning training BJJ she's been fortunate enough to have a support system that extends from the home to the gym mat. She is one of ten siblings and when diagnosed, her, her father and brother all shaved their heads in solidarity of the new Mona.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an intriguing chess that challenges the body and mind to not only be in tune with self but react and anticipate the competition’s next three moves. A confident competitor worries not of their counterpart’s next move, and a seasoned competitor creates the path to victory with the movements of their opposition. 7 years into training, Mona has become one of the most active competing BJJ competitors in the gulf and one of the most decorated blue belts in the city of Houston. She sits at a special position in her life of still having child-like bravery that isn’t jaded by the what-ifs of negative outcomes, all while having the composure of a seasoned vet. For her, training and competing is part of self-growth. Training helps you grow but for Mona, “competing gives you a fire to keep going. It just takes you to the next level.”
Watching her compete is something. Walking out composed and competing in a stoic, yet knowledgeable and almost “been here before” that is far from arrogant. Mona has this distinguished confidence that does not negate the self-assurance of her counterparts. What makes her interesting is the quiet confidence that radiates in a crowd of her seniors. She just is who she is. She's exceeded the expectations for a 16-year-old young lady and she's found the part of herself in BJJ that is beyond the status quo; pure happiness. The distance between expectations and happiness is the same road & space between your head and heart. Your true self meets in the middle at the tongue and is a delicious place where thoughts, feelings and emotions are all spoken into existence. And the taste of the affirmations lingers through the souls and settles the spirit.
At 16, Mona is the reflection of the parts of adults stuck in emotional arrested development that only blooms through the breakthrough of life. The idea of suppressing herself to fit expectations has been abandoned by the audacity of confidence and self-acceptance.
From a bird’s eye view, BJJ has given her the gift of realizing self-purpose at an early age. While most young ladies her age would be fixated on finding the most natural looking wig and appearing as perfect as possible, Mona differs in the fact that she has found that thing. You know, the thing that we all look for to complete happiness. That thing that makes us feel whole. The thing that gives us purpose and internal freedom. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has given her permission to become Mona. Getting to this point in life, and I hope continues for her remaining days, is pretty simple. For Mona, you just do you. “Don't worry about what people think of you worry about yourself. “if you get caught up in what people think of you, you'll start changing yourself for the worst because of other people."
On the horizon for her is continuing teaching children her skills in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, by 22 years old becoming a black belt, winning IBJJF worlds and continuing to inspire. “I want to be able to represent females and be a role model. Even with a role model for females with Alopecia.”
Ms. Mona competes in Submission Hunter Pro this weekend on September 12th. Watch her excellence and be Bald Strong Mona.