Story and article by Michael Raver, Imagista, June 2021
Ricki Lake has done it all. Her star-making turn as Tracy Turnblad in 1988’s Hairspray. Nabbing a hugely successful syndicated talk show at only twenty-four years old. Starring opposite the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterson, and Johnny Depp across her wildly diffuse career as an actress.
Lately, Lake has undergone a major transformation. A decades-long battle with androgenetic alopecia (more commonly known as pattern baldness), left her crippled by shame. But Lake, never one to play the victim, took the bull by the horns and shaved her head. The experience led to a revitalized sense of self, one that granted her a new sense of purpose.
These days, life is looking a lot sunnier. She executive produced the upcoming documentary The Business Of Birth Control. Earlier this year, she announced her engagement to beau Ross Burningham, whom she met through a mutual friend amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
Imagista: How’s your pandemic been?
"Up and down. I was in a bad way. I was definitely self-medicating. I was really going through a rough time. The isolation was really hard. I was in a relationship where I felt like my needs weren’t getting met," - Ricki Lake
Imagista: Have you ever struggled with being a multi-hyphenate? Did anyone ever tell you to stay in your lane?
"Part of it was being super naive and having this weird belief in myself. I’ve been a game-changer since the beginning of my career, being an ingenue at 200 pounds for my first role and believing I could do that. I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe my grandma Sylvia instilled a belief system in me. My friends often joke that I don’t carry the gene of doubt. (Laughs) I get off on reinventing myself, trying new things and proving myself to myself. I love that I’ve been able to change my physicality. Even shaving my head. That wasn’t a conscious career move to stay relevant. I needed to come out with what had been plaguing me. First and foremost, I needed to be set free. I grew to love myself unconditionally. It’s been a real transformation for me, both internally and externally" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: Did you ever struggle with self-esteem issues?
"Only with my hair. I mean, I guess my weight has bothered me or has been an issue. But then, at eighteen, I thought I could play the part of Tracy Turnblad. I was that girl. In my brain, I was able to switch off those thoughts. I thought, ‘If they don’t think I can do this, then fuck it John Waters picked me to do this, I can do this" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: Speaking of your hair, tell me about your battle with androgenetic alopecia?
My hair was getting worse and worse as I was getting older. I would cover it with extensions. It was like a hairpiece. Every time I went into the shower, I would see handfuls of my hair in the drain. I didn’t feel attractive. I felt like I was hiding. It affected my relationships. I stayed in a relationship longer than I would have because part of me thought “I’m in my early fifties and I’ll never find anyone else” - Ricki Lake
Imagista: How did you deal with it?
"It takes patience and it takes being consistent. I was also resigned to rocking a bald head. I did so many sketchy things to treat it before that. I used Propecia, Rogaine. I got shots in my head. It was a nightmare. You name the product on the market, I’ve tried it. I wish I could get back the time I spent not liking my body or beating myself up about the way I look. It really was a waste of time. There were definitely work opportunities I passed up because of my hair. I didn’t want anyone to touch it. I didn’t want people to see. It impacted everything" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: What changed?
"Something happened to me when I turned 50. You don’t give a shit as much what other people think. I used to care a lot about what people thought of me. Like when I lost all that weight ten years ago. This time around, it’s about saying ‘fuck it! I cannot be controlled by this anymore. I found it really empowering to take control" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: And now, your hair has grown back...
"Yeah. My hair is healthier than it’s ever been. I credit this company, Harklinikken, that I partnered with. Lars Skjøth, the owner, believes he can help most women with this kind of problem. They have incredible success rates. I was skeptical. He was so moved by my coming clean and helping so many women by telling my story. It was months later that there was dramatic improvement. If I can help people by sharing what’s working for me, I’m happy to" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: Punk rock, right?
"Yeah! The pictures in the spread [for Imagista] are so fun! I haven’t done a photoshoot like this in forever. I didn’t even tell my publicist! (Laughs)" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: Congratulations on getting engaged!
"I found Covid-love! I am so happy in this relationship. I feel like I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Believe me, I’ve been in love before. I am the marrying kind, but I think I’ve finally found my equal. I found someone who is an evolved, successful person who has also raised four children. I feel like I was in a place where I knew my value. I am with a man that deserves me and whom I most fucking deserve! I’m a better partner. It’s such a good time for me" - Ricki Lake
Imagista: What’s next for you?
"I do believe my story is a hopeful one. I never saw this coming. I love being in love. I love partnership. I am my best when I have a partner and this feeling of being 52, being my natural grey-haired self and then finding my person, where I am in my career…it’s what I wanted. My new documentary is coming out. It’s called The Business Of Birth Control. I can’t wait for people to have access to this information. It’s about looking at birth control, looking at these hormones which are given to young girls, sometimes as young as thirteen or fourteen, to ‘regulate their periods,’ to help with acne…and yet there is a lot to consider when giving these drugs to young women that are endocrine disrupters and stop your period, actually. I’m coming from a place of informed choice. I’m not trying to get people to think the way that I do. I just want people to have the information. And I get off on that" - Ricki Lake