In an emotional video recently published by the website, The Root, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts revealed to the public that she is living with alopecia. At the beginning of the video, she said “I’ve only been bald in the privacy of my home and in the company of close friends.” That is certainly no longer the case thanks to her powerful statement to the public by making the video.
The video begins with Pressley wearing a wig before she directly addresses the camera to reveal her bald head. During the video, Pressley addresses the reasons she decided to share her alopecia diagnosis with the public. She said “I do believe going public will help. I’m ready now because I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that secret carries with it. Because I’m not here just to occupy space – I’m here to create it.”
Black females are known to be susceptible to a hair loss condition that is known as traction alopecia. The hair loss from traction alopecia is the result of certain hairstyles that can pull the hair tightly at the root.
When discussing her hairstyle, Pressley noted that “my twists have become such a synonymous and a conflated part of not only my personal identity and how I show up in the word, but my political brand. And that’s why I think it’s important that I’m transparent about this new normal and living with alopecia.”
Because her hairstyle of Senegalese twists has become such an identifiable part of her political identity and brand, Pressley felt the need to speak out in public about her condition. She had the feeling that her hairstyle might be viewed as a “political statement that was militant.” Instead, she was happy to see the positive response from the public regarding her hairstyle. “Now, I walk into rooms and little girls are wearing t-shirts that say ‘My Congresswoman Wears Braids’.” In addition, Pressley says she has received letters from women that say her hairstyle feels like they have also been given permission to wear their hair any way they choose to style it.
As her case of alopecia progressed, Pressley started to dread the changing look of her locks. “In the fall, when I was getting my hair re-twisted is the first time I was aware that I had some patches.” She also described “waking up every morning to sinkfulls of hair” even though she was taking steps to prevent the condition from becoming worse. She also described looking in the mirror and seeing “a person who increasingly looked like a stranger to me.”
The last portion of her hair fell out the night before the House voted on articles of impeachment against President Trump. She says “I didn’t have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb. It was a moment of transformation – not of my choosing.”
The vote was on December 18th, 2019 and she attended the vote wearing a wig. She also hid in a bathroom stall because of her feelings of being exposed and vulnerable. Since was worried about how the young girls that were inspired by the appearance of her twists would react, she decided to share her story with the public.
As part of her journey with alopecia, Pressley says “I am making peace with having alopecia. I am very early in my alopecia journey. But I’m making progress every day…It’s about self-agency, it’s about power, it’s about acceptance.”
Alopecia is a disease that causes a person to lose their hair because the body (the immune system) is attacking its own hair follicles. The condition can cause the hair to fall out in small patches that might be noticeable to others. If the small patches start to connect with each other, the hair loss can start to become noticeable to others.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, alopecia can happen to otherwise healthy people and the results can be “unpredictable”. The condition can appear as bald patches on the scalp or the person with alopecia can lose all of the hair on the scalp and even the entire body.
Pressley added, “I hope this starts a conversation about the personal struggles we navigate and I hope that it creates awareness about how many people are impacted by alopecia. To all those sharing their personal stories in response, I see you.”
Dr. Mohebi said “Traction alopecia is a common condition that can impact African American women that wear braids on a regular basis. The traction pulls out the hair follicles and this can lead to permanent hair loss.”
Dr. Mohebi added that it is “great that some people with hair loss are brave enough to talk about their hair loss and hair restoration solutions. Hair loss is a real problem that can affect many aspects of the lives of its victims. The good news is that modern hair restoration gives us many options to treat the majority of hair loss conditions.”
When discussing the hair loss issue facing Pressley, Dr. Mohebi extended an invitation to offer the “full range of hair loss diagnostics and hair restoration treatment options” to Pressley since she is not afraid to discuss her “hair loss in order to educate the public.”