Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley has a message for women who battle hair loss. Pressley, the first Black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress, shared her struggle with alopecia in a powerful interview on Thursday. In a video from The Root, the first-term congresswoman opens up about how she learned about the condition. She also, for the first time, reveals her bald head and explains why it's so important for her to talk about this publicly right now.
In the beginning of the video, Pressley said that she had only been bald in the privacy of my home and in the company of close friends. "As a Black woman, the personal is political and my hair story is no exception," she told Refinery29.
Pressley realized she had alopecia late last year and describes the feeling of her hair falling out for the first time. "I'd been waking up every morning to sink-fulls of hair. Every night I was employing all the tools that I had been schooled and trained in throughout my life as a Black woman, because I thought that I could stop this."
Alopecia areata, a condition that causes hair to fall out in patches, affects as many as 6.8 million people in the U.S., according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. In some cases, it can result in total hair loss, called alopecia universalis. Although Pressley has come to embrace her condition now, she is aware of the many women struggling with the same diagnosis.
In the video, Pressley details her journey with alopecia and her relationship with her hair. After years of wearing wigs and extensions prior to becoming a public official, the freshman Congresswoman changed her look in a bold way. "Four or five years ago, I decided to get Senegalese twists all the way down to my waist, and I feel like I met myself fully for the first time," Pressley said. The braids that became Pressley's trademark look for years were, as she says, a "blessing" when it came to representation for other Black women in politics.
"My twists have become such a synonymous and conflated part of not only my personal identity and how I show up in the world, but also my political brand," she said. "That's why I think it’s important that I’m transparent about this new normal and living with alopecia.”
It wasn't until the eve of Donald Trump's impeachment that she says she lost the last pieces of her hair. Pressley had to vote in the house chambers that evening, and describes feeling "naked, exposed, and embarrassed," both for her changed look and what she says felt like a cultural betrayal.
"The reality is that I am Black, and I'm a Black woman, and I'm a Black woman in politics — everything I do is political," Pressley said. "I am trying to find my way here, and I do believe going public will help."
Now, Pressley's new normal includes showcasing her look in hopes of bringing awareness and representation to others who struggle with alopecia. "I know I am not alone in this journey which is why today, I am sharing my very personal hair loss journey to create space and to create community for those of us who have had complicated relationships with our hair," she told Refinery29.
Although the condition can effect people of all ages, genders, and ethnic groups, a recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology says African-Americans experience alopecia areata at a higher rate than other racial groups. Another study also by the American Academy of Dermatology, which is also referenced in The Root video, shows that of the 5,500 Black women they surveyed for the study, about 48% struggled with hair loss.
As an elected official and a member of “The Squad,” Pressley is in a unique position to raise awareness about this deeply personal struggle that can affect so many people like her. “I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it,” Pressley said, “It’s about self-agency. It’s about power. It’s about acceptance.”
"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," Pressley said to Refinery29. "To all those sharing their personal stories in response, I see you.”