Rep. Ayanna Pressley Reveals Alopecia—and Shares a Beautiful Photo of Her Bald Head
"I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it."
For the first time publicly on Thursday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) revealed that she suffers from Alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that can lead to complete hair loss.
In a new seven-minute long interview with The Root, the popular politician discussed her relationship with her hair, and how she first came to realize she was suffering from alopecia. She also used the interview as an opportunity to remove her wig in public for the very first time.
"I think it’s important that I’m transparent about this new normal," she said, regarding her decision to share her hair loss struggles. Pressley added that she first became aware her alopecia last fall when she was getting her hair retwisted. The hair loss continued, and she woke up every morning with less and less hair on her scalp—despite efforts to stave off hair loss by sleeping on silk pillowcases and in bonnets, she said.
Her demanding career on Capitol Hill complicated her health struggle, and she opted to “creatively conceal” her baldness with the help of wigs.
However, the night prior to Donald Trump’s impeachment vote in the House of Representatives and the anniversary of her mother’s death, she lost her final piece of hair. The sense of loss truly resonated with her.
“I was missing her. I was mourning my hair. I was mourning the state of our democracy. I was mourning my mentor, Chairman Elijah Cummings,” she said.
Instead of exposing her bald head, she opted to wear a custom wig made by “hair caregiver” Jamal Edmonds to deliver her vote.
“When I saw myself in the mirror, he had done a beautiful job, but I did not recognize myself,” she said. “I was wearing this wig, fully clothed. But in that moment, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d ever felt more naked.”
After casting her vote, she explains that she hid in a bathroom stall, “feeling exposed, vulnerable, and embarrassed,” according to The Root. “It was at that point that she remembered those same little girls looking up to her—and decided that when she was ready, she’d go public with her condition.” “I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it,” Pressley says.
While she is still coming to terms with her condition, every day she is making progress. "I think you might overly intellectualize it and say it's just hair," she adds. "But I still want it so I am trying to find my way here and I do believe going public will help. I am making peace with having alopecia. I have not arrived there."
She is also experimenting with different styles and even has names for some of her wigs. “One I call ‘FLOTUS’ because it feels very Michelle Obama to me, [and another] I call ‘Tracee,’ because it feels very Tracee Ellis Ross to me,” she reveals.
What exactly is alopecia?
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, which occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your hair follicles (the part of your skin that makes hair).
In the majority of alopecia—which can be broken down into about six different types, including alopecia areata, androgenic alopecia, and telogen effluvium—hair falls out small patches, round in shape and about the size of a quarter. In very rare cases, the disease can cause total hair loss all over the head and even the body. There is no pain involved in the hair loss and it is not contagious.
Alopecia usually begins in childhood and your risk increases if you have a family member who has had it, especially if their symptoms first started before the age of 30. It's also unclear what exactly causes alopecia, though scientists believe that genetics may play a role, and that the disease process begins when specific genes are triggered by a virus or environmental factors.
Race may also come into play. One July 2019 study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that African Americans experience alopecia areata at a higher rate than other racial groups. One Boston University survey found that of 5,500 black women, nearly 48 percent of them dealt with hair loss.
While there's no cure for alopecia and no drugs have been approved to treat it, there are medications approved for other diseases that can help grow back hair loss, according to the NIAMS.
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