Representative Ayanna Pressley revealed today that she suffers from alopecia areata, and has gone completely bald. In a moving video for the Root, in which she revealed her bald head for the first time, Pressley said she starting to lose her hair in the fall, a process that accelerated quickly before she was waking up in the morning to “sinkfuls of hair.”
Pressely described how her beloved Senegalese twists, which were meant to be a temporary hairstyle, became part of her personal and political identities when she was elected as Massachusetts’ first black representative. “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 my political brand.” She described seeing constituents wearing T-shirts with messages like “My Congresswoman Wears Twists.”
So when her hair began to fall out, Pressley was terrified. “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,” Pressley said. “I wrapped my hair. I wore a bonnet. I slept on a silk pillowcase.”
But the day before the House voted to impeach Donald Trump last month, Pressley’s last bit of hair was gone. “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,” she says in the video. After she left the floor, she hid in a bathroom. “I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable,” she recalls. “I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed.” Pressley added that she was making peace with her alopecia condition, but was not quite there yet. She has a roster of wigs she’s been trying out, including a bob nicknamed “FLOTUS.”
The vulnerability and openness she displayed in the video is nearly unprecedented for a member of Congress, or nearly any politician. Pressley’s decision to appear without a wig was a statement of ownership of the pain of the moment. “It’s about self-agency. It’s about power. It’s about acceptance,” she said.