Ayanna Pressley: Living With Alopecia

Before we get into the headline, let us make a proper introduction of U. S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D): the first Black woman elected to Congress from the state of Massachusetts, the first woman of color to serve on Boston’s City Council in its 100-year history, co-author of the ‘End Qualified Immunity Act”, an act that would remove the protection that law enforcement officers have that makes them immune from prosecution the they commit acts that would trigger charges if not performed by an officer performing official duties, fierce advocate for Criminal Justice Reform, proponent for ending sexual violence and combatting trauma and advocate of the decriminalization of sex work. Yes—that’s one helluva sentence. We know this. But Ayanna Pressley is one helluva woman.

One quarter of U.S Congress’ four-member, informally named “The Squad”, Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) are the Republicans’ worst nightmare and represent diversity, womanhood, strength and progressive ideals for the rest of us. But among her many accolades and titles, for many Black women, Pressley has long held the title of “Hero”.

Pressley has been know, for many years, by her signature, waist-length Senegalese Twists, a natural hairstyle worn by Black girls and women for centuries. In this age of hair discrimination, she knew that hew choice to wear her hair in a natural style while serving in government would be seen as ‘revolutionary’ or ‘militant’. She was also told by advisors that people would see her as “angry”. Noting that this was already a popular opinion among her detractors, Pressley twisted her locks right on up and twisted herself right in to a seat in the House of Representatives.

Pressley was surprised, humbled and vindicated when her hair became a symbol of hope, representation and commonality with her constituents, and Black women and girls across the country. In a video made for The Root, she explained how the way she wore her hair and showed up in the world took on a life of its own.

“What I was not prepared for was the  glorious gift and blessing of the acceptance, and the community and the affirmation…I walk in to rooms and little girls are wearing T-shits that say ‘My congresswoman wears braids’.”

Ayanna Pressley wearing her signature Senegalese Twists.

When her hair loss began, Pressley saw a dermatologist and was diagnosed with Alopecia last in the fall of 2019.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Alopecia is the medical term for baldness. The Autoimmune disorder alopecia areata causes the body to attack its own healthy hair follicles, “causing them to come much smaller and drastically slow down production to the point that hair growth may stop.” (1) Black women seem to suffer disproportionally from alopecia.

Although she tried, at first, to fight the loos of her hair, the battle ended with her losing her last strands on the evening before the vote on the Impeachment Donald Trump, which also fell on the anniversary of her mother’s death.

“I didn’t have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb. But I knew the moment demanded that I stand in it, and that I lean in.”

Pressley put on a wig, stood on the floor of Congress and did what needed to be done. As we Black Women always do. Later, she retreated to the restroom to pull herself together. Again, as we Black women always do.

“I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed.”

Because of all of the girls and women who had come to identify with her, and to be inspired by her, Pressley also felt she was betraying them by losing the symbol of their common bond. She knew that at some point, she would go public, because she felt like she owed them an explanation.

“I think it’s important that I’m transparent about this new normal,” she has said. “I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it.”

While Pressley admits that she is still not at a place where she is “at peace” with having alopecia, she is making progress daily. She says that well-meaning people have been reminding her that she “is not her hair.” And while she appreciates the sentiment, it doesn’t negate the fact that she actually wanted her hair.

Nevertheless, Pressley says she feels least like herself when she is wearing a wig these days, which means she is well on her way to identifying with the simple fact that this is what it is. As she states: “it’s about self-agency. It’s about power. It’s about acceptance.”

Nobody asked for our two cents, but for what it’s worth, we here at FBW think Rep. Pressley is beyond fierce rocking her bald head. And although we’re not fond of the word: we have no choice but to stan…


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