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Rep. Ayanna Pressley reveals she has alopecia: 'It's important I'm transparent about this new normal'

Posted January 16, 2020 5:11 p.m. EST

— Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts on Thursday publicly revealed for the first time that she has an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

Pressley, whose Senegalese twists were her signature hairstyle, revealed she has alopecia in a video interview with The Root. She has been outspoken about young black girls being disciplined about their hairstyles and last month, along with Reps. Cedric Richmond, Marcia Fudge, and others, introduced the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act), and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced a companion of the bill in the Senate. New Jersey, California and other states have passed similar bills.

"This is my official public revealing. I have only been bald in the privacy of my home and in the company of close friends," Pressley says at the beginning of the video.

Dressed in black and white and wearing a long, curly wig, Pressley opened up about the condition that not only can result in total hair loss, but takes an emotional toll on those who suffer from it. Later in the interview, Pressley is seen without the wig dressed in yellow.

"I am ready now. Because I wanna be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it," she said. "And because I'm not here just to occupy space, I'm here to create it. And I wanna be free. I am making peace with having alopecia, I have not arrived there. I am very early in my alopecia journey. But I'm making progress every day."

'Sink-fulls of hair'

Pressley opened up about her experience and how her twists became more than just a hairstyle.

"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 said. "That's why I think it's important that I'm transparent about this new normal and living with alopecia."

Pressley said she first noticed bald patches in her hair this past fall while getting her hair re-twisted and said the patches quickly accelerated.

"I had been waking up every morning to sink-fulls of hair," she said, adding she tried to stop it. "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. I wrapped my hair. I wore a bonnet. I slept on a silk pillowcase. And yet and still every morning, which I faced with dread, I did not want to go to sleep because I did not want the morning to come where I would remove this bonnet and my wrap and be met with more hair in the sink."

'I feel the most unlike myself when wearing a wig'

She said it was on the eve of the House's impeachment of President Donald Trump that the last of her hair fell out.

"I was completely bald and in a matter of hours was going to have to walk into the floor -- the House chamber, the House of Representatives -- and cast a vote in support of articles of impeachment. And so 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 continued: "And I exited the floor soon as I could and I hid in a bathroom stall. I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed and then I also felt that I was participating in a cultural betrayal. Because of all the little girls who write me letters, come up to me, who take selfies with me, #twistnation. And I thought of those T-shirts and I just kept revisiting them. And I immediately knew that I was going to want to, when I felt ready, go public. Because I felt like I owed all those little girls an explanation."

Pressley said she has been experimenting with wig units, one in which she named "The Ol' G" because it's her first wig and another she named "FLOTUS" because it "feels very Michelle Obama to me."

"Right now on this journey, when I feel the most unlike myself is when I am wearing a wig. So I think that means I'm on my way."

What is alopecia?

Alopecia areata develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles resulting in hair loss, according to the Academy of Dermatology. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation says it affects nearly 6.8 million people in the United States and has a lifetime risk of 2.1%. There are several forms of alopecia areata, according to the foundation. Alopecia totalis leads to total hair loss of the entire scalp.

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