Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., opened up about her struggle with alopecia, a common autoimmune skin disease that can cause hair loss, on Thursday and publically revealed her bald head for the first time.
The freshman congresswoman and member of “The Squad,” along with three other female first-term congressional lawmakers of color, said in a video for The Root that she realized she had patches of hair missing in the fall when she was getting hair re-twisted.
“From there, it accelerated very quickly,” she said in an emotional statement for the African-American-focused website. “I’ve 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. I wrapped my hair. I wore a bonnet, I slept on a silk pillowcase,” she added.
Pressley said she dreaded the mornings where she would be “met with more hair in the sink” and an “image in the mirror of a person who increasingly felt like a stranger to me.”
“I was completely bald and in a matter of hours was going to have to walk into the floor, the House Chamber, House of Representatives and cast a vote in support of articles of impeachment,” she said. “And so I didn’t have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb.”
She donned a wig to speak at the podium on the House floor and then went to the bathroom where she said she felt “ashamed” and “embarrassed.” She kept her hair loss a secret, revealing it only to close friends and family.
Pressley’s hair — Senegalese twists — became a staple of her congressional campaign and have become part of her political brand. The twists are a protective hairstyle worn by black women, much like braided hairstyles.
In many corporations, black women are expected to wear their hair straightened and the legacy of black women wearing their hair close to or in its natural state is fraught and intertwined with the legacy of racism.
She explained she felt the need to go public because she “owed all those little girls an explanation.”
“My husband says I don’t, that everything isn’t political,” Pressley said. “The reality is I’m black, I’m a black woman, and I’m a black woman in politics, and everything I do is political.”
Pressley’s fellow “Squad” members — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who’ve all fought hard against Trump’s policies and have emerged as stars in the Democratic Party — praised her for going public.
“Could you imagine losing all your hair on the eve of an enormously public day? And then turning that intensely intimate ordeal to make space for others?” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Ayanna, you are a living blessing. Everyone, please take a moment out of your day to watch.”
“You are stunningly gorgeous and a magnificent black queen. I know women and young girls around the world will wear their crowns more proudly today because of you,” tweeted Omar.
Tlaib called Pressley a “Queen.”
Around 6.8 million people in the U.S. are affected by alopecia, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.