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January 16, 2020

The Boston Globe: Ayanna Pressley reveals struggle with alopecia, sharing hair loss in video

Representative Ayanna Pressley is opening up about her struggle with alopecia — the clinical term for loss of hair — revealing in a video published Thursday by The Root that she has recently gone bald after first noticing signs of hair loss in the fall.

In the video, Pressley spoke about her decision to go public, and of the pain she felt waking up each morning to the loss of more hair.

“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 and an image in the mirror of a person who increasingly felt like a stranger to me,” she said.

Pressley said she was struggling with the loss of her signature Senegalese twists, which she first started wearing a few years before her primary upset over former congressman Michael E. Capuano and subsequent election to Congress in 2018. In the year since she took office, she’s become one of the most high-profile freshman lawmakers, along with three other progressive women of color known as “The Squad.”

“I was very aware this hairstyle could be, would be, filtered and interpreted by some as a political statement,” she says. “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.”

Alopecia can occur over a matter of weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health. Pressley said she lost the last of her hair on the eve of the House’s historic impeachment vote in December.

Pressley explained her decision to publicly announce her alopecia by tweeting, “As a black woman, the personal is political. My hair story is no exception.”

In December Pressley co-sponsored the CROWN Act, which would ban discrimination based on hairstyles associated with a particular race. Racial discrimination is illegal, but the bill would apply to cases like that of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, which became embroiled in controversy in 2017 when two black students faced discipline for wearing their hair in braids.

“For too long, black women and girls have been told that their hair is too curly, too unprofessional, too distracting” Pressley said in a statement announcing the bill. She also discussed her own choice of hairstyle, saying she wanted to “create space for all of us to show up in the world as our authentic selves.”

Now, less than two months later, Pressley told The Root she’s adjusting to her new normal. At the conclusion of the video, she appeared on screen without her wig.

“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,” she said. “It’s about self-agency, it’s about power, it’s about acceptance.”