What was once a political and signature statement for Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D) is now her new normal, as she has revealed in a recently released video that she has alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder.
On an historic night for female politicians, one in which women won more seats in Congress than at any other point in history (92 in the House and 10 in the Senate - including the first Native American and first Muslim women ever elected to Congress and the two youngest Congress members ever to serve), Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first elected Black congresswoman, and her victory speech resonated as a symbol of female pride in a normally male-dominated world.
Sporting a colored lip and her signature hairstyle, Senegalese twists perfectly pinned back into a neat bun, Pressley asked, “Can a congresswoman wear her hair in braids, rock a black leather jacket?” Then with the crowd extolling in cheers and claps, Pressley smiled and added, “And a bold red lip!?
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“In honor of congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s victory,” her quote inspired sweatshirts with white lettering embossed across the front with the words, “Braids. Leather. Red Lips. Congress.”
Now, in a new, bold, powerful and imperturbable statement -- and still sporting a red lip -- the lawmaker preserved her composure as she opened up to The Root about a very private personal matter on Thursday.
“This is my official public revealing,” Pressley began. “I’ve only been bald in the privacy of my home and in the company of close friends.
“I got these Senegalese twists, and I felt like I met myself fully for the first time,” Pressley said. “I sorta looked into the mirror and said, ‘Oh, there I am. And it felt good.”
Pressley’s Senegalese twists were very deliberate and intentional. They became her personal brand statement, one that served as a whole-hearted, welcome emancipation to black women who felt like the congresswoman had given them permission to fully be themselves - natural hair and all. Little girls also showed their appreciation by sporting shirts that said, “My congresswoman wears braids.” It was a moment Pressley describes as a “glorious gift and blessing.”
Her history of inspiring women around the world was the impetus needed that caused Pressley to come forward and be transparent about her hair loss and living with alopecia.
Wearing a lace front wig, Pressley mentions, “And so [on] impeachment eve, the last little bit of my hair came out, I was completely bald, and in a matter of hours was going to have to walk into the floor of the - the house chamber - the 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. It was a moment of transformation not of my choosing.”
Feeling stripped bare, Pressley exited the floor and hid in a bathroom stall. “I felt naked,” exposed”, “vulnerable”, “embarrassed,” “'ashamed,``''betrayed,” and “participating in a cultural betrayal,” one that pushed her to speak her truth and to help others going through the same thing.
Now wigless, she expressed that she wants to be free of the secret and the shame that it carries. Pressley wants to not only “occupy space,” but to “create it.”
Though she had not fully arrived, Pressley is “making peace with having alopecia” and progressing every day, in a journey of “self-agency,” “power,” and “acceptance.”
Impacting 6.8 million people in the United States, “alopecia areata is a condition that causes hair to fall out in small patches,” according to Heathline. “The condition develops when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss,” which can occur on the scalp, eyelashes, face, as well as other parts of the body.
To learn more about alopecia, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.