US lawmaker Pressley reveals baldness, alopecia diagnosis


Washington (AFP)

US congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, one of four high-profile progressive female lawmakers known as "The Squad," opened up Thursday about her struggles with alopecia, revealing on video for the first time that she is now bald.

In an interview with The Root, the 45-year-old representative from Massachusetts said she felt it was important to talk about the issue publicly because as a black woman, her political brand had become synonymous with Afrocentric hair styles like Senegalese twists.

When she first adopted the look, she predicted it "would be filtered and interpreted by some as a political statement that was militant," she said -- but it quickly won praise among black girls and women.

"I walk into rooms and little girls are wearing t-shirts that say 'My Congresswoman wears braids,' and we receive letters from all over the globe," she said.

Lately, however, Pressley had been forced to switch up her style, experimenting with lace-front wigs, which she said was a result of dramatic hair loss that she first noticed last fall when she went for an appointment to get her hair retwisted.

"From there it accelerated very quickly. I've been waking up every morning to sink fulls of air," Pressley said, leading her to turn to home remedies like wearing a bonnet and sleeping on a silk pillowcase, all to no avail.

"I think it's important that I'm transparent about this new normal," Pressley said.

- Racial disparities -

Alopecia is the medical term for baldness, but the word is more often used to refer to alopecia areata, a common autoimmune disorder resulting in unpredictable hair loss.

It develops very suddenly, and can lead to a complete loss of hair on the scalp, known as alopecia totalis or, in rare cases, the entire body (alopecia universalis). It is sometimes permanent but often treatable through corticosteroids that suppress the immune system.

This differs from "traction alopecia" that can be caused by tightly pulled hairstyles that stress the hair roots. The loss can be permanent if the follicles are scarred.

A July 2019 study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that African Americans experience alopecia areata at a higher rate than other racial groups, with researchers suggesting the cause was an interplay of genetic and environmental factors.

Pressley lost her final strands of hair on the eve of the House of Representatives vote to impeach President Donald Trump in December. After casting her vote, she hid in a bathroom stall, feeling "ashamed" and "embarrassed."

"I also felt that I was participating in a cultural betrayal" because of the girls who had supported her previous braid styles, and felt she owed them an explanation, despite her husband and others saying it was a private matter.

"The reality is that I'm black, and I'm a black woman, and I'm a black woman in politics, and everything I do is political," she said, adding that going public was part of her journey toward acceptance and empowerment.

Members of "The Squad" and others praised Pressley on Twitter. "You are stunningly gorgeous and a magnificent black queen," wrote fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar.

"I know women and young girls around the world will wear their crowns more proudly today because of you. Your courage is inspiring and I am so proud to be your sister in service," Omar wrote.