Quick note: This is the second piece in my “Lessons To Learn” series. A collection of posts that reflect on how other alopecians deal with hair loss – and what we can learn from them. If you missed the first part, check it out here!
Admittedly, I’d never heard of Ayanna Pressley until January 16th, 2020. I didn’t know that she was a Massachusetts Congresswoman, or one of four progressive Democratic representatives known as “The Squad”.
I didn’t know anything about her black hair journey – how she went from ‘accepted’ bun styles or pressed hair to more Afrocentric styles, essentially expressing herself through her hair.
How her decision to move to Senegalese twists had sparked accusations of her being ‘militant’ while she simultaneously inspired young black girls across the country. Girls who sent her letters of support, who’d wear t-shirts saying “my congresswoman wears braids” with unabashed pride.
And I didn’t know that for this congresswoman, alopecia was not only a traumatic experience on a personal level – it also arose fears of political implications. Of guilt for not telling all those young girls the full truth.
A guilt which prompted her to publicly announce her alopecia, months later:
Now I know a little more about Ayanna Pressley and her alopecia story.
How those twists – which inspired her followers, formed part of her political brand and most importantly, acted like a statement of identity – may have triggered the alopecia that took over her entire head.
As a black female politician, she already had her strength tested and questioned every day. And this was just another test she’d have to face.
I watched Ayanna’s exclusive, quite emotional, “coming out” video with The Root (below) and was inspired by her candid nature – plus, how she rocks the bald look! She’s at the early stages of living openly with alopecia but I think we already have a lot to learn from her.
The Ayanna video reveal is just over 7 minutes long – and although YouTube has plenty of shorter clips from the likes of CBS and GMA, I’d really recommend that you watch the full thing. It’s this amazing woman’s story, the way she wants to tell it.
So make a cuppa, have tissues at the ready and enjoy! Keep reading for some key takeaways when you’re done. 😉
Whether you have alopecia or not, I think there’s a lot you can learn from this lady.
In Anyanna’s article with The Root – who also filmed the above video – the Congresswoman describes what it felt like to wear her custom wig for the first time, when she voted to impeach Trump:
Now, I’ve never been to the White House. And I’m an awful public speaker.
But I CAN totally relate to the Congresswoman on one level – on her feelings about wearing wigs. I wore one for years before I was ready to come clean about my own alopecia – and even though I appreciated the cover it gave me, I didn’t feel like myself in it.
I felt like I was hiding, like I was lying – and I felt so ashamed, so guilty for not being open about my condition.
Likewise. I feel more comfortable now with my bald head than I ever did wearing a wig – when I felt constantly exposed, worrying if others could tell my big dirty secret. So the lesson I’ve learned, and which Ayanna reminded me of, is this:
I went wig-free in 2014. And over the years that followed I slowly began to accept my alopecia, even to embrace it. I realised that what made me different was actually kind of cool.
I wasn’t like everyone else. I attracted attention, sometimes negative but often positive. I generated conversations and a lot of the time, encouraged people to open up about their own insecurities.
I started to see my alopecia as a gift. I didn’t ask for it, but I didn’t really want to give it back! Why? Well, because I realised that it had made me stronger in so many ways – that it was actually a bit of a superpower. Ayanna felt the same:
And let me offer another quote, not from Ayanna but you may be familiar with it… 😉
That’s why, after a couple of years getting used to my bald head, I decided to create Lady Alopecia.
I felt a genuine need – a responsibility – to share my story and help people at the same stage as I once was, not that long ago. To help them be empowered in their alopecia.
And I’m not alone. The Bald Revolution is well and truly underway, with more women and men revealing their alopecia – even those in the limelight.
We even have a Congresswoman for Alopecia now… I wonder if that’ll reduce the tax on wigs for hair lossers? Hmm.
Anyway, what I mean is, if there can ever be a good time to lose all of your hair, that time is now.
I think it’s important to note that, in a world of “live your best life” and “New Year, new you” and “power of positive thinking”, we remain realistic.
I’m quite an optimistic person – and as someone who teaches yoga and meditation, I’ve learned to be grateful and present for every moment… at least, as much as possible. Because we are human, after all. We can’t go about buzzing with positive vibes all the time. It just isn’t possible.
So I admire Ayanna for noting that alopecia is a s**t thing, which is still very new to her. Her honesty in admitting that she knows she is not her hair… but that she still wants it!
Nope, she had to slap on a wig she hated and present at the White House.
She found herself crying in a toilet cubicle after delivering her speech, feeling “naked, embarrassed, vulnerable and ashamed”. She thought of all those little girls who looked up to her and she felt like she owed them an explanation. That she needed to go public with her alopecia.
Ayanna is now learning to accept, what she refers to as “the new normal”. In the video, she says that she’s only now feeling comfortable and that she’s very early in her alopecia journey.
No doubt it’ll be a long journey for her. It was for me. It still is. But I like that it’s taking me to places I never imagined I’d see.
You don’t have to hide anymore. You have the power to help others and to change the world – in whatever small or big way that is. It won’t always be easy – sometimes it’ll be downright horrible.
But when you can accept that which you can’t change – whether it’s alopecia or a break-up or a bereavement – then you can allow yourself to heal.
I’ll leave you with a few more wise words from Congresswoman Pressley:
Another life lesson that I’ll be remembering as we move into the next decade. Because I want to create space and to help others, too. Freeing myself and freeing fellow alopecians in the process.
Will you join me?? I hope so. 🙂