"In the fall, when I was getting my hair retwisted, is the first time that I was made aware that I had some patches", Pressley said. "I'm here to create it".
"What started as a transitional hairstyle ultimately became a statement and something I was very intentional about", she said, knowing that some would interpret it as a militant political statement. And it became a statement. "People said, 'People will think you're angry.' And I said, 'Well, they already think that'". In many corporations, black women are expected to wear their hair straightened (though their hair tends to be more coily) 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.
Last year, a study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology revealed that African-Americans experience alopecia areata at a higher rate than other racial groups.
"I am ready now because I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it, and because I'm not here just to occupy space". Pressley says she remembers "waking up every morning to sinkfulls of hair", despite doing everything she could to stop it the condition from worsening. That's because during a routine hair appointment to have her hair re-twisted, she noticed her hair was thinning. It was the night before Donald Trump's impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, and it was the anniversary of her mother's death.
"I was completely bald".
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Pressley, 45, said she chose to go public about her hair loss because she felt she owed an explanation to all the women of color who have reached out to her about what had become known as her signature hairstyle: Senegalese twists. It was a moment of transformation not of my choosing.
"But I knew the moment demanded that I stand in it and that I lean in", she continued.
"And I exited the floor as soon as I could and I hid in a bathroom stall". She described going bald as making her feel "vulnerable", "naked", "embarrassed", and "ashamed". "And we receive letters from all over the globe of women who talk about their own emancipation that they feel I've given them permission [to have]. I felt betrayed. I also felt like I was participating in a cultural betrayal".
She said her husband assured her that she did not owe her supporters an explanation and that "everything doesn't have to be political". Jenn Jackson, an assistant professor for political science at Syracuse University, tells the Washington Post that stigma surrounding the condition often causes it to go undiagnosed in black communities, and it is "liberating" to see Pressley go public.
"I did not want to go to sleep because I did not want to wake up, 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". "From there, it accelerated very quickly", Ayanna admitted. "I know women and young girls around the world will wear their crowns more proudly today because of you", tweeted Omar. It's about self-agency, it's about power, it's about acceptance.