Audre Lorde used to say: “that visibility which makes it’s most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.”
And there isn’t a person in the United States right now who doesn’t recognize the strength and courage of Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley.
Having marked a milestone by becoming part of the generation of change in the House of Representatives, Pressley has also been an icon for thousands of young men and women who have identified with her hairstyle –a symbol of her race, of that identity that she brings to the floor of the House along with her voice and her desire to change the course of things.
That’s why the video published last Thursday in The Root was so important for the representative.
In about seven minutes, Pressley confessed that she suffers from alopecia and now doesn’t have a hair on her head.
“In the fall, when I was getting my hair retwisted, is the first time that I was made aware that I had some patches. From there it accelerated very quickly,” Pressley said in the video.
In this way, the representative joins characters like Tyra Banks and Viola Davis in a condition defined by the American Dermatological Association as a common autoimmune disorder that results in unpredictable hair loss.
“Every night I was employing all the tools that I had been schooled and trained in throughout my life as a Black woman because I thought that I could stop this. I wrapped my hair. I wore a bonnet. I slept on a silk pillowcase,” confessed the congresswoman with a tremor in her voice.
“And yet and still every morning, which I faced with dread, 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 continued.
She also said that “the last little bit” of her hair finally fell the day before the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump last month.
“I was completely bald. And in a matter of hours, was going to have to walk into the floor [of] the House Chamber … and cast a vote in support of articles of impeachment,” she recalled. “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.
“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. I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed.”
Beyond the process of self-recognition in a mirror that seems not to want to give her good news ever again, the representative, who in 2018 became the first woman of color to represent the state of Massachusetts, assures that she is “making peace” with the challenge she now faces.
“I’m very early in my alopecia journey. But I’m making progress every day. And that’s why I’m doing this today,” she said. “It’s about self agency. It’s about power. It’s about acceptance. It’s so interesting to me that right now on this journey, what I feel the most unlike myself is when I am wearing a wig. So I think that means I’m on my way.”
According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, dealing with hair loss can cause severe depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions, where the link between mental health and autoimmune diseases puts more than eight million people in the United States at risk.
In fact, one of the causes of anxiety is often “the fear that others will find out you have the disease or are wearing a wig.”
That’s why Presley’s honesty, especially when it comes to being completely bald and talking about how she reconciles with wigs through nicknames, is even more admirable.