Story at a glance

  • Rep. Ayanna Pressley is well known for wearing her natural hair in Senegalese twists.
  • In a new interview, she reveals that she has alopecia and has lost all of her hair.
  • Pressley said she wanted to share her experience to help others who also deal with the hair loss condition.

Massachusetts congresswoman and "squad" member Ayanna Pressley’s natural hair has been dissected as a political statement and an example for black women across America since she took office in 2019. But now, it’s falling out. 

In an exclusive interview with The Root, Pressley revealed that she has alopecia areata, a condition resulting in sudden hair loss that affects as many as 6.8 million people in the U.S. It is the result of an autoimmune skin disorder where a person's immune system mistakes healthy hair follicles for invaders and attacks them, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation

The condition is still new for Pressley, who is known for wearing her hair in Senegalese twists and says she has not fully come to peace with her hair loss. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“My twists have become such a synonymous and conflated part of not only my personal identity and how I show up in the world but my political brand,” she said in a 6-minute video where she revealed her bald head for the first time. 

In the fall of 2019, Pressley discovered that her hair was falling out in patches when she went to a hairstylist to get her twists done. Her hair loss accelerated quickly, on the night before she voted to impeach President Donald Trump and the anniversary of her mother's death, the last of her hair fell out. 

“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 said in the video. 

Some people with alopecia areata only lose hair in small patches, while others go completely bald. But most people with the condition are otherwise healthy. Pressley revealed her bald head for the first time publicly in the video.

She wore a wig for the impeachment vote and says she now has a couple different ones. 

“One I call ‘FLOTUS’ because it feels very Michelle Obama to me, [and another] I call ‘Tracee,’ because it feels very Tracee Ellis Ross to me,” she told Root. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Almost half of all Black women in America have experienced hair loss, according to one study, and research shows black people are more likely to develop alopecia areata than others. 

As a congresswoman, Pressley has made it a point to be proud of her natural hair and has worked on legislation to address hair discrimination against Black people. In the video, she said she wanted to be honest with all the little girls who look up to her and relate to her natural hair, and also start a new conversation. 

“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, I’m here to create it,” she said in the video. “It’s about self agency, it’s about power, it’s about acceptance.”

Published on Jan 16, 2020