Rep. Ayanna Pressley goes public with alopecia and baldness

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (House Television via AP)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Rep. Ayanna Pressley, whose hair twists have been an inspiration to young girls and part of her personal identity and political brand, said Thursday that she has gone bald due to the auto immune condition alopecia.

The freshman Massachusetts Democrat made a touching video for The Root, the African American-focused website, in which she revealed her bald head and said she felt compelled to go public due to the impact her Senegalese twists had on supporters.

Senegalese twists are a protective hairstyle worn by black women, much like braided hairstyles. Her style was noteworthy in how Afrocentric it was. 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.

She called her hair story “both personal and political” as she embraced her twists, but noticed back in the fall that her hair was falling out. The hair loss progressed in chunks until the night before the Dec. 18 House vote on impeachment articles against President Donald Trump, when she said she lost the last of it.

“I didn't have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb,” Pressley said. “It was a moment of transformation not of my choosing.”

She donned a wig, explained her vote from the podium on the House floor, then fled to a bathroom stall.

“I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed,” Pressley said. “And then I also felt that I was participating in a cultural betrayal because of all the little girls who write me letters, come up to me, take selfies with me. Hashtag twist nation.”

Pressley kept her hair loss a secret, revealing her condition only to close friends and family, but she knew she would go public when she felt ready.