In an interview with The Root, Pressley explained that she decided to share her experience with the condition, which causes hair loss, because she believes her hair was a big part of her identity and “political brand”.
After discussing how she’d gotten Senegalese twists a few years prior and had felt that she’d “met herself fully for the first time,” Pressley said: “In the fall, when I was getting my hair re-twisted, is the first time that I was made aware that I had some patches. From there, it accelerated very quickly.”
Alopecia is a disease that develops when “the body attacks its own hair follicles,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Apart from hair loss and nail changes, most people with alopecia are otherwise healthy.
In the emotional video, Pressley recalled how the condition progressed quickly, and how she would wake up to additional hair loss every morning, despite “employing all the tools that I had been schooled and trained in throughout my life as a black woman” to prevent her hair from falling out.
According to the freshman Democrat, who became the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts in 2018, she tried sleeping on a silk pillowcase, wrapping her hair, and wearing a bonnet, but nothing worked.
“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,” Pressley said.
The congresswoman said the last of her hair fell out on the day before the House voted to impeach President Trump, leaving her “completely bald” – but that she did not have the “luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb” because she had to vote in support of articles of impeachment.
Afterward, Pressley recalled hiding in a bathroom stall because she felt “naked, exposed, vulnerable”.
“I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed, I felt betrayed,” she said, adding that she also felt she was participating in a “cultural betrayal because of all the little girls” who looked up to her because of her hair.
According to Pressley, it was because she felt like she “owed all those little girls an explanation” that she decided to go public with her story.
In the video, the congresswoman then removed her wig and revealed her bald head for the first time, explaining that she is ready now to be “freed” from her secret and the feelings of shame she associated with it.
“It’s about self-agency, it’s about power, it’s about acceptance,” she said.
Pressley concluded the video telling viewers that she has several new wigs, one of which she calls “flotus” because it feels “very Michelle Obama”.
On social media, Pressley’s admission has been met with support and praise.
“This is brave and moving, thank you Ayanna Pressley for choosing to share,” one person wrote.
Another said: “This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen a politician do. For women, hair is part of how people define our beauty. We don’t often talk about what it means to lose it and in such personal terms.
“Kudos, Ayanna Pressley. Your light is so bright, it brought me to tears.”