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Ayanna Pressley is trying to make peace with her alopecia, so why are some people making it harder?

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Jessica Rapana
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Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley recently revealed her alopecia diagnosis and now some people are comparing her to a bald male cartoon character. They should be ashamed.

The thing about being in The Squad is that you know your fellow members will always have your back.

So when Ayanna Pressley this week clapped back at trolls on Twitter, you better believe the other members of her squad – Alexandria Ocasio-CortezRashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – were ready to step in and bat for her.

In January, Pressley revealed she had gone bald due to suffering from alopecia, a condition that causes a person’s hair to fall out gradually.

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“I suffer from alopecia but I won't let it define me”

However, Pressley has now revealed on Twitter that since going public with her condition, she has been the victim of severe trolling. The congresswoman took to Twitter on Thursday to call out those who had been comparing her to Mr Clean, a bald male cartoon character used as the mascot for an all-purpose cleaner.

“Dear Trolls,” Pressley wrote, alongside a photo of herself. “You really think I look like ‘Mr Clean’? Please. He never looked THIS clean. Sorry not sorry my unapologetically rockin’ my crown triggers you. Proud #alopecian”

AOC was the first member of Pressley’s squad to defend her against the cruel online taunts, tweeting the most supportive message. “Don’t pay any mind to them sis,” she wrote. “They’re just mad because you pull off any & every look thrown at you, meanwhile they can’t even put on a hat on their head without looking like a baby peanut.” Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaid also retweeted Pressley’s original tweet to show their support.

Following the revelation of her diagnosis, Pressley said she felt like she owed little girls who had been inspired by her natural hair an explanation.

She also said she was still striving to make peace with the diagnosis, given how much her hair has been a part of her identity as a black woman in politics.

In a video with The Root, she said: “My twists have become such a synonymous and a conflated part of not only my personal identity and how I show up in the world, but also my political brand. And that’s why I think it’s important that I’m transparent about this new normal and living with alopecia.”

Alopecia – the medical term for baldness – affects as many as 6.8 million people in the US, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

In the interview, Pressley talked about how she had been overwhelmed by the support she had received from women after she started wearing her hair in Senegalese twists. “Little girls were wearing T-shirts that said, ‘My congresswoman wears braids’,” Pressley said. “We received letters from all over the globe from women who talk about their own emancipation, that they felt I’ve given them permission.”

During a routine hair appointment, she had noticed her hair was thinning. “From there, it’s accelerated very quickly,” she explained. “I had been waking up every morning to sinks full of hair. Every night, I was employing all the tools that I had been schooled and trained in throughout my life as a black woman. I wrapped my hair, I wore a bonnet, I slept on a silk pillowcase.”

“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 felt increasingly like a stranger to me.”

The congresswoman said the last of her hair fell out the evening before the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump, leaving her feeling “naked, exposed, vulnerable”. “I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed, I felt betrayed,” she adds, articulating the guilt she felt over what she perceived to be the “cultural betrayal” and how she felt she “owed” an explanation to the little girls who looked up to her because of her hair.

Despite the online vitriol, Pressley revealed then that many people had been supportive of her decision to go public with her diagnosis .

AOC then tweeted:  “Could you imagine losing all your hair on the eve of an enormously public day? And then turning that intensely intimate ordeal to make space for others? Ayanna, you are a living blessing.”

Tlaib commented: “Queen. Your courage in sharing your store is what makes you so incredibly special.”

Political analyst Zerlina Maxwell added: “I cried all the tears. Thank you @AyannaPressley this is a must watch.”

While some people, including Pressley’s husband, had tried to convince her that her alopecia “doesn’t have to be political”, Pressley said, her response to them had been: “I’m a black woman in politics – everything I do is political.”

With young girls in mind and wanting to free herself from her “secret” and “shame”, Pressley had felt compelled to officially publicly reveal her bald head.

She added that she was slowly making peace with her diagnosis: “I have not arrived but I’m making progress every day”. 

Let’s hope the rest of the public can do the same.

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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