Representative Ayanna Pressley: Naked Courage

Ayanna Pressley has just released a video through The Root about losing her hair over the last 6 months as a result of alopecia areata.  This is a screenshot from that video:

Representative Ayanna Pressley goes bald in public for the first time.

I’ve written about Black hair before, but seriously, this is a doozy of a topic. It’s hard for white people to understand just how political Black women’s hair can be, even though we’re often the ones doing the politicizing (e.g. her hair isn’t professional, is she trying to be militant? etc.).

So right now, I’ll just say this.

The first Black woman I ever seriously dated had sickle cell trait-related alopecia. She wore a wig constantly – nice looking one, too – but was apparently freaked that I might “discover” she had very little, very short, and very patchy hair on her head. In the dark she took off her wig while I was in the bathroom. I came back and found her sitting straight up, rigidly, instead of relaxing on the bed. I could tell there was something different about her silhouette, too, though it took my eyes a little bit to refocus. By the time I sat down on the bed next to her, she was almost shaking.

For the Black women who have this, this is a huge deal with a lot of shame attached. [I am, of course, not saying that’s how it should be, just saying that that is how it actually is right now.] It took a fuckload of courage for that girlfriend to expose her natural hair to me, one on one and in the dark after I had already clearly expressed my affection for her and attraction to her.

It’s remembering that woman quivering with fear on my bed in the dark that makes me qualified to say, Pressly, you’re a straight-up BadAss.

Go watch the video. It’s under ten minutes, and you won’t regret it.


  1. says

    This sounds like a society’s failure to me, a combination of racism and sexism, I guess. It’s wrong for a society to make some subset of people so worried about an aspect of their visual appearance.

    If my hair fell out, I would certainly dislike it, but I wouldn’t be very upset. Bald may not be my favorite haircut, but it’s a haircut I could live with. The difference is that, as a guy, I am not pressured by the society to have beautiful hair.

    Of course, if some person likes having some haircut or wants to wear a wig, it’s up to them, but there should be no social pressure dictating what they must do, and the society should not shame people who, for whatever reason, fail to conform with the social expectations.

  2. Naglfar says

    Ayanna Presley represents a district in the state where I live (not the district I live in, but nearby). I’ve seen her speak at events before and she is a great speaker in addition to her skills as a legislator. I admire her courage in releasing this video on such a personal topic.

  3. says

    That’s pretty amazing.

    I have to admit, I never realized how politicized black women’s hair is, but it makes sense: generations of white people telling you it’s ugly leaves a mark.

  4. John Morales says

    Um. It’s just hair.

    I seriously don’t get whence this “courage” is merited.

    … Black woman …

    I know you know the rules of capitalisation, hence I infer you are referring to a social category, rather than to skin pigmentation or ancestry. But, still.


    The difference is that, as a guy, I am not pressured by the society to have beautiful hair.

    Um, leaving aside how societal pressures only matter if they impinge your lifestyle, wigs for blokes were a thing, back in the day. Also toupees. And Trump’s comb-over, for that matter, is still a thing.

    (PS I did wait before posting)

  5. John Morales says

    Sure, silentbob. Nothing to Do with Proper nouns, and black and Black are interchangeable.

  6. John Morales says


    OK, just looked at the first Hit of your link, silentbob.

    “When speaking of a culture, ethnicity or group of people, the name should be capitalized. Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora.”

    Heh. A roundabout way of saying it is a proper noun.

    (But sure, if one is not descended from black Africans, one cannot be Black — nothing to do with skin colour, right?)

  7. publicola says

    Ayanna was a woman of courage before she lost her hair, and I believe she always will be. And for what it’s worth, she looks fabulous.

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