Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was applauded after giving a speech on the House floor about the realities of living with alopecia, and how the hair loss has impacted her both personally and professionally.
On Tuesday, the representative opened up about her diagnosis with the condition while discussing the importance of congressional support for bills supporting those with alopecia in a video shared by The Hill.
During the speech, which comes amid Alopecia Awareness Month, Pressley said: “Some people may say it’s just hair. But for me and many people living with alopecia, hair is intrinsically linked to our identity and our cultural expression.”
The 46-year-old then reflected on learning she had the condition last year, explaining that she “vividly” remembers the moment she first saw herself completely bald.
“I was alone in my DC apartment, separated from my family on the same day that would have been my mother’s 72nd birthday and on the eve of an impeachment vote,” Pressley recalled. “I was standing in the bathroom, staring at my reflection in the mirror and for the first time, I was completely bald.”
According to Pressley, she felt “relief, peace and acceptance” that night after dreading the moment for months.
Pressley also said she is making “progress” in coming to terms with her diagnosis, despite being the target of “hateful comments, the cruel constant online harassment about my baldness, the intrusive and ignorant questions on the elevators and the unsolicited advice and stares.”
“No doubt about it, a bald woman entering a room, entering the floor of the House of Representatives, makes people uncomfortable,” she said. “Visually, it challenges every antiquated, cultural norm about what is professional, what is pretty, what is feminine.”
“Mr Speaker, I am now bald. But I am in good health and I am in incredible company,” Pressley said, adding that she has never lost sight of who she is.
The freshman congresswoman also shared some of the support she has received from other Americans living with alopecia, and how those “little acts of kindness and solidarity have defined this experience” for her.
During the five-minute speech, Pressley urged support for a bill introduced by congressman Jim McGovern that would allow seniors to purchase medical wigs using Medicaid funds.
“I know that our work is far from over and I will continue to fight,” she said. “I will take my seat at the table. I will take up space and I will create it too. And with this space, we will make change.”
Pressley’s speech, which was met with applause by lawmakers, comes after she revealed her diagnosis in an interview with The Root in January.
“I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed, I felt betrayed,” she said during the interview, 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.
At the time, her admission was met with an outpouring of support from others who live with the condition.
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.