Ayanna Presley: Hair and Politics
Published by The Root
“Self-agency, power, acceptance”
Last Thursday, Pressley delivered a powerful, vulnerable message published by The Root. The 7 minute video titled “A Word: Alopecia” intimately invites us into Pressley’s personal hair journey while navigating her political identity as a Black woman. Ayanna’s story deepens conversations surrounding natural hair, empowerment and brings new understanding to being Black and visible in politics.
As the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, Ayanna makes her mission clear - she is not Congress’ token black female “I’m not here to occupy space, i’m here to create it.” The proof of her efforts are draped in her senegalese twists which she reflected “are not only personal but a part of my political brand.” Ayanna describes both the criticism she has met for wearing “too ethnic” or “too urban” styles but also the uplifting acceptance of young girls and older women alike that see themselves in her styles. As one of the first politicians to wear black hair styles, she has granted permission for these women and girls to wear their blackness out loud.
Congresswoman Pressley describes another transition in her Black hair journey that has come with anxieties, loss and a new found acceptance. With the loss of her hair, Ayanna describes feeling a part of a cultural betrayal for the girls that boast “my congresswoman wears braids.” With the power of self-reflection she’s come to understand this to be her “new normal” and it’s beautiful.
Her willingness to be vulnerable as a well respected Black politician is inspiring for us all to be more candid about our ills and challenges with natural hair. Congresswoman Pressley’s emphasis that “it’s not just hair” is an echo of the modern natural hair movement that wishes to validate the struggles Black women encounter concerning hair. For Ayanna, accepting herself with Alopecia has been no small feat - as she describes, priding herself as the congresswoman “with the senegalese twists” became an integral part of her identity as the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council.
“I am a Black woman in politics - Everything I do is political”
Often, the natural hair community can feel exclusive when a certain hair type is preferred in mainstream and people with kinkier hair, bald heads or unique hairstyles are disregarded. Pressley’s story shines light on another stage of the black hair journey that many have had to hide in shame - Alopecia. This condition, also known as spot baldness, is an autoimmune skin disease, causing hair loss on the scalp and other areas of the body. Alopecia is common, affecting 6.8 million people in the U.S. currently and most common with Black women. A Hopkins study in 2019 revealed that 50% of Black women experience some form of hair loss. While the condition is common, for many, Alopecia can be an invisible battle, as Ayanna described “ I did not have the luxury to mourn what felt like the loss of a limb” and she can be seen casting her vote impeachment eve in a flowing wig, the same night she lost her last patch of hair.
With courageous grace and candor, Ayanna made her first reveal without hair. Through the tear-jerking reveal, Congresswoman Pressley still is clear that making peace with Alopecia is a process that she is willing to embrace “I have not arrived there” after a pensive pause she adds “but I’m making progress.” And as she has inspired many to embrace their natural hair and cultural hairstyles, surely she will continue to inspire strength to be vulnerable and visible through any transition or new form.