“I am much more than the sum total of my hair”
This segment is dedicated to every woman or man who has ever been made to feel ashamed because of alopecia areata. As a licensed cosmetologist, I am keenly aware of the pain that this condition can cause. This segment serves to move us away from the drama on social media regarding the incident at the recent Oscars, and rather, seeks to educate the larger public about Black hair, alopecia areata, and the right for everyone to “rock” their hair the way they see fit and how we should dare to celebrate the same. That is why I call this segment “Hairliberation!”Dr. Sharon McDaniel
Preserving Black women’s hair freedom and humanity
Black hair in America has long since been a political impetus whereas Black women and girls continue to feel the brunt of discrimination and ridicule for a natural state of their humanity – the way in which their hair grows from their scalps, or lack thereof. As the creator of the 2009 documentary ‘Good Hair,’ Chris Rock’s recent anecdote toward Jada Pinkett Smith at the Oscars ironically displays the public insensitivity and ignorance of the secret struggles Black women experience with their hair and the historical impacts of hair loss in the Black community.
Alopecia areata is a nonscarring form of immune-mediated hair loss experienced by men and women of all racial and ethnic groups. While few studies have examined the clinical epidemiology of alopecia areata in regard to patient race, recent research highlights the racial disparities and increased likelihood of alopecia areata in Black and Hispanic women compared to women of other races.
With Pinkett Smith openly sharing her “struggle” with alopecia areata since 2018, advocates have spoken out in support and protection of women who endure the autoimmune disorder both publicly and privately.
Charlie Villanueva, former NBA star and self-described “alopecia ambassador,” tweeted a message of support stating: “Remember, you have alopecia, alopecia doesn’t have you. Don’t give up on yourself. Life is just as beautiful as you.”
Before Villanueva and Pinkett Smith, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley shared her story and pain associated with her hair loss from Alopecia areata. Walking through the hall of Congress, she rocks her beautiful head and has never looked more radiant. She offered in a recent post “Our bodies are not public domain,” she added, “They are not a line in a joke—especially when the transformation is not our choosing.” And while she condemned the violence, she stated “I’m a proud Alopecian. The psychological tool we carry daily is real. Team Jada always. That’s that on that.”
While this conversation about the protection of Black women and their hair from the ridicule of society is pertinent in today’s context, the pressure felt by Black women to assimilate into a Eurocentric idea of “beauty” – especially through their hair – is one that has historically impacted Black women and girls for centuries. Further, failure to understand the cultural significance of Black hair in the Black community has led to the indoctrination of Black hair in America as unprofessional, dirty, and in need of change to assimilate into white culture – all whilst Black hairstyles continue to be appropriated for white capitalistic gain. Consequently, the instances of hair discrimination amongst Black men and women continue to plague American systems, perpetuating this bias among children in school, to policymakers on Capitol Hill.
With the recent passing of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act in the House, national pushes to eliminate hair discrimination reflect the critical need to depoliticize Black hair to remove the systemically discriminatory practices that have aided in the marginalization of the Black community because of white supremacist standards.
As a Black woman in leadership, public figure in the child welfare space, and licensed cosmetologist, Dr. Sharon McDaniel recounts the pressure Black women have long felt to uphold hair standards and the struggles they face behind closed doors explaining, “Like many Black women, early in my career, I felt the pressure to conform to a specific look. However, when I founded ASCI at 31-years of age, I no longer felt this need, and my look ebbed and flowed as I decided. I also created this same liberation for all staff at ASCI. We celebrate our respective uniqueness and the beauty therein—we truly see each other.”
“Like many Black women, early in my career, I felt the pressure to conform to a specific look. However, when I founded ASCI at 31-years of age, I no longer felt this need, and my look ebbed and flowed as I decided. I also created this same liberation for all staff at ASCI. We celebrate our respective uniqueness and the beauty therein—we truly see each other.”Dr. Sharon McDaniel
Understanding the very nature, science, and history of Black hair is to understand why hair is something the Black community remains proud of. And while there is still work to be done, Pinkett Smith embodies the progress that Black women are making as a shared community to create their own sense of belonging, empowering one another to “rock” their hair, however that looks, with pride.