The night before she became part of U.S. history and voted to impeach President Donald Trump, Rep. Ayanna Pressley was facing a health crisis at home that she calls both “personal and political.”
Pressley — who is the first black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress — had been doing everything she could to treat her alopecia, a condition that causes rapid hair loss.
The Massachusetts representative publicly revealed her battle with hair loss in an emotional new interview with The Root on Thursday.
“I was completely bald,” Rep. Pressley says of the night before the vote; she hadn’t yet appeared that way in public, and the next morning, she’d have to make a statement in what was arguably the most publicly-televised debate on the House floor in years.
“I didn’t have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb,” she says. “It was a moment of transformation not of my choosing.”
So Pressley pushed forward, appearing on the House floor in a wig to give a passionate defense of her vote to make Trump the third president in American history charged with impeachment.
“I exited the floor as soon as I could and I hid in a bathroom stall,” she says, after delivering her impeachment remarks. “I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed. I also felt like I was participating in a cultural betrayal.”
It felt that way, Pressley explained to The Root, because her hair had become a “synonymous part of not only my personal identity and how I show up for the world but my political brand.”
When Pressley decided to get a Senegalese twist about four years ago, she says felt like she met herself “fully for the first time.” And her bond with her culture and her supporters grew stronger, too, she says.
The progressive representative received an outpouring of acceptance and affirmation for her new hairstyle, receiving letters from all over the world about her twists and had young girls coming up to her in public wearing t-shirts that read, “My congresswoman wears braids.”
But when alopecia began causing bald patches in her hair, Pressley said she not only felt personally betrayed — but also guilt that she was betraying her own culture. Some might think, “it’s just hair,” she says, but to her — and others — it’s a symbol of so much more than that.
“The reality is that I’m black. And I’m a black woman. And I’m a black woman in politics,” Pressley tells The Root. “Everything I do is political.”
She knew she needed to go public with her condition in order to come to terms with what she describes as the “new normal” for herself — as well as for the young girls who look up to her.
“I’m ready now because I want to be freed form the secret and the shame that this secret carries with it,” Pressley explains. “I’m not here just to occupy space, I’m here to create it.”