On Thursday, in a powerful video statement, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts shared her “hair-story” after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Congresswoman Pressley began the video talking about how, prior to becoming a political figure, she “did everything” with her hair. Wigs, extensions and the like were all a part of her “hair-story.” Four to five years ago she went and had Senegalese twists put into her hair. Her twists cascaded from her crown to her waist and she explained that when she looked in the mirror she thought, “Oh. There I Am.” She explained that she met herself “fully for the first time.” The relationship that black women have with their hair is unique in that it is never “just hair.” Just like black bodies, black hair has always been a politicized space that continues to perpetuate harmful “beauty” standards that affect the self-image. Though this is a time in which the “natural hair movement” has broken through popular culture and black women and girls are beginning to see themselves represented more and more, there is still a lot of unpacking and unlearning that needs to be done. What is beautiful about Ayanna’s story is that her decision to rock her twists in a political space “ultimately became a statement.” She talked about her decision being intentional. What surprised her more was the “acceptance, community, and affirmation” that came along with this choice. She was embraced in spaces in a new way. She even saw little black girls wearing shirts that said “My Congresswoman wears braids.” She received letters from women across the globe that expressed their gratitude toward Rep. Pressley because they felt as if her hair choice “gave them permission” to have their “own emancipation.”
Congresswoman Pressley expressed, “My twists had become such a synonymous… part of not only my personal identity and how I show up in the world, but also my political brand.”
It was for this reason that she chose to be transparent about the new space she entered into in her hair journey.
This past Fall, Congresswoman Pressley was “waking up every morning to sink-fulls of hair” whilst in the evenings “employing all the tools that [she] had been schooled and trained in throughout [her] life as a black woman” thinking that she could disrupt the hair loss.
She went on to say “I did not want to go to sleep because I did not want the morning to come.” She talked about dreading removing her silk wraps and bonnets in the morning because she was always met with more hair loss.
When the last bit of her hair fell out, Congresswoman Pressley expressed that she felt “naked, exposed, vulnerable…I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed. And then I also felt that I was participating in a cultural betrayal because of all the little girls who write me letters, who come up to me, who take selfies with me #twistnation.”
Though she doesn’t owe anyone anything, she found it necessary in her own journey to share. She explained, “I’m trying to find my way here, and I do believe going public will help.”
She went on to poignantly say, “I am ready now because I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that, that secret carries with it. And because I’m not just here to occupy space, I’m here to create it.”
Finally she remarked,“I am making peace with having alopecia. I have not arrived there…but I am making progress every day.”