For Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and her friend and scholar Aisha Francis, losing their crowns provided a sense of community.
Our hair loss journeys were markedly different—for Aisha, it was the result of chemotherapy to treat ovarian cancer, and for Ayanna, it was caused by alopecia universalis, an autoimmune condition characterized by the complete loss of hair, including on the scalp, face, and body.
Our mothers instilled in us a deep respect for our elders, our education, and our crowns. Not literal crowns, but the crowns that grew from our scalps. Historically, in Black households, our crowns were an extension of ourselves, our family, our upbringing, and our aspirations. Our crowns demanded time-consuming maintenance, expensive investments, and a vigilant sense of awareness.
Black women have a complicated relationship with their crowns, to say the least.
As Black women in America, our very existence is the resistance. The personal is political and our hair journey is no exception. Having hair, whether long, short, natural or relaxed, has long been considered a critical pillar of femininity. It has been a source of criticism, praise, and discrimination. It has represented the resistance and assimilation.
As young women, we both chose to establish our lives in Boston, and it was there that we first met and bonded over our upbringings, our crowns, and our shared activist spirit. We also shared haircare tips on local braiders and stylists over the years. And as of late 2019, we now share the experience of having lost our crowns to health-related baldness.
For women, unexpected hair loss can be traumatizing. It compromises our self-esteem and chips away at our womanhood. According to the American Hair Loss Association, 40 percent of hair loss sufferers are women. As time has gone on, society has come around to accepting nontraditional hair styles, but complete baldness on women is universally unaccepted—Black Panther’s Dora Milaje aside.
That, after all, is fiction.