BOSTON — U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley revealed for the first time publicly Thursday that she is bald, opening up about about her struggle with a hair-loss condition called alopecia and explaining why her "black hair story is both personal and political."
In a video posted by The Root, Pressley, D-Massachusetts, said she felt she participated in a "cultural betrayal" when her hair recently fell out, noting how little girls connected with her braids. She called her hair part of her "political brand" as an African-American woman.
"I'm trying to find my way here, and I do believe going public will help," Pressely says as she shows her bald head. "This is my official public revealing. I am ready now because I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it."
The congresswoman added: "I am making peace with having alopecia. I have not arrived there. I'm very early in my alopecia journey. But I'm making progress every day, and that's why I'm doing this today."
Pressely, 45, who represents parts of Boston, Cambridge and other nearby communities, is one of four freshmen progressive congresswomen known as "The Squad." In 2018, she became Massachusetts' first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
She said she was made aware this fall, while someone was working on her braids, that she had developed some bald patches. It accelerated quickly from there.
She said she started waking up to sink-fulls of hair. She said she tried to employ "all the tools that I had been schooled and trained in throughout my life as a black woman because I thought that I could stop this." She tried wrapping her hair, wearing a bonnet and sleeping on a soaked pillow case. But nothing worked.
"I didn't not want to go to sleep because I did not want the morning to come where I would remove this bonnet and my wrap and be met with more hair in the sink and an image in the mirror of a person who increasingly felt like a stranger to me," Pressley said.
She said her last pieces of hair fell out on the eve President Donald Trump's impeachment last month. Within hours, she faced the reality of appearing in the House chamber to cast her vote in favor of impeaching Trump.
"And so I didn't have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb," Pressley said. "It was a moment of transformation, not out of my choosing. But I knew the moment demanded that I stand in it and that I lean in.
"I exited the floor as soon as I could and I hid in a bathroom stall. I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed."
Alopecia, considered a common autoimmune skin disease, affects nearly 7 million people in the U.S, according to the the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
Earlier this month actress Ricki Lake revealed that she's been struggling with hair loss for three decades, showing off a new buzz cut on social media.
Pressley, a former at-large Boston councilwoman, announced this week that she will seek a second term representing Massachusetts' 7th congressional district.
Recounting the period after she became an elected official, Pressley said she initially wore wigs and hair extensions, but then got Senegalese twists down to her waist about four or five years ago.
"I felt like I met myself fully for the first time. I sort of looked myself in the mirror and said, 'Oh, there I am.' And it felt good."
She said she was aware her braid hairstyle would be "filtered and interpreted by some as a political statement" that she's militant or angry. But she said she was not prepared for the "glorious gift and blessing of the acceptance" in her community, particularly by young girls and women.
"My twists have became such a synonymous and conflated part of not only my personal identity and how I show up in the world but my political brand. That's why I think it's important that I'm transparent about this new normal and living with alopecia."
Pressley said she feels she owed "all those little girls and explanation." And while she said her husband insisted she did not owe an explanation, Pressley said, "The reality is I'm black and I'm a black woman and I'm a black woman in politics, and everything I do is political."
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ayanna Pressley reveals struggle with alopecia, bald head for first time