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Will Smith Oscar’s Slap May Have Sparked A Much-Needed Conversation about Alopecia And Its Mental Health Impacts

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Mayraki Professional in-house hair expert, Eliza Pineda, shares insight into this common hair condition

The 2022 Oscars ceremony has become a talking point, not for its elegant dresses or critics’ choices, but for the moment where the world watched in shock and awe as Will Smith walked onto the stage and slapped Chris Rock. The trigger? Rock made a “G.I. Jane” joke at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, despite the fact that she publicly acknowledged that she has been diagnosed with alopecia.

Online discussions have since been dominated by discourse about toxic masculinity, Smith’s anger management issues, the ethics of Rock’s so-called “joke” and the Academy’s failure to react to the incident. Amidst this discussion, there is one important topic that remains to be addressed: female alopecia. It’s time to bring this condition to the forefront and normalize it.

Studies show that by the age of 40, around 40% of women will suffer from hair loss to some extent. While for many it might be temporary and occur on a minor level, like seasonal hair loss or hair loss after childbirth, other women may experience hair loss as a result of autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata, alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis. These conditions may lead to varying levels of hair loss, from patches on the scalp to full body shedding, including eyebrows and lashes. 

Eliza Pineda, in-house hair expert at Mayraki Professional, shares: 

The three main types of alopecia are: 
Alopecia areata: hair loss that starts with coin-sized patches on the scalp and other areas;
Alopecia totalis: total or near total hair loss on the scalp; and
Alopecia universalis: a rare type of alopecia that causes total, or near total, hair loss on all areas of the scalp, face and body.

Alopecia is an autoimmune disease with no known cause. In addition to environmental factors, it is believed to have a genetic component to it where both parents carry the genes associated with alopecia. Alopecia causes the immune system to target and attack hair follicles, leading to major hair loss. In some cases, hair can regrow after a few months. In rarer cases, small patches of hair loss can develop into bigger patches and eventually lead to alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis (complete hair loss on the scalp or body).”

Culturally, having healthy, voluminous hair has been one of the greatest markers of femininity and youth for millennia. This societal beauty standard places major pressure on women to maintain it. For many, hair is part of our self-identity, telling the story of a strong cultural background and promoting a sense of belonging to certain communities. 

Photo provided by Mayraki

While conversations about male baldness and hair loss are nothing new, there is still a wide gap when it comes to acceptance and dialogue about female alopecia, which leads to negative mental health impacts on the women who experience this condition. In a 2012 study of dermatology clinic patients, of the 157 women interviewed, 54% reported hair loss and 29% reported at least two key symptoms of depression. A further 2013 study from the National Alopecia Areata Registry analyzed data from 532 patients with alopecia areata (73% of whom were women). The results showed that more than 50% of patients experienced either decreased quality of life or increased risk factors (females aged between 20 to 50 years with changes in physical appearance as a result of hair loss and feeling that hair loss led to a change in social status or job status).

“Women face a massive amount of pressure when it comes to their appearance, which has been rooted in our culture for centuries. Raising awareness of and discussing autoimmune diseases such as alopecia, as Jada Pinkett Smith bravely did when she first shared her diagnosis with her followers on Instagram in 2018, is an important step towards normalizing the conversation and educating the public about this condition,” adds Pineda. “There are just some things we can’t change about the way we look, which is why Jada’s story resonates with so many women who are fighting health conditions everyday, yet are also tackling societal stigma or judgment. This is definitely a part of an important wider conversation about body image and self-acceptance, as well as combating stereotypes around female beauty standards.”

Love doesn’t necessarily justify public outbursts, but there is hope to be found in the Oscars 2022 debacle that should lead to greater discussion and acceptance of women, no matter how they look. It’s time to promote more self-love to eventually reduce body image-related anxiety and depression.

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About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.