Calls to ‘end the stigma’ around alopecia after Chris Rock Oscars joke

Ayanna Pressley and others say comic’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith was demeaning to 147m people worldwide with alopecia

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and others with alopecia have spoken out about Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the Oscars, after Rock joked about Jada Pinkett Smith’s short hair.

Pinkett Smith has talked about living with alopecia-related hair loss. Pressley, who in 2020 opened up about living with alopecia, shared her thoughts on Twitter on Sunday night.

Emphasizing that she does not condone violence, Pressley wrote: “Let’s talk about what it’s like to live with [alopecia]. The deeply vulnerable [and] difficult moments that our families see. Appreciation post for those who hold us down & support us when we’re at our lowest points. They see us, fully.”

Pressley continued: “Our bodies are not public domain. They are not a line in a joke – especially when the transformation is not of our choosing. I’m a survivor of violence. I’m a proud alopecian. The psychological toll we carry daily is real. Team Jada always. That’s that on that.”

Others with alopecia have shared similar messages criticizing Rock’s comments on Smith’s appearance.

Golden, a poet and photographer, tweeted about being diagnosed with alopecia areata in seventh grade and the harassment they endured: “People bullied me for years for something I couldn’t control – I wish more people would’ve defended me/advocated for me when I was a child.”

Speaking on how family support allowed them to regain their confidence following bullying as their hair loss progressed, Golden said that they do not blame Smith for defending Jada. They wrote: “In a world where bullying [and] suicide is prevalent, we have to stop acting like ableist jokes aren’t violent/harmful. We have to stop using black women for publicity punch lines as if we don’t have feelings. We can be fragile, vulnerable, [and] just be trying to make it to tomorrow too.”

National organizations that focus on alopecia advocacy have also spoken about the incident. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation said: “Many people living with the condition are suffering, and we must do better to support this community and erase the stigma, discrimination, and societal barriers that persist.”

The organization said alopecia areata affects 7 million Americans and 147 million people worldwide. It encouraged more education to help “end the stigma”.

The charity Alopecia UK said it does not condone violence and emphasized demeaning remarks that many with alopecia face.

“Dealing with unwelcome remarks and being the butt of jokes is sadly an all too real part of having alopecia. This just adds to the distress and challenges faced by people with alopecia,” said the organization.

Jeff Woytovich, founder of the Children’s Alopecia Project, said Smith’s conduct divided opinion.

He said: “The thing is, somebody said something that was negative to somebody who had a medical diagnosis of alopecia … and that happens to kids all over the world, every single day.” Woytovich said Rock’s comments were more than a harmless joke.

Woytovich said Rock’s “GI Jane” joke could be used by children to bully others.

“GI Jane could be used as a derogatory remark to a little girl with alopecia, and I just thought to myself [that] something as simple as a little joke could actually have such impact,” said Woytovich. He said the focus on Smith hitting Rock has taken away attention from raising awareness about the autoimmune condition.

“We would love to have Will Smith – and Chris Rock – stand up for those kids with alopecia and make sure that there’s somebody there to fight, not literally, but figuratively, for these kids,” said Woytovich.


Gloria Oladipo

The GuardianTramp

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