Jada Pinkett Smith looked stunning at the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, but when Chris Rock cracked a joke about her shaved head, it got under her husband of nearly 25 years, Will Smith’s skin. The comment may have seemed innocuous to some, but it earned instant backlash—and led to an already infamous slap. The whole situation was shocking to say the least, but knowing a little more about what Pinkett Smith has gone through over the past few years makes it clearer why Smith’s emotions were so close to the surface.
A few years ago the actor, talk show host, and mother of Jaden and Willow took to wrapping her hair in turbans. Last summer she shaved her head, explaining in an Instagram post that it was “time to let go.” The reason? Back in May 2018, Pinkett Smith revealed that she suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Saying, “it’s not easy to talk about” on an episode of her Facebook Watch talk show, Red Table Talk, an emotional Pinkett Smith opened up about her struggle. “I’ve been having issues with hair loss. And I’ma tell you, it was terrifying when it first started.” Read on to find out what symptom had her “literally shaking with fear,” and how her attitude toward her condition has changed since then.
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On Red Table Talk, Pinkett Smith said the first sign of her alopecia became apparent while she was washing her hair. “I was in the shower one day and then just handfuls of hair, just in my hands, and I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, am I going bald?'” Saying that it was “one of those times in my life when I was just literally shaking with fear,” she explained that she began cutting her hair, and eventually embracing turbans. “When my hair is wrapped, I feel like a queen,” she said.
While Pinkett Smith may appear to be the picture of self-confidence and grace under pressure, losing her hair was not something she took in stride. “My hair has been a big part of me. Taking care of my hair has been a beautiful ritual, and having the choice to have hair or not, and then one day to be like, ‘Oh, my God, I might not have the choice.'”
In spite of taking “every type of test,” she said doctors did not know why she was losing her hair.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes what doctors call “non-scarring” hair loss. This means the follicle is preserved, so hair loss may come and go over time. It may be patchy, and in some cases, total baldness occurs. About two percent of the general population will experience alopecia areata at some point in their lives, said a study published in the journal Nature Review of Disease Primers in 2017.
Alopecia areata is the second most common type of non-scarring alopecia, with male and female pattern alopecia being the most common. (You may be more familiar with the term “male pattern baldness,” which affects more than half of all men, according to the National Library of Medicine.) Researchers call alopecia areata “complex” and “polygenic,” meaning it can be caused by more than one gene or factor.
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In an Instagram video posted late last year, Pinkett Smith seemed to be finding the humor in her struggle with alopecia. “At this point I can only laugh,” she says, stroking her shaved head and pointing out a single line of baldness that stands out from the stubble. Saying it just “all the sudden one day” appeared, she jokes that, “Mama’s going to put some rhinestones in there. I’m going to make me a little crown. That’s what mama’s going to do.” In the caption, she wrote, “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends…period!”
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