In January 2020, Rep. Ayanna Pressley came to a The Root video studio and opened up about a part of herself that she’d kept close despite being an extremely popular progressive Congresswoman and member of “the Squad” who stayed in the public eye. Pressley revealed that she was living with alopecia.
She then removed her wig for the first time publicly to show her beautiful bald scalp. Since then, Pressley has become a champion for the some 7 million Americans living with the autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
“[I know what it’s like] to experience a transformation not of your own choosing,” as she said, Vanity Fair reports.
“When you feel like your body is betraying you and you feel less like yourself—that’s already challenging,” Pressley told Vanity Fair. But “to be bald as a woman really does disrupt conventional and societal norms of what is appropriate, what is professional, what is attractive, what is feminine,” she said. “It’s so much more than cosmetic...It takes a real toll.”
Pressley reintroduced a bill Thursday, along with Rep. James McGovern, her colleague in the Massachusetts House delegation, on the last day of Alopecia Awareness Month, to pay for wigs for those experiencing hair loss due to medical treatments or disease.
From Vanity Fair:
Given the few effective treatment options for alopecia—which has no known cause or cure—many with the condition look to cranial prosthetics (a.k.a. medical wigs) to address their hair loss. “But these prosthetics can be out of reach for people with low or fixed incomes like our seniors,” Pressley notes, with some costing as much as several thousand dollars.
McGovern, the ranking member of the House Rules Committee, introduced the bill in 2018, before Pressley, Massachusetts’s first African American woman to be elected to Congress, took office. In an interview, McGovern recalled how a constituent who runs a shop to help women undergoing physical changes caused by their treatment brought his attention to the cost-prohibitive issue.
“Doctors have told me that patients have refused lifesaving cancer treatments because they were afraid they were going to lose their hair and didn’t know how to deal with it,” he said. The congressman knows this anxiety firsthand: His 20-year-old daughter, who has a rare cancer diagnosis, is living it. “The thing she’s most worried about is having to go through chemotherapy,” he said. “Losing your hair at 20—that’s really kind of a traumatic thing.”
Vanity Fair notes that several private insurance plans cover the cost of wigs, but Medicare does not.
“This is about basic human dignity and respect,” McGovern said, Vanity Fair reports. “It’s a simple legislative fix, and I think it’ll have a profound impact,” Pressley added. While the bill stalled on the first pass, Pressley’s public alopecia journey could have a critical impact on pushing it forward.
“If there’s not someone up here with a lived experience explaining why something is important, it gets put on the back burner,” McGovern said. “Often people have just not understood a bill and when they hear that testimony or that story, it shifts,” Pressley added.