photo: The Root

Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) has courageously announced that she lives with alopecia. In an emotional video for The Root, a Black-centric site, Rep. Pressley describes how her Senegalese braids came to define her campaign and her self-image — and how hair loss has changed those things, but how she's determined to enjoy life and keep her black identity. Pressley also bravely debuted her bald head, showing the reality of alopecia.

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Here's some quick background on Pressley.

photo: Splash News

Pressley was elected to Congress in 2018, riding the "Blue Wave" that brought more women of color like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-5) into the House of Representatives. Together, these four congresswomen are lovingly referred to as "the squad."

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Pressley begins by explaining how Senegalese braids were crucial to her identity.

"About four or five years ago, I decided to get Senegalese twists all the way down to my waist," she told The Root. "... I feel like I met myself fully for the first time ... I looked in the mirror and said 'Oh, there I am.'" The braid would become synonymous with her identity — and to her surprise, her eventual campaign for office.

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She describes how voters were inspired by her braids. 

Pressley connected with voters in her district through her braids. Black women and girls were delighted to see someone that looked like them running for office. She called it an "affirmation," describing how "I walk into rooms and little girls are wearing shirts that say 'My Congresswoman wears braids.' We receive letters from all over the globe, women who talk about their own emancipation ... they feel like I've given them permission."

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Soon she began noticing symptoms of alopecia.

photo: The Root

The American Academy of Dermatology defines alopecia areata as "sudden hair loss" and can occur anywhere on the body. As The Root notes, African Americans experience alopecia at a higher rate compared to the rest of the general population.

Pressley began discovering symptoms in the fall of 2019 when she re-doing her twists. "From there, it accelerated very quickly," she said. "I'd be waking up every morning to [full sinks] of hair." She tried "all the tools that I had been schooled and trained in throughout my life as a Black woman," including silk pillowcases, hair wraps, and bonnets.

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Pressley lost the the last remaining bit of her hair at a historic moment.

As Pressley says, her last patch of hair fell out on "impeachment eve." She was completely bald, but in "a matter of hours, I was going to have to walk [into] the...House chamber." That day Pressley spoke on the House floor in support of impeachment and voted in favor of the articles.

After the vote, she went into a bathroom stall. "I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable ... embarrassed ... ashamed ... betrayed."

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Then, Pressley courageously unveiled her bald head.

In an emotional moment, Pressley declared that "I want to be freed from the secret." She also insists that she's "not here to occupy space, I want to create it." It's a theme from her campaign and her politics — and now, she's infusing that collectivism with her alopecia condition in an inspiring way.

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Watch the full video below.

You can the full video at The Root, or on her Instagram. A word of warning: You won't be able to make it through the 7-minute video without getting misty-eyed and pumping your fist at her fearless words.

"It's about agency," she said. "It's about power."