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Bald, Bold & Beautiful: Jada Pinkett Smith

Bald, Bold & Beautiful: Jada Pinkett Smith

There’s enough buzz about “What Will Smith Did at the Oscars.” I’d like to talk about how Jada Pinkett Smith felt. I can only speculate, but I saw the look on her face.

I was bald for 9 months when I had ovarian cancer. When my hair started to come back and was just a bit longer than Jada’s I decided to ditch the headscarf and go bare headed. It felt liberating and a bit scary. I knew I’d be stared at. What I didn’t know was that grown men would feel entitled to comment on my “haircut.”

For the next 25 years in my hairdressing practice, I specialized in seeing chemo and alopecia patients as a way to combine my cancer experience with my hairdressing experience to help women navigate the trauma of hair loss.

I was astounded at the number of women who told me that losing their hair was harder than losing their breast.

Unless you have experienced major hair loss, you cannot fathom the courage it took for Jada Pinkett Smith to go the Oscars with a bare head. Sure, she’s beautiful, rich, successful, and she was literally shaking with fear when her hair started falling out.

The main difference between chemo hair loss and alopecia is that with chemo you know, almost to the day, when your hair is going to fall out, why it is falling out and that it will come back beautifully when you finish treatment.

The alopecia patient has no such reassurance. She does not know why it is falling out, if it will be a few patches that will grow back, or total, permanent hair loss. All the unknowns add to the fear, trauma, and devastation.

Many alopecia patients who came to me for help told me they felt guilty for being so upset by it because, after all, they didn’t have cancer. I assured them they had every right to be upset. 

Why isn’t the focus on Chris Rock publicly shaming Jada Pinkett Smith for her hair loss? He thought it was funny. Something to joke about. Chris Rock thought he had the right to publicly humiliate her in front of millions of people.

If Jada had breast cancer and lost a breast, would Chris Rock have made a joke about her having only one breast? Or joked about Oscar winner Troy Kotsur for being deaf, or Liza Minelli for being in a wheelchair? Hopefully not.

I don’t care whether he knew she had a medical condition. Why do some men feel they have the right to comment, joke and criticize a woman’s appearance?

Three months after my hair started growing back, my hair barely covered my head and I retired my headscarf. My girlfriends wanted to take me out to celebrate. We went to a busy downtown bar on a Friday night. I was self-conscious at first, with my head uncovered in public for the first time in 9 months.

We found a table and within minutes a woman rushed over and told me how cute my hair was and asked where I had it done. I thanked her, more grateful than she would ever know, and gave her my business card.

My friends and I chuckled, then got down to the business of catching up on each other’s lives. Before long, a couple of men gravitated toward our table, beer bottles in hand. After several unsuccessful attempts at small talk, one of them tried one more time to be clever by asking, “So what else do you do besides hang out at Hayden Lake with the Aryans?”

Luckily, I was on my second margarita at the time. I grabbed his collar, pulled him close and said, “I just got done having cancer. My hair’s coming back and I think I look damn good.”

He stammered an apology then left the bar. Though I was proud of myself, it could just as easily have crushed me on a different day.

In my 25 years of seeing women with hair loss I saw women in various stages of acceptance, grief, and devastation.

For some women, it was just another bump in the road. Some made me turn them away from the mirror and others wept openly as I cut their falling hair.

I had two clients who would not allow their husbands see them bald and one woman who would not even look at herself in the mirror until she put on a turban or wig.

I once had a call from a man who was going to decide whether his wife would have chemotherapy “based on how the wigs looked.” Some women have refused chemo, choosing to die rather than lose their hair.

It’s not “just hair.” Whether it’s thick and gorgeous or a bit on the wimpy side, our hair is part of our self-image, who we are and how we express ourselves in the world.

We color it, or not. Cut it, or not. Change our hair style every few months or wear the same style for our lifetime. We spend a fortune at the hair salon, or we trim it ourselves. It’s how we show the world who we are but maybe, more importantly, it’s how we see ourselves.

What happens then, when one day, without warning, handfuls of hair come out in the shower? Who are we then? Do we cover our baldness or go bareheaded? Do we accept it and go on with our lives or do we draw inward and refuse to talk about it? Or do we counter our fear by becoming an advocate for alopecia awareness?

Alopecia has been in the closet for a very long time. Many organizations such as National Alopecia Awareness Foundation (NAAF), Bald Girls Do Lunch, Children’s Alopecia Project have been trying for many years to bring alopecia awareness into the public view.    

Jada Pinkett Smith has been honest and outspoken about her alopecia since 2018 on Red Table Talks and on her Instagram page where she posts photos and videos of her journey to embrace her bald beauty.

With the simple act of going to the Oscars with a bare head, millions of people now know more about alopecia. Through Jada Pinkett Smith’s true beauty, grace and elegance, she has changed the trajectory of thousands of girls’ and women’s lives. Those who have alopecia will now have more courage to talk about their hair loss, hopefully more self-acceptance and confidence. They may even come to embrace their unique beauty. Jada Pinkett Smith is a role model for all of us. I’m inspired by her honesty and her courage.

 

Nicki Serquinia is an ovarian cancer thriver and founder, designer & CEO of Hats Scarves & More. Providing beautiful, fashionable head coverings and helping women with hair loss since 1993.

 

 

Apr 03, 2022

When I heard about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, and the reason why, I was cheering his actions. And he is catching such grief from everyone over it. You should really consider publishing this article in the editorials of some of the major newspapers. Having lost my hair to chemotherapy I thought you did an excellent job of describing just how devastating this is.

Karen Bell
Apr 01, 2022

Wow!….what a tribute to your wisdom, courage and eloquence found through your personal journey with hair loss and those many years you have wiped the tears and held the hands of so many others! Beautiful!

Francesca Firstwater
Apr 01, 2022

I’m glad someone else fells like this. I was thinking the exact same thing on my way home from work.

Thank you

Cara
Apr 01, 2022

this is a great article and thank you for rolling out so many good points of truth about hair loss.

Sheila Wolk

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