IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

I'm a Black woman with alopecia. Jada Pinkett Smith, I see you

It’s been four years since I stopped hiding and started rocking a shaved head.
Matthew Pitts/ @Mattywiththecam Photography

The morning after the Oscars, when the world was still spinning over Will Smith’s slap and Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head, I shared a series of tweets about my alopecia story and then I cried. A single cliched tear. I brushed it away carelessly and continued to prepare for another 12-hour day of working as a graduate teaching associate, attending classes and completing coursework. However, as the day progressed, I found myself checking my social media notifications more than usual. The vulnerability hangover was kicking in. It was the first time I publicly discussed my alopecia in such detail, and I was unexpectedly nervous. There was a twinge of fear. Twitter can be extremely unkind, and I questioned why I would open myself up to scrutiny.

When the first whisper of alopecia

escapes the mouth of your would-be loctician

walk of shame to your car… 

This is the opening line of one of the many poems I have written to process my alopecia diagnosis. The piece came to me in the shower one day, and somehow when I got out, I remembered each word. It is the only poem that I have written in one sitting. It is the only poem I have not scrutinized over. It was the first time I trusted my words in their rawest form. That evening, I shared the poem as a part of my feature set at an open mic.

I have central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia. It is a form of scarring alopecia that starts at the crown of the scalp and spreads outward. The cause of CCCA is shrouded in ambiguity, but speculated causes include strenuous hair grooming practices (e.g., tight hairstyles, chemical relaxers) as well as genetic factors, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

"Who will love me if I'm bald?" the writer once wondered.
"Who will love me if I'm bald?" the writer once wondered.Deja Goode

I did not wake up to clumps of hair on my pillow and I will not lose my eyebrows. Instead, I woke up one morning and prepared my hair for my loc consultation later that day. After blow-drying, I noticed that my middle part was wider than usual. After a brief investigation, I buried my worry. But I couldn't ignore the loctician's rejection. She explained that she only installed locs on healthy scalps. When she said I might have alopecia, it birthed the denial I nurtured for weeks.

when the alopecia diagnosis

roars from the mouth of your new dermatologist

resist the urge to cover your ears…

I was officially diagnosed with CCCA two months after the initial whisper from the loctician. The diagnosis sent me spiraling through fear, grief and regret. My first thought was, “How did this happen?” At this point in my life, I had been wearing my hair natural for eight years. I launched into a rumination cycle, trying to locate the specific moment that my body decided to betray me. Was it the dorm room relaxer I had gotten sophomore year of college? As a Black woman, I have spent the bulk of my life in between the legs of my mother, aunts, cousins, sisters and friends, while my hair has undergone countless hours washing, drying, deep conditioning, braiding, flat ironing, rolling and twisting.

Jalisha Lancaster still mourns her hair but has come to terms with her diagnosis.
Jalisha Lancaster still mourns her hair but has come to terms with her diagnosis.Matthew Pitts/ @Mattywiththecam Photography

It took months of mentally pouring over my hair history in staff meetings and grocery stores before I remembered the itching. For an unspecified time in high school, I had this relentless itching in the crown of my scalp. When I consulted my beautician, she recommended medicated shampoo. It didn’t work, but the itching eventually stopped.

As a Black woman, our hair is a source of pride, creative expression and shame.

The second thought I had after my diagnosis was, “Who will love me if I’m bald?” As a Black woman, our hair is a source of pride, creative expression and shame. Our beauty and desirability are dependent on our hair. I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate dating and romantic relationships without hair. At every dermatologist appointment, I said a silent prayer for each prick of the steroid shot needle to my scalp. With every antibiotic, I willed my body to heal. I searched tirelessly for a miracle on YouTube channels and hair forums. I bought vitamins and hair growth oils based on any success stories I came across.  Eventually, I accepted that I would never regrow my crown.

regret all the times you fixed your mouth to sing

of bald headed skiddle diddles and skally wags

regret your lengthy microbraid phase

regret discovering crochet braids... 

I do not know Jada Pinkett Smith’s story intimately, but if it was anything like mine, I feel for her.

It has been four years since I decided to stop hiding and started rocking a shaved head. I have developed a deeper love for my face and a newfound love for fresh cut Fridays. It’s still weird to think that there are some people who only know the bald-headed version of me. Many of them learned my story on Twitter that day and responded with messages of love and support. Yet, I still mourn my hair. So, when the woman at the supermarket approaches me and says, “This is going to sound weird, but when you cut your hair, how did you know you had the perfect head for it?” I laugh and reply that I didn’t, and I walk to my car and cry.