March 28, 2022 — Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony is a buzzing topic of conversation today.
Troy Kotsur became the first deaf man to win an Oscar – and the highly coveted best supporting actor award, at that.
But it was what happened afterward that arguably stole the show.
Viewers and audience members alike watched in awe as actor Will Smith marched on stage and struck award presenter and comedian Chris Rock in the face after he directed a joke at Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, for her shaved head.
Pinkett Smith has publicly shared her struggles with alopecia areata, which is a disorder that causes your immune system to attack your hair follicles. For many, it also can carry stigma and can lead to feelings of depression or mental illness.
The result is hair loss, which can vary from quarter-size patches to losing all the hair on your head or even your entire body. About 700,000 people in the U.S. have alopecia areata, according to a 2020 study. Of them, slightly more than half are women, and more than 77% are white. (To learn more information on alopecia areata and hair loss, click here.)
The incident set social media ablaze, and strong sentiments were heard from those who have been personally affected by alopecia.
Illness Is Never Funny
Rock’s comment can be triggering to the millions who have been affected by hair loss, says Carolyn Goh, MD, a dermatologist at UCLA Health.
“As someone with alopecia myself, I consider it a microaggression,” Goh says. “I’ve experienced many similar comments. These build up over time and wear us down.”
One U.K.-based Instagram user, Kitty Dry, says the expression on Pinkett Smith’s face represented the hurt felt by so many with this condition.
“I want to preface this post by saying that in no way do I condone any sort of violence, but thank you Will Smith,” says Dry, 23, who was diagnosed with alopecia universalis after losing all her hair in 12 weeks.
“That slap was for anyone with alopecia who has ever been at the butt of an unwanted joke, comment or stare,” Dry says.
Others posted comments raising awareness of the tragic passing of Rio Allred, a 12-year-old girl with alopecia who died by suicide last week.
Allred is said to have endured serious bullying at school, with classmates pulling off her wig and smacking her head, according to the Canadian Alopecia Areata Foundation.
It’s common for those who have hair loss conditions to feel helpless, and sometimes confused, says Amy McMichael, MD, a professor and chair of the Dermatology Department at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
That’s why it’s critical for those people to see a board-certified dermatologist, so they know they are not alone, she says.
“As dermatologists, we can not only diagnose the type of alopecia, but we can also render treatment,” McMichael says.
Dermatologists can also help connect patients to organizations that address the physical and emotional struggles of those who have hair loss, such as the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and the Scarring Alopecia Foundation, McMichael says.
She hopes last night’s event shows people the “many faces of hair loss” and shows that these conditions can happen to people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders.
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation calls what happened at the Oscars a “teachable” moment.
“We encourage both our community and the broader public to learn more about alopecia areata so we can end the stigma around this disease,” the organization said in a statement.
Goh says that anyone with hair loss should feel free to explore potential medical causes and, if needed, seek out mental health treatment, too.