Natural hair activist Linda Jones on shaving her locks and dealing with her alopecia

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It has been two years since I made peace with my alopecia. I marked Juneteenth’s moment in 2020, with a video I posted on social media. In front of an audience of supportive Facebook friends, I revealed my bald head that it had been shaved by decision, even though suffering from alopecia was not my choice.

Alopecia is a disease that affects the immune system and causes hair loss. By robbing me of the freedom to flaunt my hair in its most natural state, it left me conflicted as to whether I could effectively continue my mission of supporting black women to be able to do the same.

My alopecia didn’t care about my community’s reputation as a nap activist. As the founder of A Nappy Hair Affair, I have passionately promoted black hairstyles choices and worked hard to debunk the mythology of good hair and bad hair that lowers the self-esteem of black women and girls. As a reporter, I have written about workplace hair discrimination and unfair state licensing regulations imposed on professional braiders.

I launched a line of diaper t-shirts, produced Nappy News, an event and affirmation newsletter, and took the lead. I wrote a book on “Nappies” to celebrate our hair.

The theft of my hair started when I was a college student in the early 1970s. I discovered a small bald spot about the size of a quarter on the right side of my scalp. Since I was wearing a relatively thick afro, I was able to comb my hair just enough to cover the bald spot. It remained a secret from the public until my boyfriend came out to me in front of his friends. By sticking a finger in my hair, he exposed the spot I was trying to hide. It had to be a joke. Since it was my boyfriend who embarrassed me with his heinous act of cruelty, there was no Will Smith-style intervention. No one came forward on my behalf to slap him when the laughter started. My boyfriend obviously wasn’t a caretaker, and luckily that was the last time anyone was so mean about my condition.

My bald spot was dormant for several years, so I still had enough hair to wear my favorite African-inspired hairstyles. At times I was even bold enough to wear my low afro cut, knowing the bald spot was visible. But I didn’t care. I loved the look of the rest of my thick, frizzy hair. By the time I hit my 40s, hair loss had spread and I was grateful for the headdresses and skillful braids that helped keep stains hidden. I didn’t like wearing dreadlocks, braids or tightly coiled twists that were synthetic, but that was the only way I could, at least symbolically, continue to wear the styles I loved.

Sharing an expression … #natural #naturalhair #exnappy #baldisbeautiful #BaldGirlMagic #blackpower #blackpride #nappyhairaffair #naptivism #Shinehead

Published by Linda Jones Friday 19th June 2020

When I turned 50, my scalp looked like my grandmother’s. I grew up seeing her completely hairless at the top with some still left in the back and along the sides of her. It was common to see her tool around the house bareheaded and bald and only use wigs as hats when it was time to leave the house to go to church. I don’t remember my grandmother’s baldness ever being discussed by her or anyone else.

I loved seeing black women who were bold in their baldness. They looked stunning, like black art at its best. But I couldn’t see that image in me. My excuses for not being so bold were weak. My head was the wrong shape. My face was too fat. I couldn’t admit that I simply lacked the confidence to show up without my hair.

My discomfort was profound. My real hair, and the way I chose to wear it, has become a symbol of my defense. Losing him was like a betrayal for my cause. However, I continued my defense because my commitment to that cause was stronger than my vanity and my fears.

At my home, I held joint grooming sessions called Hair Days, to provide a safe space where natural hair wearers could be established for their hairstyle choices and not be harshly criticized. I playfully administered “naptisms” to initiate natural neophytes. Word got out about my Hair Day meetings and the women formed communities around the concept. Hair Day groups have sprung up with names like “DC Naturals”, “Southern Kinks” and, in Switzerland, “EuroNaps”. A friend nicknamed me “Mosetta”, describing me as a Moses woman who was freeing women from the bondage of hair. Mosetta had probably become more popular than my identity as a journalist.

Not impressed with my bona fide diaper, my alopecia continued to steal my hair.

By the time I entered my seasoned 60s, the bereavement was over. I stopped crying about my hair that would never come back and was sick of the long cover-up. I began to consider removing what was left of it and I was no longer worried if men would find me unattractive or if my femininity would be reduced. And with the wisdom and clarity I have gathered from age and life experience, I realized that I don’t need to show a crown to support the crowns of others.

All I had to do next was wait for my courage to take hold. Courage has finally come with the help of a politician and the coronavirus pandemic.

When Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) Made her alopecia public in a January 2020 news video and elegantly unveiled her new bald appearance, her transparency pushed me closer to deciding to do the same.

I had spent years wearing my wig as a mask. After spending so much time at the start of the pandemic working around the house bareheaded and bald, just like my grandmother, I couldn’t bear to put it back on. Living with alopecia had made me reluctant to look at my hairless image in the mirror, and I decided to get acquainted again.

I stopped in front of the mirror and made direct eye contact with my reflection. Still wearing some remnants of her natural locks, she looked apprehensive and shy. I smiled at her. She smiled and smiled back. I had found the grace to accept my new image, a new naturalness, and an attitude that didn’t give a follicle to what others would think.

I called my friend Sherri who, in the summer of 2019, had been cutting her locks and shaving her head due to alopecia. I asked if she could come and do me the same honor. She accepted with joy. She arrived in June 2020 with her clipper and she hugged me before seating me in front of my bathroom mirror. And with a gentle, knowing touch, Sherri shaved my head to free me.

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