Alopecia is no laughing matter. Comedian Chris Rock learned that the hard way at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday night.
By now, most of us have seen “the slap.” Actor Will Smith stormed the stage and hit Rock, a presenter at the Oscars, in the face after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it,” Rock quipped.
Actress Demi Moore famously shaved her head for her role in the film “G.I. Jane” and Pinkett Smith has a close haircut because she suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Pinkett Smith was visibly upset by Rock’s wisecrack, which launched her husband on stage for the now-infamous confrontation.
I can’t defend or condone Smith’s violent act, but I do understand his instinct to protect his wife in that moment better than most. You see, my wife Nichole suffers from alopecia, too, and there’s been nothing funny about her struggle.
“Alopecia is by far one of the most difficult things that I have had to deal with,” she said. “No one knows the tears that I’ve cried, the insecurities that I continue to feel, the stares that I see and the comments that I hear.”
No one except me. I’ve seen firsthand the emotional toll losing her hair patches at a time has taken. I’ve dried her tears, affirmed her beauty and held her hand – and even the razor and scissors – as she made the excruciating choice several years ago to shave off all of her hair.
It’s heart-wrenching to watch someone you love in pain. So I can empathize with Smith’s gut reaction to protect and defend his wife at all costs against the cruelty and insensitivity of others. Trust me, I’ve wanted to slap more than my fair share of wiseguys, too. But as Rock himself famously said during one of his stand-up comedy routines, “There’s a reason to hit everybody. You just don’t do it.”
Smith missed a tremendous opportunity by using his fist instead of his voice to educate America and empower the millions of people afflicted with alopecia. The 6.8 million people in the U.S. and 147 million people worldwide who have, or will develop, alopecia during their lifetime should be the trending topic of conversation, not some beef between two Hollywood celebrities.
“For as much love and support Will thought he was showing Jada, violence is not the answer, education is,” my wife said. “Will Smith missed a great opportunity to not only support his wife, but to educate the world about what alopecia is and how it affects millions of people everyday.
“Millions of women, men and children deal with the daily battle of living with alopecia in a world that defines beauty standards by the hair on our heads,” she said. “Adults are judged and scrutinized by the decision to go bald, and children are bullied daily over a condition that they have no control over; some even committing suicide from the brutal treatment of others.”
More media coverage is being given to the Oscars controversy than to stories like that of 12-year-old Rio Allred of Indiana who took her own life because she was being bullied because of having alopecia. Talk about a slap in the face.
As the editor-in-chief of Bald Life Magazine, Jamie Elmore has created a safe space for men, women and children to share their alopecia/hair loss stories. The first issue of the magazine featured a cover story on Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley who is a Cincinnati native and also suffers from alopecia.
“Unfortunately, society has enforced a lie that the narrow vision of beauty is reserved for only those who have a full head of hair,” Elmore said.
But I know otherwise. My wife is the most beautiful and courageous person I know. I remember the first time she shaved her head and had to go to work the next day. At the time, she was working at South Avondale Elementary School. I could see the fear and worry in her eyes, the questions swirling in her mind, as she headed for the door.
What will the kids say? How will the teachers and staff react? Will people be staring, pointing, laughing, talking behind my back?
I half expected her to get to the door, think twice and not go. No one – especially me – would have blamed her. It was a huge step into a scary new world. But despite her concerns, she forged ahead. I wanted so badly to go with her, to cover and protect her, but I knew this was something she had to do for and by herself. I’ve never been prouder and have seen few things braver.
She would confess to me when she got home that night that she spent her first publicly bald day at work in her office, keeping a low profile and crying throughout. But with each passing day, she became more comfortable with her new look and soon had the confidence to start braving the hallways and classrooms of South Avondale again. And what she couldn’t have known or anticipated was in the process, she was becoming an inspiration to other women – some of whom she knew – who had been suffering silently with alopecia.
“As a woman who has accepted and embraced my alopecia journey, being compared to G.I. Jane is taken as a compliment,” Nichole said. “I mean after all, she was bad, brave and yes, bald. However, I do understand that there are many people who are not as far as I am in their alopecia walk, including Jada Pinkett Smith.
“Maybe now, people will take the time to learn about and understand alopecia,” she said. “Maybe we will get a cure, or at least in the meantime, maybe we can be more kind, compassionate and empathetic towards one another.”
Stories like my wife’s deserve to be told, respected and celebrated. Chris Rock getting slapped on one of the world’s biggest stages was unfortunate, but even more regrettable is that Smith squandered a chance to use an ugly moment to teach the world that bald is beautiful.
Opinion and Engagement Editor Kevin S. Aldridge can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @kevaldrid.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: My wife has alopecia. Show bald is beautiful with words, not a slap