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If you’ve noticed that Jada Pinkett Smith has been wearing a lot of turbans lately, it’s not because she’s taking cues from Gucci and is on a cultural appropriation kick. She’s been wearing head wraps because she’s losing her hair, and she’s not sure what’s to blame for the condition, known as alopecia.
Recently during her Facebook show, Red Table Talk, Pinkett Smith recalled the terrifying sight of seeing clumps of her hair fall out in the shower.
“I was just like ‘Oh, my God. Am I going bald?’ It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear,” she said.
In an industry that expects perfection from celebrities — Jennifer Love Hewitt recently apologized for “looking like a hot mess on the red carpet” because her hair fell flat and her makeup melted due to humidity — Pinkett Smith’s candidness about her alopecia stands out. But she isn’t the only star discussing hair loss, a condition that affects up to 40 percent of women by age 40. While Pinkett Smith is 46, Modern Family star Sarah Hyland is experiencing thinning hair in her 20s. She has kidney dysplasia, a chronic disorder in which cysts replace the normal tissue of the organs.
In 2012, Hyland had a kidney transplant and has shared how kidney dysplasia has affected her physical appearance. Last month, she discussed on Instagram how the meds she takes have caused her hair to thin and that she can’t take hair growth supplements because they might interact with her prescription drug regimen.
“Help, help, help,” she wrote. “What hair-care products are out there for thinning hair? This 27-year-old would like to know.”
She then shared the recommendations she received, such as leaving in castor oil and washing it out, with her followers. At the moment, there’s a lot of buzz about how an osteoporosis drug might be able to stop hair loss.
Hyland has also spoken about how kidney dysplasia results in her weight fluctuating and how the medications she takes cause her to have “moon face.”
The openness of Hyland and Pinkett Smith about hair loss marks a departure from the shame even many women outside the public eye feel about the condition. The American Hair Loss Association calls hair loss in women “a serious life-altering condition” that can adversely affect self-image and emotional well-being. But as long ago as Hollywood’s golden age, celebrities like Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe experienced alopecia, mostly because of vigorous bleaching. Then, however, it would have been too taboo for them to speak about openly.
Arguably, talk show host Wendy Williams deserves the most credit for her transparency about female hair loss. Williams has thyroid disease, which she says caused her hair to thin. She wears wigs as a result and has even cashed in on her follicular woes by developing a wig line. And in 2016, actress Keira Knightley revealed she’d been wearing wigs for years due to hair loss. That same year, Dolly Parton said she had been wearing wigs since 1973.
On the other hand, some celebrities have been shamed for experiencing hair loss. In 2008, tabloid photos surfaced of Naomi Campbell with bald patches near her hairline. Almost a decade later, in 2017, the supermodel explained the patches had filled in again and were the result of weaves, extensions, and braids.
“I do take more care of my hair now, because I lost all of it with extensions,” Campbell said.
The celebrities bold enough to discuss their experiences with alopecia challenge the idea that entertainers are perfect specimens and let fans with the condition know they’re not alone. Whether celebrities open up about hair loss, acne, or psoriasis, they’re sending the message that in this way, they’re no different from the millions who look up to them.