Of course, alopecia became a top topic of conversation after the Oscars, when her husband Will Smith slapped host Chris Rock after he made fun of Pinkett Smith’s close haircut.
“Considering what I’ve been through with my own health and what happened at the Oscars, thousands have reached out to me with their stories,” Pinkett Smith said on her show Wednesday.
And she reached out to others, including Cincinnati Enquirer Opinion Editor Kevin Aldridgequien wrote a column after the Oscars about his own wife’s struggles with alopecia, and how it isn’t a joke.
“I’ve seen firsthand the emotional toll losing her hair patches at a time has taken,” he wrote. “I’ve dried her tears, affirmed her beauty de ella and held her de ella hand – and even the razor and scissors – as she made the excruciating choice several years ago to shave off all of her hair de ella.”
After Oscars, Jada Pinkett Smith reached out
Pinkett Smith saw the column in USA TODAY and invited Kevin and his wife Nichole to be part of her shows on alopecia. They record the show in Smith’s’ Los Angeles home.
“I’m using this moment to give our alopecia family an opportunity to talk about what it’s like to have this condition and to inform people about what alopecia actually is,” Pinkett Smith said.
The Aldridge’s appearance almost didn’t happen. The first email the production team sent went to Kevin’s junk folder. A couple of weeks passed. Then they tracked down Nichole on Facebook.
“In our business, I mean, nothing ever really 100% surprises you, but I’d be lying if I told you that I thought that, you know, Jada Pinkett Smith or Will Smith would’ve actually read that article and liked it ,” Kevin said. “It was somewhat critical.”
Here’s what he wrote:
“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.
“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.”
For the Smiths to see it and like it, and then want to speak with them, it is “super gratifying,” Kevin said.
And not because he got to appear on the show.
“What made me most happy was my wife having an opportunity to be on a national stage so that the country and maybe even the world could see what I get to see every day, her strength, her courage, how she inspires other women who are battling with this and even women who aren’t battling with it.
“For a woman to lose her hair and not be able to have a choice in the matter is no small thing.”
Despite Chris Rock joke, alopecia is not funny
Nichole and Kevin brought Pinkett Smith a bald Barbie doll. She loved it. The women bonded over stories of steroid injections to try and save their hair — dozens of shots in their scalp every month to try to get the smallest hair growth. The most shots Nichole ever got was 47, she’s heard of others who got 80.
Both decided the pain and process wasn’t worth it and embraced a shaved head.
“Once you decide to do it and you go ahead and do it, it is the most freeing thing in the world to get rid of the hair,” Nichole said, “to stop hiding behind the wigs and the weaves and the braids.”
That doesn’t mean it’s an easy decision.
“You hear ‘you’re brave, you’re courageous’ and all of that is taken in, but would I prefer my hair? Absolutely,” she said. “I just want to have the choice to be able to go bald. I want to have the choice to be able to shave my hair or not.”
She also wants to normalize alopecia. Most people know someone with the condition, they just don’t realize it, she says.
Nichole started shaving her head 10 years ago when she worked in an elementary school. She was worried about what the kids would say. They didn’t say anything.
“And I was like, OK, well, they’re really not paying attention to you like that,” she remembers. “You may think people are paying attention to you, but nobody’s really paying attention to you like that.”
‘Are you two getting ready to be in GI Jane 3 and 4?’
That changed after the Oscars: “When I went to work after that slap, I felt like people were paying attention.
“I felt like a bald woman, all eyes were on me. And I did not like it. And it took me back. It took me back to when I actually for the first time shaved my head. I was so insecure. I thought I was past that.”
She now works at a children’s hospital. After the Oscars and the slap, nobody said anything, she said, “but I just felt like people were sneaking peeks.”
Then it got worse.
Rock’s joke was directed at Pinkett Smith and her close hair cut: “Jada, I love you. ‘GI Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”
The first GI Jane movie featured star Demi Moore with a shaved head.
Nichole has a friend with alopecia as well. They were taking a walk after the Oscars when a man across the street yelled at them: “Hey, are you two getting ready to be in GI Jane 3 and 4?”
“It was stunning,” Nichole said. “And I’m so mad at myself because I said nothing. And I think I said nothing because I was too shocked to say anything.”
She has plenty to say now.
“I want people to understand that hair is not the end of all be all. The world just puts such an emphasis on hair. And so it makes people hide behind it. That’s the reason so many people with alopecia are in counseling. They are depressed. They will never tell anyone. They still sleep next to their husbands with wigs on.
“I just want people to be more compassionate, be more understanding, think before they talk.”
Pinkett Smith had plenty to say on her show as well, including about her husband, Rock and Oscar night.
“Now about Oscar night. My deepest hope is that these two intelligent, capable men have an opportunity to heal, talk this out and reconcile,” she said. “The state of the world today, we need them both, and we all actually need one another more than ever . Until then, Will and I are continuing to do what we have done for the last 28 years. And that’s keep figuring out this thing called life together.”
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. The Backstory offers insights into USA TODAY’s biggest stories of the week. If you’d like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism