Here’s What 5 People With Alopecia Think About That Chris Rock Joke

Many people with alopecia thought Chris Rock’s Oscar joke was cruel, to say the least, but others believe it will raise awareness of the autoimmune disorder.

Will Smith smacked Chris Rock onstage after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair, and it became a memorable Oscars moment for all the wrong reasons.
When Rock compared Pinkett Smith to G.I. Jane, though, it struck a chord with the alopecia community, which the 50-year-old Pinkett Smith has been a public member of for about four years. (In case you missed the humor, G.I. Jane is a 1997 film starring Demi Moore as a bald US Navy SEAL candidate.)
The essential element for the 6.8 million persons in the United States who have alopecia was Pinkett Smith’s expression when the joke was delivered, not the slap.
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system assaults hair follicles by mistake, resulting in a wide range of hair loss all over the body. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of their age, gender, race, ethnicity, or health situation.
Some people’s hair can regrow completely or partially, while others may experience lifelong hair loss. There is no cure, and scientists aren’t sure what causes it, although they believe both hereditary and environmental factors, such as stress or food, have a part.
Pinkett Smith is one of the few high-profile figures who has spoken openly about her alopecia. When Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley went public with her bald head in a stunning and poignant video in 2020, she boosted awareness of the condition.
Pinkett Smith claimed “it was terrible” when she first started losing her hair in a 2018 episode of her Facebook Watch series Red Table Talk. She described it as “one of those occasions in my life when I was genuinely shaking with panic.” Pinkett Smith has since opened up about her alopecia experiences, such as when she shaved her head in 2021.
Smith sent a letter on Instagram on Monday, apologizing for his actions and explaining why he became physical: “It’s part of the job to make jokes about me, but one regarding Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to take, and I reacted emotionally.”
“What happened at last night’s Academy Awards is a teachable moment,” the National Alopecia Areata Foundation said on social media. Alopecia areata is no laughing matter for many.”
BuzzFeed News spoke with five people living with alopecia to find out how the event affected them and how they believe it affects their community.
Despite the fact that some of the people we spoke with didn’t appreciate the joke and sympathized with Pinkett Smith, they didn’t necessarily agree with Will Smith’s reaction. (It’s unclear whether Rock was aware of Pinkett Smith’s condition when he made the joke.)
“I’m devastated for her and our entire community.”
Kristen Wharton, 52, was “stunned” as she watched the Oscars catastrophe unfold.
“I observed Jada’s expression and understand how she feels.” “While I struggle with my alopecia discreetly with my family and friends, she was called out in front of millions of people around the world,” Wharton, who was diagnosed with scarring alopecia in 2016, said. Scarring, also known as cicatricial alopecia, is a condition in which hair follicles are replaced with scar tissue, which inhibits hair from growing again.
Wharton, the president of the Scarring Alopecia Foundation, believes that making jokes about alopecia is improper, especially when directed at someone who is living with it.

“Just watching that hair go away over time is painful,” she added, because for many people with alopecia, losing their hair also means losing their self-esteem and confidence.

“I don’t believe most people comprehend what a person goes through while on this trip. It’s draining on the emotional, mental, and physical levels, as well as monetarily,” Wharton told BuzzFeed News. “I’m simply devastated for her and for our entire community.”

“It’s like going back to childhood.”
Many people questioned whether Rock was allowed to tell the joke.

“I’m wondering to myself, ‘Who approved this?’ Why was it okay to make a person with an obvious difference the punch line of a joke?’ “I’m stumped,” Thea Chassin, founder and CEO of Bald Girls Do Lunch, an organization that inspires and educates women and girls about alopecia areata, one of the five kinds of alopecia, said. (The day after the Oscars, ABC’s Rob Mills told Variety that Rock’s joke was not in the script.)

Alopecia areata is a condition that causes hair loss in areas on the scalp, beard, eyebrows, armpits, and inside the nose and ears.

In 1996, Chassin was diagnosed with alopecia universalis, a rarer form of alopecia areata that causes complete hair loss (except Chassin still has her eyelashes).

While it’s “never OK” to make jokes about someone’s medical condition, especially in such a public place, Chassin believes the variety of emotions expressed by her community in response to the occurrence may be related to how accepting of the illness one is and whether it sparked any childhood trauma.

“If you’re still not accepting of yourself,” Chassin told BuzzFeed News, “you’re much more sensitive to anything that calls you out in any manner.” “If you had alopecia as a youngster and were bullied because of it, those kinds of memories stick with you for a long time.” It’s like going back to your childhood.”

Chassin described her hair loss as a “really dramatic transformation” that bereft her of her personality and emotional well-being. “When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself.” But, she added, there are methods to feel good about yourself. For example, Chassin has turned to accessories and acquired a love for hats.

“Even after many, many years, a huge percentage of people do not accept themselves.” Alopecia, on the other hand, brings out your core self-worth and self-confidence, giving you the chance to repair and refresh it.”

“It’s a time for thought and comprehension.”

Sarah Adams, 28, has had alopecia since she was 11 years old, was not even watching the Oscars when her phone began to ring with messages from worried friends and relatives.

“Everyone was like, ‘Oh, look at the smack,’ when they showed me the link.” But there was an image of Jada just before the slap, and she just looked horrified, and I felt that when I saw her expression,” said Adams, who launched The Alopecia Project podcast in 2018, the first podcast dedicated only to the illness, with listeners from all over the world.

Adams, who has studied comedy, thought the joke was superfluous coming from someone who does not suffer from alopecia. There have, however, been some positive outcomes.

“I don’t know if Chris Rock or whoever penned that joke has ever heard of alopecia,” Adams told BuzzFeed News. “Losing your hair is extremely difficult, and it’s not just in Hollywood.” Society and the media place a great deal of emphasis on appearance, and hair is a huge part of that. When you lose it, it’s as if you’re losing your beauty, and for many individuals, it’s like losing a piece of themselves.”

According to Adams, a 12-year-old girl with alopecia committed suicide earlier this month after being bullied, thus the joke “stung” the alopecia community. However, she believes that the occurrence, rather than the slap, will draw more attention and awareness to the illness over time.

“Will Smith,” I said. You saw Jada’s expression and reacted, I understand. “However, what if you saw Jada’s face and reflected?” Adams wondered. “What if you used a moment of ignorance to create a moment of awareness, education, and advocacy?”

“It was difficult before, and now it’s even more difficult.”

The Oscars, according to Jassica Langley, creator of Alopecia Free, a company that sells natural solutions to aid people with alopecia, would undo a lot of the work that many people have made in accepting their hair loss.

“Jada not only took control of her self-esteem by revealing her alopecia to the public, but she also went to a major award event without a wig or scarf.” Langley, who had alopecia areata for almost three years before her hair began to recover, remarked, “That is bold, and I admire her for it.” “I can’t image the humiliation and embarrassment of having someone point it out on live national television – it’s hard enough to muster the self-love and confidence to go outside without a wig or scarf.”

She believes that now that “the word alopecia has been associated with anything unpleasant on a global scale,” those with the illness will be “more cautious about coming outside in their true state.”

“I used to get funny looks and unpleasant comments on a regular basis as a woman who suffered from hair loss and shaved off all of my hair.” People make a lot of assumptions about people who have lost their hair, according to Langley, who spoke to BuzzFeed News. “Even though I was able to regrow my hair after suffering from alopecia, there are still scars and pain.”

This kind of focus on the problem, she said, “brings things to a different level.” It’s already difficult, and it’s made even more difficult when celebrities mock others who suffer from hair loss.”

“Perhaps now I won’t get as many stares.”

Rock’s joke, according to Chrissa Kaselis, a support group leader for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation in Boston, may do more good than harm for the alopecia community.

“This occurrence has brought alopecia awareness to the world, despite the fact that it may not be in the best light.” “Perhaps now I won’t get the looks as much as I have for the past 25 years,” Kaselis said of her alopecia areata, which she calls a “real blessing.” “Perhaps this incidence has enlightened those who do not have a thorough grasp of alopecia or have never heard the term.”

Kaselis told BuzzFeed News that she’s been nicknamed G.I. Jane several times in her life and has never been offended, but that the disease impacts people differently on a physical, mental, and emotional basis.

“Having experienced alopecia for over 25 years and leading alopecia support groups, I’ve seen my fair share of the pains and tribulations it brings,” Kaselis said. “Let us be supportive of one another, caring for one another, loving one another, and understanding that everyone is fighting something, whether on the inside or outside.”

“Be kind – it makes a difference.”



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