(CNN) — Jada Pinkett Smith found her struggle with hair loss at the center of an unexpected controversy at the Oscars on Sunday night, after her husband Will Smith appeared to strike comedian Chris Rock in response to a joke he made about her shaved head.
But while social media users were divided on the “King Richard” star’s angry response, there was widespread support online for Pinkett Smith, who has previously opened up about her experiences with the condition alopecia.
Alopecia which is refereed to medically as “Alopecia areata,” is an autoimmune condition where immune cells attack hair follicles. This results in hair falling out.
Revealing her diagnosis in 2018, Pinkett Smith has spoken publicly about the condition, which has no known cure. In an episode of her chat show, Red Table Talk, she recalled the “terrifying” moment she first noticed she was losing “handfuls of hair” in the shower.
In recent years, the actress has often sported short, cropped hair, or has attended events wearing turbans and headwraps. In July last year she revealed her completely shaved head, posting a picture of herself with her daughter, Willow, on Instagram.
“Willow made me do it because it was time to let go,” she wrote in the accompanying caption. “BUT … my 50’s are bout to be divinely lit with this shed (shaved head).”
Posting an update about her “struggle” with the condition to Instagram last December, Pinkett Smith said she was coming to terms with the disorder and that “me and this alopecia are going to be friends … period!”
Pinkett Smith has since appeared in public with her new look to various award ceremonies and premieres. At the Critics’ Choice Awards earlier this month she accessorized with a diamond-encrusted headpiece.
About of a third of women will suffer some form of hair lossin their lives, according to Harvard Medical School. And a peer-reviewed study published in 2018 found that Black and Hispanic women in the US have a “significantly greater” chance of developing alopecia areata — the medical term for the autoimmune disorder Pinkett Smith has — in their lifetime than White women.
Alopecia advocates, and those with the condition, took to social media following the incident, with one awareness group, The Bald Girls Do Lunch, tweeting: “Jokes about @jadapsmith or any woman with #alopecia #alopeciaareata is never ok. Period.”
“It took Jada a lot of courage to come out in public,” wrote another Twitter user, who also has the disorder, adding: “Shame on you Chris Rock.”
Former NBA star and self-described “alopecia ambassador” Charlie Villanueva meanwhile used the controversy to post a message of support for those with the disorder: “Remember, you have alopecia, alopecia doesn’t have you.”
Top image caption: Jada Pinkett Smith attends the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.
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