ATLANTA — On Sunday night, at the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony, Will Smith took the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s bald head.
Despite its controversy, this event has shined a light on the reason why Pinkett-Smith has a shaved head, the disease alopecia.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, alopecia is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s hair follicles and causes hair loss.
Dr. Shay Thomas has been a licensed marriage and family therapist working in mental health for almost 20 years and currently lives in Atlanta. She was diagnosed with alopecia at a young age and when she saw the disagreement between Chris Rock and Will Smith, she had mixed emotions.
“It resonated with me because, on the one hand, I was celebrating the event, the first time it being, [a movie] I guess, produced or directed by an African-American male,” Dr. Thomas said. "And then, certainly as it relates to the incident that took place, all of the physical, emotional, verbal things that it kind of triggered and brought up was quite overwhelming."
Although Dr. Thomas believes both parties should be held accountable for the incident, she wishes people would see the situation from multiple perspectives and bring more awareness to the joke made, and focus less on the action of the slap.
“I think that also I had some sadness about the fact that the joke went over a lot of people's heads because many people are not aware of alopecia,” she said.
When Dr. Thomas was a toddler, her hair naturally grew out all around her head, however, when she reached elementary school, her hair started to thin in patches.
“Around fourth or fifth grade, my hair started thinning on the side. And so by the time I was in fifth grade and definitely middle school, I had a noticeable very large area on the side of my head that was bald,” she said.
She has various family members who also live with alopecia. She even has a tattoo on the side of her head memorializing her late cousin who lived with the disease.
Coming off the the Academy Awards' event, Dr. Thomas wants to bring awareness to alopecia and help people understand that just because this is not a life-threatening disease, does not mean people do not struggle physically, mentally and emotionally with the disease.
Even she has experienced the negativity that society directs toward those who are living with the disease.
“I certainly and people in my family have certainly lived through the teasing, the taunting, the insensitivity, the ignorance, really as it relates to alopecia,” Dr. Thomas said.
She gives much praise to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and hopes that something good will come out of the Oscars' spectacle.
“My hope is that in this circumstance, the light that is developed from this is, the light of understanding, the light of awareness, the light of reconciliation,” Dr. Thomas said.