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‘Particularly cruel’: Moray woman with alopecia explains why Chris Rock’s Oscars joke was so hurtful

Jada Pinkett Smith at the 94th Annual Academy Awards.
Photo by Matt Cowan
Jada Pinkett Smith at the 94th Annual Academy Awards. Photo by Matt Cowan

A Moray woman who lost her hair at 18 has hit out at Chris Rock’s “cruel” alopecia joke at the Oscars – calling for more understanding about the condition.

The show host made a comment about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head – prompting her husband Will Smith to storm the stage.

Pinkett Smith has been vocal in the past about her struggle with alopecia areata and did not appear to appreciate the comment thrown her way when cameras cut to her rolling her eyes.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on the red carpet at the Academy Awards.
Now Ruth McPherson, who has the same type of alopecia, has spoken out to explain why it’s unacceptable to make jokes about someone’s visible difference.

‘It’s a medical condition, not a choice’

The word “alopecia” simply means hair loss, but there are various types that can affect a person.

Alopecia areata, the one which Pinkett Smith and Ruth have, is thought to be an autoimmune condition where the body attacks its hair follicles.

Those affected typically find that hair loss starts in isolated patches on the scalp or across the body.

Ruth, 34, said: “It’s important to remember that the condition has not happened to them by choice.

Ruth McPherson, who has alopecia, has spoken about choosing kindness and acceptance for those with visible difference on the back of Chris Rock’s joke at the Oscars.

“With Jada Pinkett Smith, for example, she’s chosen to go out without a wig or a head covering.

“But that condition has happened to her against her choice. It’s not her decision to look the way she does which is why I think that joke was particularly cruel.”

“It’s a medical condition. The way she looks is not how she would have chosen to look.”

She added: “I think we should give them the confidence to embrace the way they look.”

‘Words have consequences’

Ruth, a trustee of charity Alopecia UK, lost her hair when she was 18 and has experienced her own share of negative comments.

She believes Rock’s jab – televised live to millions of viewers – was “very misjudged”.

“It’s taking me time to build up my own confidence, but I think the most important thing is that we recognise that words have consequences,” she said.

“People with physical difference don’t deserve to experience jokes at their expense, particularly when it’s not their personal choice.”

Alopecia areata can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or racial/ethnic background.

The charity does not condone violence of any kind, but Ruth says there may be a silver lining to the incident.

“One of the real positives is that hopefully people will have learned more about alopecia and have a better understanding of what it is people with alopecia go through.

“And that it will enable them to be kinder in their approach to people with physical difference, for people with alopecia to go about their lives with more confidence.”

Jokes about alopecia ‘should be as unacceptable as racism’

People with alopecia can feel stressed and emotional about losing their hair.

As a consequence, it can negatively affect their mental health.

A statement from Alopecia UK said: “In a world where it’s unacceptable to make jokes about someone’s race, sexuality or disability, we believe the same should apply to jokes about visible difference.

“Such remarks or jokes should be called out as unacceptable or inappropriate.”

You can find out more about alopecia and the support available on its website at www.alopecia.org.uk

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