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Alopecia Ireland: ‘Will Smith struck out for all of us. But it wasn’t right’

An Alopecia Ireland spokesperson said ridicule can cause significant emotional strain for people with the hair loss condition and their families.

Will Smith hit Chris Rock after the presenter made a joke about his wife's hair.
Will Smith hit Chris Rock after the presenter made a joke about his wife's hair.
Image: Chris Pizzello

THE INFAMOUS SLAP at last night’s Academy Awards has immediately been labelled one of the most shocking incidents in more than 90 years of Oscars history.

The fallout from the altercation looks set to run and run and it may prove to be a defining moment in the careers of both Will Smith and Chris Rock.

Theories abound as to to why it happened but for Paddy Pender of Alopecia Ireland the answer is straightforward. Smith had simply had enough. 

“I’d say they’ve had to put up with so much. Violence isn’t appropriate at all but you can see how it would happen,” Pender said.

Alopecia Ireland provides support, raises awareness and educates people with all types of Alopecia – a condition that causes significant hair loss – and their families.

Pender paid tribute to Jada Pinkett Smith – Smith’s wife and the target of Rock’s joke – for speaking publicly about her alopecia diagnosis.

The spokeswoman was certain that it wasn’t the first time Pinkett Smith’s alopecia was the source of ridicule and for Smith it was simply “the last straw.”  

She said conditions such as alopecia affect the person with the condition in the first instance and also their families and friends.

“When we are ridiculed most of us have close family and friends who understand our upset and are often powerless to defend us. The emotional strain can be harder as they watch,” Pender explained.

He’s hitting out for all of us. He’s not fighting back for Jada alone. It’s for every family that has to tolerate that kind of smart comment or funny look. 

“He struck out for all of us. But it wasn’t right,” she said.

“You’ve got to remember Chris spoke first and he issued the first slap. It was verbal, but it was a slap. A verbal slap can be even more upsetting, traumatic and hurtful than a physical one.” 

Pinkett Smith revealed her alopecia diagnosis in 2018 and the actress regularly discusses the challenges she faces with hair loss.

A recent example came in January when she posted on her Instagram about a new patch of baldness she discovered. 

While Rock’s remark was made in a public forum, while the whole world was watching, Pender noted that similar comments on social media cause similar upset but don’t spark the same coverage, leaving the person alone with the hurt.

“I do notice that people, especially the younger ones, that a comment on a social media platform can really knock them for six,” Pender said.

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“The incident has highlighted the ease with which some people feel free to comment on others without taking into account the knock-on effect on individuals. The emotional cost is high. 

“Jokes at peoples’ expense are frequent enough and for some people, the jokes drive them to socialise less and restrict their activities. 

“For children living with alopecia, we hope the schools and colleges are able to help them,” Pender added.

Alopecia is a long-term chronic inflammatory condition which affects hair follicles and leads to hair loss. 

International research indicates that it affects nearly 2% of the general population at some point during their lifetime.

Unlike male or female pattern hair loss, which tends to develop in a typical pattern, alopecia areata causes patches of hair loss while alopecia totalis causes complete hair loss on the scalp.

The specific cause is unknown however there are known factors such as genetics and stress.

Alopecia Ireland is a voluntary organisation that supports people with Alopecia Areata. You can find their website here.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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