TWEEDY: Valid Justification or Poor Excuse: The little known medical condition behind the slap heard ‘round the world

by Felicia Tweedy

*Photo Credit Boston Globe

By now, everyone has heard about Will Smith and the slap heard round the world at the Oscar’s ceremony. 

To say the least, it’s never ok to respond to words with physical violence, no matter how horrible someone’s words are. Apparently, Will and Jada forgot the childhood lesson, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. 

When you are a celebrity, especially in this day and age, it’s expected for you to have thicker skin than the average person, especially two people who have been in the entertainment industry as long as Will and Jada. They should be able to let things roll off their backs, especially a joke. If they were offended, you take it up after the event. You don’t storm on stage in front of an international audience of millions.  It’s the Oscars, not a school yard. Not only that, keep in mind that as a nominee, Will Smith is there representing a film, the rest of the cast and the studio who made the film. He should know better. 

For both who have prescribed to a woke mentality, and rallied behind the #MeToo movement and things like toxic masculinity, what Will did was the epitome of what they say they stand against. A man who thinks it’s his job to protect “his woman” (or women as he mentioned in his acceptance speech), and doing so with violence.  All over a joke. 

Personally, I didn’t see the joke as offensive. In fact ,I heard worse when one of the hosts referenced Will and Jada’s “open relationship.” I didn’t see anyone get slapped for that. Jada was being compared to a character played by Demi Moore, where she played a Navy Seal. What is so bad about that? I didn’t take the joke as telling her she’s ugly or cutting her down. It was a comparison based on haircuts. 

But it’s the hair issue that is now actually at the center of this issue. It turns out that Jada Pinkett Smith has a condition called Alopecia, which causes hair loss. That is now being used as an excuse as to why Will Smith did what he did. Basically, Chris Rock should have known about her illness and therefore his joke was a personal attack on her medical condition. It turns out that Chris Rock was not aware of her condition, as reported the day after the Oscars. 

Even in the world of Hollywood celebrity, for one to assume everyone must know about their medical condition, is rather narcissistic and ego driven. We also know the old saying about what assuming does to you and me. 

Jada chose to wear her hair that way. If you are that sensitive, maybe opt for a wig or other head covering? Her hairstyle draws attention. It can draw attention to her condition, but at the same time she should be aware that some will think it’s just a hairstyle choice.

I’m saying all this as someone who has personally dealt with hair loss. Because of that I can sympathize on the underlying issue. 

12 years ago, just entering my 30’s, I started having random symptoms that ran the gamut- joint pain, crippling fatigue, skin rashes, swollen glands, just to name a few. It took years to get a semi-diagnosis which is that I have an autoimmune disease, listed as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) but specialists feel there is more to my illness than just RA alone.  One of the other symptoms I developed was hair loss. 

I would wash my hair and come out of the shower pulling strands of hair out of my hair. I had clumps of hair in my hairbrush.  As for any woman, losing your hair is a big deal, whether it’s from chemotherapy or other medical conditions. Women’s hair is associated with beauty. 

I could see my hair loss growing worse in photos, in the mirror and I was self conscious of it. I changed how my hair was parted to one side, then the other. I always had long hair, and my long hair was part of my identity. To cover the area of worst thinning, I tried countless products, without much luck, I do wear wigs on occasion. Hair extensions don’t work because of the location of the hair thinning. One thing that has helped is a thing called Toppix, hair building fibers in a powder. It’s basically a cover up that fills in spots of thinner hair. 

My hair loss was deemed related to my autoimmune disease. Thanks to some treatments I’ve been on, the condition has resolved. I didn’t get the hair I lost back, but it’s not getting worse. Alopecia, of which there are multiple types that affect how much hair you lose and how you lose it, is a disease in which the immune system attacks hair follicles. In other words, alopecia is an autoimmune disease in itself. 

Now the ones who were in the wrong, are using a medical condition as defense for their bad behavior. I can definitely sympathize with Jada, and with Will Smith wanting to protect someone he cares about. I’m not a celebrity but I know what it’s like to be personally attacked based on my medical issues. I’ve never slapped someone over it nor had someone else do so in my stead. I also would never assume someone knows about my medical issues.

The other interesting thing, Will Smith laughed at Chris Rock’s joke initially. Jada herself was quoted as saying she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her hair. So what was with this response?

As always with these things there is usually more to it than the public knows. What I do know, Alopecia is a real medical condition but shouldn’t be dragged into this. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse to justify an assault. It’s time for Will and Jada to take full accountability for their behavior, not play the victims in this. 

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