Own fault. That was what Astrid Schraven (56) first thought when she received a video forwarded this morning of Will Smith hitting a comedian. The comedian, Chris Rock, made a joke about Will Smith’s wife Jada. Jada suffers from alopecia, which makes her bald.
“I never condone hitting,” says Astrid, who also has the disease herself. “But I really understand the anger Will Smith felt. He stood up for his wife like a lion.”
Astrid went completely bald in three months last year. “It was terrible. Losing all your hair is so fragile, and so painful. And you know? It’s often even harder for relatives, because they are more powerless. I would think it would be even worse if my daughter had it, for example. Then you must watch as a lover.”
So yes: Astrid understands that Will Smith exploded. “If my husband and I had been sitting there and had to hear a joke like that, he wouldn’t hit, but he would be very angry.”
Will Smith’s reaction can be seen in the video below:
The comedian should have known that this is an open wound in the Smith family, says Angela (49), who herself has had alopecia since she was eighteen and has “shed many tears about it”. “Jada has always been open about how much the condition affects her. Roasting is really just a form of bullying. It’s weird that people continue to see this as entertainment.”
According to Angela, people with this disease view the event differently. “Some thought Smith’s punch was great, and some thought it was a shame.”
Different opinions are also circulating on social media. “Will Smith would have been a hero if he had started a conversation instead of rambling on.” tweets Maaike, who has ‘experienced the disease firsthand’. Journalist Kaan Özgök calls Smith ‘a poser/attention grabber† “I have alopecia myself,” he tweeted, “It’s not fun but there are much worse conditions.”
Jada is open about her illness
Jada Pinkett Smith (50) has been very open in recent years about the disease that made her bald. In 2018, she said that she initially hated dealing with the disease. “One day I was in the shower, and I had a handful of hair in my hands. And I thought: oh my godAm I going bald?” She trembled with fear.
In December last year, she posted a video of herself on Instagram, in which she says she can smile again, with and about the disease. She shows off her bald head, shows for the camera where no more hair grows, so people don’t have to ask about it anymore.
Jada has not (yet) responded to her husband’s action. Jaden Smith, the 23-year-old son of Will and Jada, did respond on Twitter. “That’s how we do it,” he tweeted after his father punched Chris.
The video Jada posted last year can be seen below:
“It is a striking incident,” says Nazia Zijlstra about the incident during the award ceremony. She calls herself “alopecia advocate” since she lost her hair to the disease. She has mixed feelings, because: “Violence is never the solution. At the same time, I can imagine that this in the heat of the moment happened, because alopecia does a lot to yourself and your immediate environment.”
This is endorsed by Bettina Blaumeiser, medical researcher who obtained her doctorate at the University of Antwerp on alopecia areata (the full name of the disease). “Will Smith’s response may not be a good one, but it reflects the despair and frustration of patients and their families. Baldness, especially in women, is not accepted in our society. It doesn’t kill you, but it is psychological very heavy. Hair shows who we are, hair is a way to express ourselves, to participate in fashion trends.”
Healthy hair rejected
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease. The body rejects healthy hair. There are many different forms: sometimes there are one or a few bald round spots on the head, sometimes all the hair on the head falls out. People with alopecia areata universalis have no body hair at all. Not only the hair falls out, but also the eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair.
“Alopecia is a condition with hereditary aspects”, explains doctor-researcher Blaumeiser, “but it is provoked by, for example, stress, infections, wrong nutrition. Normally your hair roots are immune to diseases and viruses from outside, but people with this disease have I’m not that lucky. Inflammatory cells appear around the hair roots, and then at a certain point those hair roots say: it’s getting too much for me here.”
The hair roots do not break (immediately), but they do when people have the disease for years. They are permanently bald. “But there are also people who get hair again after a while, although that can still take an exceptionally long time.”
As with Astrid: in three months she was bald, and a year later, very carefully, some hair came back. “Blank white,” she says, “but I was so happy.” And now her hair is slowly turning brown again, it seems: she is getting her own familiar color back.
But not everyone is that lucky. That’s why comments about the disease, like this morning at the Oscars, continue to touch her. “It’s good that it’s getting attention now. Joking about something so vulnerable, that’s just rude.”