Jada Pinkett Smith dedicated an episode of her talk show to alopecia Wednesday, opening up months after her husband, Will Smith, slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars after he made a joke at her expense related to the condition.
“This is a really important ‘Red Table Talk’ on alopecia,” said Pinkett Smith, who revealed her diagnosis in 2018. “Considering what I've been through with my own health and what happened at the Oscars, thousands have reached out to me with their stories. I’m using this moment to give our alopecia family an opportunity to talk about what it’s like to have this condition.”
During the episode, Pinkett Smith sat down with some people who were affected by alopecia areata, a medical condition that causes drastic hair loss. Among them: Niki Ball, the mother of Rio Allred, a 12-year-old girl who died by suicide in March after she was severely bullied over her hair loss.
"With the hair loss, she was so strong," Ball said of her daughter. "She still rocked it even when it was falling out, and she just had these big bald patches."
Ball said Rio had tried different treatments for alopecia to no avail, which eventually led her to ask to shave her head.
"So we did, and she just glowed. And then with school coming up, we got her that super cute wig, she loved it, and she glowed then," Ball said.
But a few weeks into the school year, Ball said, her daughter did not want to continue wearing the wig. “She had it ripped off her head," she said. "She’d get smacked upside on the head walking down the hallway."
"It got really bad for her," Ball said, adding that Rio's classmates would call her names like "naked mole rat," "bug-eyed alien" and "Mr. and Mrs. Clean."
On a "really bad day," about three weeks before her death, Ball said, Rio "just lost it." And on March 14, she died by suicide.
Ball remembered her daughter as a smart, brilliant and funny girl. "She was a great big sister," she said. "She loved reading and writing and sketching. She loved being in the band."
Pinkett Smith, visibly emotional, thanked Ball for sharing her daughter's story, saying it highlighted the importance of "understanding the devastation of this condition."
Alopecia areata affects men and women equally, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. The condition is more common among Black and Hispanic women compared to white women in the U.S., according to a 2018 study.
There is no cure, and it is unclear what causes alopecia. The condition is believed to be an autoimmune skin disease that can cause hair loss on the scalp and the face or, in more severe cases, all over the body.
Discussing the Oscars incident, Pinkett Smith said her "deepest hope is that these two intelligent, capable men [Smith and Rock] have an opportunity to heal, talk this out and reconcile."
"The state of the world today — we need them both, and we all actually need one another more than ever," she said.
She said she and her husband will continue to do what they have been doing for the last 28 years, which is "figuring out this thing called 'life' together."
Other guests on the episode included former NBA player Charlie Villanueva, who spoke about being diagnosed with alopecia at age 10, and a top hair surgeon, Dr. Meena Singh, who broke down the different types of alopecia.
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.