Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna Rae Leonard is used to the spotlight in her lengthy political career, but a recent diagnosis initially found her pulling away from the public eye.
About 10 years ago, she noticed hair loss around her scalp line and her hair receding from her forehead. She was diagnosed with frontal fibrosing alopecia — a form of scarring hair loss, which means hair will not grow back.
“I lost my eyebrows and all the hair on my arms and legs … and it was not a good thing,” she says as the next guest on The Record’s Off The Page podcast, set to be released July 20.
“You start to ask why? And there was no particular reason — it’s a new kind of alopecia. So it’s not something that I inherited from somebody else. (My doctor) also told me that more and more women are starting to present with this pattern of baldness.”
Balancing public life and the loss of her hair, Leonard experienced a multitude of emotions from frustration, anger and grief.
She understood the social stigmas of women and hair and felt added pressure being a public figure. She worried about her wig falling off and exposing her scalp and what people would associate with her hair loss.
“(The) other piece of it is people will look at you and think that you’re not well — (but) I’m totally well; I couldn’t be healthier. Unfortunately, because of the role of hair in our society, it is more than just skin deep.”
In June at a meeting with the NDP caucus, Leonard made the decision to remove her wig for the first time in front of her colleagues. It was in front of what she refers to as a ‘safe audience’ and was nervous, but notes she knew there was a bigger picture to her decision — being in the public and reaching out to others in a similar situation to show support and solidarity.
“I thought that I might do it while I was in Victoria before the end of session, but I just didn’t have the courage to do it. And it really took that backing to know that these people would be there for me. And it really demonstrated to me what the word encouraged means: it’s people that give you courage.”
Once the wig came off, she received a kiss on the head from Premier John Horgan and posted a series of photos on Twitter showing her decision to remove her wig.
“I’ve heard from the opposition as well as my own colleagues and from strangers to applaud what I’ve done. And people who have alopecia have shared that information and talked about what their experiences are — it’s just so important.”
As for how the experience has changed her perspective on women’s hair and its role in society, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out.
To listen to the full episode, download Off The Page on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and everywhere podcasts are heard, or visit omny.fm/shows/off-the-page. New episodes of Off The Page drop every Wednesday.
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