Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at Oscars shines light on alopecia abuse, say charities and sufferers

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, and Jada Pinkett-Smith, right.
Credit: AP/PA
Philippa Cocker's hair has begun to return but she says it can still be a source of concern. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars ceremony because of a joke about his wife's hair loss has highlighted the mockery that alopecia sufferers face daily, say charities.

The actor, who won his first Oscar later in the evening, caused controversy by storming the stage to confront the host after a joke about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith's hair loss.

He later issued an apology for his "unacceptable and inexcusable" behaviour, admitting that he was embarrassed by his conduct.

But despite widespread condemnation of the violence, charities and people living with alopecia say that the confrontation has shone a spotlight on the type of remarks and abuse that people with the condition suffer every day.

Philippa Cocker's hair has begun to return but she says it can still be a source of concern. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Philippa Cocker, from Norwich, first noticed signs of her alopecia six years ago at the age of 33.

She was getting ready for a friend's wedding when her hairdresser noticed her hair was starting to fall out. Three weeks later, it was all gone.

"It was horrendous," she said. "For a woman, your hair is your identity. It is who you are and particularly for me.

"I had auburn hair, it had always been a big part of my personality. And then for it to just completely go - it changed me."

She said she had experienced insensitivity from people who did not understand the condition.

"People have said to me before 'it's only hair'. It is not only hair - it is you," she said.

Philippa Cocker first saw the signs of alopecia totalis six years ago, at the age of 33. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"And that is never okay to take the mick out of someone for that, it is never okay to have that as a butt of a joke."

Though Ms Cocker's hair is beginning to return, she said she still had a "constant worry" that it would once again fall out.

"Every time my hair itches I am checking to see if my hair is coming out. I can't explain how you feel when that part of you disappears, basically overnight," she said. "It is awful."

The charity Alopecia UK has also said the Oscars controversy had highlighted the discrimination and prejudice faced by people with the condition on a daily basis.

"Dealing with unwelcome remarks and being the butt of jokes is sadly an all-too-real part of having alopecia. This just adds to the distress and challenges faced by people with alopecia.

"In a world where it’s unacceptable to make jokes about someone’s race, sexuality or disability, we believe the same should apply to jokes about visible difference.

"Such remarks or jokes should be called out as unacceptable or inappropriate."

The charity said part of its work was to support people with the condition and their families deal with the "difficult emotions" they might encounter.

Smith issued an apology on Monday, admitting: "I was out of line and I was wrong.'

Writing on Instagram, he added: "I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness."