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SAN DIEGO – As reactions continue to pour in over the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, some have zeroed in on the cause of the scuffle: a joke aimed at Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who recently shaved her head due to her struggle with alopecia.

“When I found out she had alopecia, it really hit me hard in the stomach, in the heart. I felt I had to take a deep breath and I was really in shock because I then saw the expression on her face. I remember the expression on her face and it hurts,” said one woman struggling with alopecia.

A private struggle for many, Rock’s “G.I. Jane” joke hit a little too close to home for some who have struggled with hair loss.

“I think for her to be in such a public, public place on the Academy Awards on live TV and to be have been so brave to come in and shaving her head and arrived at the Academy Awards like that and have someone actually in a way poke fun at that, I was shocked by it,” said the woman, who declined to go on camera. “For me personally, it was painful. I cried. I felt very emotional.”

According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, roughly seven million people in the U.S. have the autoimmune disorder, and 147 million worldwide have or will develop the condition at some point in their life.

“It’s not something that we’re used to in society. A lot of men go around bald as adults,” the woman told FOX 5’s Misha DiBono. “And then with women, it’s because of your mane, it defines you in a way.”

Alopecia is described as highly unpredictable, and in many cases, can cause permanent hair loss anywhere on the body. While doctors say it’s difficult to diagnose, it’s even harder to treat.

“There is hope, there is treatment for hair loss. It is not something to joke about, it’s not really funny,” plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Chaffoo said. “It’s devastating for women to lose hair. It’s part of a woman’s identity, often.”

As for Smith’s actions at the Oscars, the woman FOX 5 spoke with says that she doesn’t condone Smith’s response, but she does understand the frustration.

“This doesn’t justify what Will Smith did at all. I have no idea why he did that, but it’s very painful for family members because they can’t help,” she said.

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