In 1963, after centuries of eurocentric hairstyles dominating the public eye and perception of beauty, Cicely Tyson made a bold decision to walk into a Harlem barber shop and ask the barber to cut her hair so short that nothing but her natural curls were left… the day before she was to be in front of the camera for her very first live television role. She was a hit, and went on to star in East Side/West Side with the same natural hair and then appeared in the film Sounder sporting cornrows. This was the beginning of a new surge for black girls loving their natural hair. Young women everywhere began asking hairdressers to cut their hair “like the woman on TV.”
Around the same time, Angela Davis was proudly bringing every curl and kink of her natural afro with her as she became a black power icon.
Unfortunately, also around the same time, Melba Tolliver was being fired from an ABC affiliate for covering Tricia Nixon’s wedding while wearing her natural afro. The fight for acceptance and love for natural, healthy hair on black women at work and on television was far from over and continued to regress as often as it seemed to progress.
The 1970’s- the 1980’s
In 1977, the Jheri Curl was created to give the option of curls without kink. This style really caught on throughout the 80’s, donned by the likes of Michael Jackson and appearing in movies like Coming to America and Pulp Fiction. These curls were a statement all their own and dominated 80’s pop culture while paving the way a little more for natural styles.
Meanwhile, Grace Jones was emerging onto the scene with her iconic flat top haircut. Her bold and striking look has made her into a historic monument of fashion, style, and beauty all while wearing her natural hair. The 80’s were of monumental importance to style and culture and ingenuity, and that steam carried all the way into the 90’s.
Thanks to the likes of Lauryn Hill, Janet Jackson, Brandy and Erykah Badu, the 90’s had more than a few notable moments of #BlackGirlMagic. Early in the decade, Janet Jackson wore braids in the film Poetic Justice as well as in her private life.
Then in the mid-nineties, Brandy was known for rocking her pretty, youthful micro braids.
But plenty of buzz and conversations came in 1997, when Erykah Badu released Baduizm with a photo of her hair wrapped as the album art.
Then, in 1999, Lauryn Hill graced the cover of TIME magazine wearing locs. In the same year, with the same hairstyle, Lauryn was also named one of People magazine’s Top 50 Most Beautiful People.
The 2000’s- Today
Brandy’s cute protective hairstyles carried into the early 2000’s with her time on Moesha and also her singing career.
Also through the early 2000’s, Tracee Ellis Ross appeared on the hit TV show Girlfriends with her beautiful natural curls, further changing America’s perspective of natural black hair and protective styles.
As we progress, we see more gorgeous, healthy natural hair gracing our screens. While there was still some controversy when Viola Davis wore her natural hair to the 2012 Oscars, she can now be seen without heat or wig somewhat regularly on How To Get Away With Murder.
Tracee Ellis Ross sticks with the full, luscious hair she’s known for throughout the four seasons of Blackish out right now. All sorts of protective styling is seen on Orange is the New Black, while even more actresses like Issa Rae of Insecure and Zazie Beetz of Atlanta go all natural on screen.
Things keep getting better for natural, healthy roots on television and in film as the decades pass. What are some of your favorite natural looks from your favorite stars over the years?