We’re seeing an emergence of leading ladies on television showing off natural hairstyles and it’s about damn time.
For years, women of color have been challenging the societal norms around “professional hair” in the workplace, schools, and pop culture. The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Living Single are a few past shows that set the stage for popular black hairstyles to make their way onto current sitcoms and dramas.
Now more than ever, powerful characters are showing off their natural hair on TV shows and continue to break through negative connotations that have followed black hair for years.
From Insecure‘s Issa Rae to This is Us‘ Susan Kelechi Watson, here are eight current television shows changing the game and celebrating natural hair.
1. This Is Us‘s Beth Pearson & her daughters
Susan Kelechi Watson might not be Milo Ventimiglia or a part of The Big Three, but she’s still a fan favorite playing Beth Pearson on This Is Us. Over the past two seasons of the show, Watson has had the opportunity to make her own decisions on what hairstyles Beth should wear in every episode.
“I’m so happy I have the opportunity to put that on NBC. It’s right in the forefront of television diaspora and gives a lot of people pride to see,” she told Vulture. “You have no idea what it does for the consciousness and the self-esteem of so many people in this country who are beautiful for so long have been told their differences don’t allow them to be.”
2. Insecure‘s Issa Dee
Issa Rae’s HBO show represents many experiences black women face, so it’s no surprise different hair types are featured throughout the series. Issa Rae has type 4 hair, according to the universal hair chart that categorizes hair types by texture and density through numbers and letters (i.e. 2A is wavy hair, while 4C is thicker hair). Rae embracing her type 4 hair helps dismantle negative views against women with thicker, shorter hair.
“Issa always kind of did her own hair and she’s a minimalist in terms of like, you know, not doing too much,” Hair stylist Felicia Leatherwood told about working with Issa’s hair. “So I really appreciate that cause it gives me an opportunity to show her what her hair could be.”
It’s taking a step away from the wavy and curly hair we see dominate most of television.
3. Black Lightning‘s leading ladies
The CW’s new series has already been renewed for a second season probably thanks to the badass women on screen every Tuesday. Black Lightning features not only female superheroes, but also women in STEM, LGBTQ+ women, and overall women with strong, detailed storylines. Anissa Pierce played by Nafeesa Williams, Jennifer Pierce played by China Anne McClain, and Lynn Stewart played by Christine Adams are multi-dimensional characters that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and fight for what’s right. They’ve shown many styles from cornrows to curly hair pieces — all while defeating bad guys alongside their dad.
“I love that we’re wearing our natural hair on the show because there are messages in that,” Williams told . “It’s important [for black women] to be who we are and look like we are and know we’re beautiful. I hope to empower young black girls watching the show to walk in their own power and be proud of how they look.”
4. Game of Thrones‘ Missandei
While we all gush over Daenerys’ long white hair, Cersie’s pixie cut, or even Jon Snow’s luxurious curls, we should also praise Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). She may be a minor character to some, but Missandei has made a significant breakthrough as being a translator and confidant to the Queen. She’s not only one of the few characters of color, but she also has had the opportunity to wear her curls on screen while portraying Missandei.
“I think my hair is the first thing people recognize me for,” she told Byrdie. “And I’m happy about that, because I think we’ve all gotten so used to women straightening and changing their natural hair.”
5. Riverdale‘s Josie & The Pussycats
On the CW’s Riverdale, we meet new breakout stars like KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, and Camila Mendes (and don’t forget notable child star Cole Sprouse). But, every Wednesday, viewers can check out the musical talents of Josie and The Pussycat — a trio known for their cat ears, cover songs, and curly hair.
“I jumped for joy when Riverdale producers gave me the go-ahead to wear my natural hair on-screen. It gave me the confidence to move forward in my life and acting career, claiming all that I am,” Asha Bromfield, who plays Melody Valentine, wrote in Flare. “I was on a hit television show, and my hair was in a freaking afro! It was one of the happiest moment in my life.”
6.Grown-ish‘s Zoey Johnson
Yara Shahidi is an actress, activist and soon to be Harvard student (Michelle Obama wrote her recommendation letter) — who is taking a page out of her TV mom Tracee Eliss Ross’ book and showing off natural hairstyles in every episode. Her character, Zoey Johnson, is navigating through her college year and showing it’s possible to do different (and simple) hairstyles. She even shows her night routine of wrapping her hair, which is one thing still missing in many mainstream television shows.
“The show really teaches what young adult life is like in college, and they don’t just go ahead and lay down, because have to pay for the hair, or they took a long time to do the hair and they don’t have the time to redo it every morning,” Hair stylist Tinisha Meeks told about working on Shahidi’s hair for Grown-ish. “So we show it being tied down because that’s what really happens.”
7. Dear White People’s diverse cast
The Netflix original show Dear White People discusses race relations in a university and follows the lives of seven college students. Every episode follows a specific character, but there are many themes aside from heavy topics like racism, sexism, and classism. Dear White People also explores three perspectives on natural hair.
Colandrea “Coco” Conners (Antoinette Robertson) is ashamed of her natural hair and hides it in order to be accepted by her peers. Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton) wears his afro proudly throughout the series, before taking control of his hair by shaving it off, also symbolically taking control of his sexuality. Samantha White (Logan Browning) is trying to figure out her racial identity and her hair plays a role in how she self-identifies — and how divided she feels being biracial.
“I’m happy the show explores the different colors of that [natural hair] and doesn’t just say, “You have natural hair, you’re good,’ or ‘You have a weave, you’re bad.'” Robertson told . “But exploring her mentality of why she feels the need to assimilate and the process she goes through to embrace who she really is also beautiful.”
8. Atlanta’s Vanessa Keefer
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover how popular Atlanta has become in the last three years. Donald Glover’s FX series has received praised (and a ton of awards) for the portrayal of his characters and how they navigate in and around their lives in Atlanta. Glover didn’t waste time showcasing the importance of protecting, working, and maintaining black hair in the first episode of the series. Vanessa (Zazie Beetz) removing her headscarf and showing her hair in twists seems normal for many women of color, but it was still a big deal for viewers of the show.
“And that was Donald’s idea. He really wanted to do that,” she told Jezebel. “I love that ’cause as someone who grew up having natural hair and who deals with that everyday, it shows, again, the reality.”
We hope these shows motivate others to continue representation of diverse hairstyles on television.
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