By Sheryl Estrada
Actress Taraji P. Henson’s short haircut showcases her natural curls, which her longtime stylist Tym Wallace said shows she’s all for “Black girl magic.”
Henson, star of the TV show “Empire,” is a Golden Globe Award-winner, and on Sunday she received a BET Award for Best Actress. She debuted her new hairstyle on her Instagram page on June 22.
On Tuesday, Henson posted a video showing her hair at an even shorter length:
“She already had an undercut, and it was growing in,” he said. “She was loving how her curls looked, and was like, ‘If we’re gonna cut it, we’re gonna cut it all.’ She’s like, ‘I trust you.’”
Henson has been natural and growing out a relaxer since 2001, when filming “Baby Boy.” Her now deciding to cut her hair short was also symbolic — she wanted to encourage her fans.
“It’s great to see a woman of her stature embrace her hair, and [cut] it so short,” Wallace said.
“There’s a difference between wearing a natural textured wig or weave, and actually wearing your natural hair.
“She’s showing that she’s all for the Black girl magic — showing these young Black girls that you are not defined by what society paints as beautiful when it comes to a Black woman and her hair.”
But as an actress, Henson at times must go for different looks.
“Trust and believe, we will definitely be throwing wigs on with this,” Wallace said, according to Refinery29. “Some looks will require a different feel. But right now, we’re gonna rock this out.”
“The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit And Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair,” released in February by Perception Institute, reveals that even though more Black women are embracing natural hairstyles, biases toward natural hair continue to exist, and often in the workplace.
Henson chose to make a statement with naturally curly cropped hair. So, DiversityInc asked Tamika Katon-Donegal, an actress based in Los Angeles, if her choice to wear her hair in its natural state has had an impact on her career.
Katon-Donegal got her break in the TLC music video “Unpretty,” which dealt with young women’s self esteem and body image. She has since appeared on stage, in film and in television, including in “Agent Carter” and “The Newsroom.”
The actress started wearing her hair natural because she didn’t want to spend hours of her life “fussing” with her hair and wanted a style conducive to an active lifestyle.
“And, as I got older, I started to run and work out daily,” said Katon-Donegal, who has lost about 100 pounds in the past few years.
“I’m not trying to not be healthy because I can’t sweat out my press and curl.”
She also shared her thoughts on the impact of her hairstyle in getting work as a Black actress.
“In terms of the business, there’s still a lot of privilege, I think, that I’m afforded as a Black woman who has hair that’s curlier than a Black woman that has coarser hair,” she said.
The adverse effect of this industry practice often puts Katon-Donegal, who is of Jamaican heritage, in an “ambiguously ethnic category,” which can hamper her opportunities to express herself as a Black woman.
“I had a meeting with an exec once, and I was talking about my experience as a Black actor,” she said.
“And he said, ‘I don’t know why you keep talking about being Black. There’s so much more to you. You could do different things with your hair and people would think you were Latina or Middle Eastern.’
“You can get that on occasion,” Katon-Donegal said. But she added that it’s fortunately becoming less common.
She also said that the “ambiguously ethnic category” does have its boundaries.
“I was up for a role in a Marvel movie, and it came down to me and an Asian woman,” she said. “My friend who was casting it told me they went with the Asian woman.
“I can be a lot of things, but I can’t be Asian. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
Katon-Donegal said she has recently been wearing her hair in an Afro-like style.
“I’ve been playing around with the idea of actually picking out my hair, and brushing it out and wearing it like that,” she said.
“In 2017, as a grown woman going out in Los Angeles and just wearing my hair picked out or brushed out I feel like it’s a revolutionary act.
“Some people will comment on it like, ‘Oh, it … looks so good that way.’ The responses are definitely interesting.”
Katon-Donegal joked that in the competitive industry she’s “a professional auditioner.”
“That’s my job,” she said.
But even though there’s stiff competition, she encourages women of color who are aspiring actresses to be themselves.
“If you’re working as hard as you can, and you’re putting in the time and effort, you can’t let anything you perceive as some sort of impediment, whether it be hair or your complexion, or your height, or your weight, stop you from doing what you love,” she said.
“Present yourself to the right people and say, ‘As I am right now, this is what you need for your project,’ and people respond to that.”