Teyonah Parris on Going Natural: “I realised I was manipulating myself to look like something else”

She is hard to miss on any red carpet days. Talented to boot and gorgeously down to earth. Teyonah Parris is also increasingly becoming yet another of our natural hair and beauty icons and what is even more beautiful is that she wasn’t always that way, hence a great example of what anyone can become. On a visit to Paris where she was keynote speaker at the grand Natural Hair Academy Paris (NHAParis), we caught up with the American actress of acclaimed movies such as Dear White People, Chi-Raq, the bio-pic The Miki Howard Story as well as the popular TV series Mad Men.  She reveals how and why she ditched the ‘LYE’ to embrace her gorgeous natural crowning glory.

Interview by Benedicte Kalombo


(C) Photographer: Lelund Thomas – YellaFellaFotography

NAW: First of all, How Do you manage such big hair?

I mean, it’s the hair that came out of my head, so it’s literally learning how to style it, how to love it, how to care for it. I’ve had the pleasure to work with Felicia Leatherwood, who has taught me so much about my hair. It’s all about learning, it’s a learning process.

Teyonah: Have you always been natural?

No! I went natural in 2010, it was a whole new process for me.

Looking at the environment that we are in right now, it’s self-evident that black women are embracing their natural hair more than than in recent years. Many have also gone through the process that you have just explained. But everyone has a different reason for going back to natural hair. For Some its a political statement, others its a social statement. What was your exact reason?

Hair can be an accessory like anything else, you don’t have to be natural. For me, it was really about self-acceptance. And from that point, if I can wake up as God made me and then decide if I want to have straight hair or put on a wig today, that’s fine. It’s a choice. But it wasn’t a choice for me before, I felt like I had to look a certain way, and I would like young women to know that you don’t have to look like anything or what anybody says you should look like. You can look like yourself just like God made you. You’re unique! You don’t have to bend, lighten and straighten to look like somebody else. You’re beautiful just the way you are. It’s only right, to learn to love and accept that.


(C) Photographer: Lelund Thomas – YellaFella Fotography


Acceptance is still a challenge for many black women. Women tend to shy away from the natural state of their hair and claim that ‘natural’ is not for them. How did you overcome that?

There was a moment when I realised, I am manipulating myself to look like something else. What do I actually look like? And I really wanted to know. So that began, a year of figuring out the transitioning process, and how to love and accept myself as I am.

Just love yourself, ladies, we are beautiful as God made us, we don’t need to lighten, straighten or whiten to fit in anybody’s box. We are beautiful just as we are!

Given the industry that you are in, many succumb to conformity and change their image. But you clearly haven’t. Have you ever experienced obstacles because of your hair?

Not per se, no. I’m sure there were a few things there, but it didn’t matter to me. I know I learned to love myself, and somebody can say something, to me that’s fine because I know probably that role was not for me, that part wasn’t for me. I mean I get to play different characters all the time so it’s not out of the ordinary for me to be asked “oh, lets put you in straight or bigger curlier hair”, that’s not abnormal. But I have never really been requested to alter my image personally. No!

Was there ever a time where you questioned and protested a character or role because you felt that it could’ve been portrayed in a more positive or afrocentric?

There were times where I posed a question as to why couldn’t this be a natural woman? Why did she have to have straight hair? And in my show Survivor’s Remorse, we had that conversation, and then the character ended up doing a ‘big chop’, and now she’s a natural girl. In that sense I wanted to say; she’s smart, she’s beautiful, she has a lovely husband , she has so much going for her and she does not have to look like this; with the straight hair or the long weave, and she can also be a natural girl, and we can make that statement. They loved it, the network running our show was very supportive of it. Taking the journey with that character demonstrates what it means for a modern black woman to cut her hair and have it shown on television. We don’t have programmes showing things like that. I thought it was a remarkable storyline, a big statement for a network to make and very support of the black woman’s natural beauty.

And lastly, what message do you have for the New African Woman readers, many of whom are inspired by you and are embarking on the natural journey?

Just love yourself, ladies, we are beautiful as God made us, we don’t need to lighten, straighten or whiten to fit in anybody’s box. We are beautiful just as we are!





Cover star!






Benedicte Kalombo

Multimedia Journalist | Digital Editor at New African Woman English & En Français| Naturalista | Pan-Africanist |

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