Turn back the clock 20 years, and you’d be hard-pressed to see a Black actress with hair that was anything other than just-got-out-of-the-salon laid. Flip through the tube in 1995, and you might find: the ladies from Living Single, all with straight strands (with some weaves thrown in), the freshly blowdried ‘do’s of Laura and Harriette on Family Matters, and Gina and Pam’s permed-out hair on Martin.
Fast-forward a couple more years, and there’s some more representation with a two-for-one curly appearance in the form of the Mowry twins onSister, Sister. But, even their coils were straightened later in the series. As writer, fashion expert, and image activist Michaela Angela Davis points out, non-curly hairstyles that dominated the small screen in the ’90s were very much a sign of the times. “We were in a very conservative moment,” she says. “Relaxers were easier to get, easier to use, weaves came in…and getting straight hair just got more accessible.”
While we’ve seen Black women’s natural hair on the small screen before the present-day era — these kinds of landmark moments date back to Cicely Tyson’s ’60s role in East Side/West Side — it’s becoming more common, and the new movement has been a long time coming.
What does this modern evolution look like? Actress Tracee Ellis Ross has worn her curly crown in all its glory since 2000 on the (sorely missed) show Girlfriends, and continues to do so today, as the lead actress on ABC’s Black-ish. “I’m very conscious of how I wear my hair on the show, and yet it’s the way I wear my hair as Tracee,” she told Entertainment Weekly in December. “You hire me, you hire my hair, and you hire my ass. It’s all coming with me.”