Typically, Black actresses have a horror story (or several) to share about their hair experiences in Hollywood. But in a refreshing tale of triumph, comedian Sasheer Zamata, does not. That doesn’t mean, however, that she hasn’t experienced her own personal journey in the search of acceptance of her natural texture, and the story is one all-too-familiar for other Black women who felt underrepresented while growing up.
“I feel like I had the realization that my hair was different a couple of times in my life,” she tells TZR. “Definitely when I was in elementary school, though. I was a military brat, so I was often one of a couple black kids in my class. That meant being the only one with baubles in her hair or braids, and the other kids were sure to point it out.”
When Zamata was in third grade, she asked her mother if she could get a perm, to which her mother obliged. “Of course, it didn't completely straighten out my hair as I’d imagined,” she says. “But by the time I got to college, I finally figured out how to really get my hair silky. Problem was, it was so thinned out and unhealthy, I didn’t like it. I needed that fullness, so when I was 19 I cut all my hair off, and that's when I started my natural hair journey.”
Ahead, find out what that journey was like for the actor and comedian (who has a new show, Home Economics, launching this month on ABC), the refreshing on-set acceptance she’s received, and the fellow comedian that inspired her to embrace her natural hair in the first place.
What was that transition to natural hair like for you?
Zamata: It was frustrating, but I was also excited just to learn more. I feel very thankful that I started this journey when YouTube tutorials were a big thing and when people were sharing information about how to do their own hair. But it definitely took some patience and digging because I was going to college in Charlottesville, Virginia, and there for sure weren’t any hair salons around that I could find that would know how to care for my natural hair. So it was a lot of trial and error and trying products and trying different styles — anything so that I could figure it out. But I did enjoy the process because I wanted a healthy head of hair and I wanted a fun new journey.
You mentioned trying different styles and even now, you’re such a hair chameleon. What’s your favorite part about being able to switch it up?
Zamata: I love that our hair can be so versatile. We really can change hair like we change clothes and that means that my energy can match the style of my hair. I love channeling that same energy on television as well. I've had moms come up to me and say, ‘It's so awesome that my daughter gets to see hair that looks like hers on screen,’ and I think it's important for people in the public eye to keep doing stuff like that. I'm going to be on a show called Home Economics that comes out in April and I brought my hairstylist Tara Copeland along with me because I have had a lot of experiences where there was a hairstylist there who didn't necessarily know how to do natural hair, and that's unfortunate.
I think that [since there have] been more opportunities where there are more brown and Black people on screen, that also requires more people of color in the background to take care of our needs. Me and Tara created so many awesome hairstyles that I'm really excited for people to see, because I want America to see, on such a huge network, that this is a part of Black woman’s life. Changing our hair constantly is a part of us.
Being a fixture on television, have you ever felt pressure to not wear your hair how you wanted?
Zamata: I actually feel very fortunate that the projects I've done and the work that I've done hasn’t required me to have my hair look a certain way. I actually did a pilot a few years ago and there were so many people involved with the show. There were producers, writers, show runners, the network, the studio, and they styled my hair in a looser curl than my actual hair. The team didn’t like it and said, “We actually want her hair to look like her hair.” I loved that. I was like, ‘Oh my God, thank goodness.’ You know there are horror stories that usually go in the other direction where people are asked to straighten their hair, but I was so glad that they were like, “No, we actually liked how we hired her.”
I feel very lucky that I've been able to change my hair and keep my hair in natural styles. Furthermore, viewers are responding positively to that. Now, sometimes there's confusion when there's a white man at the top of a show who doesn't quite understand why my hair is changing so much [laughs]. They're asking a lot of questions like, “Okay, so now it has color? I don't get it.” But you know, the more we communicate and the more we talk about it, the more people are understanding it.
What style are you loving the most these days? That is, if you can pick just one.
Zamata: I've been wearing a lot of faux locs. It's a nice protective style where I don't have to actually do anything to my hair for a few weeks. Plus, there are so many options you can do with locs. I can like do updos, twists, whatever I want. That's what I'm rocking right now. But then again, that will probably change soon. Who knows?
What do you hope the impact of Black women like you and the others in beauty who have embraced their natural hair will be?
Zamata: I hope we’ll inspire and be a source of representation. That's what I got just watching Whoopi Goldberg when I was younger. Seeing her be a comedian, be on Star Trek, and be a movie star all while she had dreads was a huge influence on me and made me feel like I could do anything. I hope that that’s also happening for younger generations watching me and my peers do what we do so well.
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