“I Did Not Want To Walk Outside” Actress Teyonah Parris Recalls Her Natural Hair Transition

July 17, 2014  |  

Actress Teyonah Parris’ star is ascending in Hollywood right now. While many of us know her from the hit show “Mad Men,” it’s not the only credit she has under her belt. She’s going to be starring in three movies including They Came Together, Dear White People and A Picture of You and also a new project, executive produced by LeBron James called “Survivor’s Remorse.”

And in addition to being exceptionally talented, Parris has also been a hair crush of ours since she stepped out on the red carpet at last year’s SAG Awards. And though she’s been shouted out by several women and black women’s websites for the beauty and versatility of her afro, Parris told Marc Lamont Hill, of Huffington Post Live , that the transition was anything but easy for her. In fact, it was such an emotional journey that she cried and had to have a friend help her show her newly natural hair to the world.

Read what she had to say about the experience in the transcript below and then watch the video at the very bottom of the page.

You know when I first started in film, and I don’t want this to sound the wrong way, I very much tried, and not consciously, but I tried to be what I saw because that’s what I saw growing up. And I wanted to be beautiful. Who doesn’t want to be beautiful? And so consciously or unconsciously you try to mimic what you see. And I just had this moment where, I was actually in Harlem, and I was walking with my girlfriend and I saw this girl and I was like ‘I wish my hair could do that.’ And my friend was like, ‘It can.’ And I was like no, no it can’t. And I was like ‘Girl when I wet my hair, it just gets so straight.’

And she really looked at me like ‘Are you serious?’ She said, ‘It’s because you perm it.’

And I guess it was like, as Oprah says, an aha moment and I realized ‘Oh, I have no clue what my hair does naturally.’

So going natural was just a challenge to myself because I wanted to see what it did what it looked like because I hadn’t seen it since I was a little girl and even then I didn’t do it.

So it started off as a challenge to myself and I transitioned by wearing weaves and then every few weeks, I would take it out and see how much was afro and how much was still straight and then put it back up and cut off some as we went along.

And then it came the time when it was time to wear it out because it was all transitioned, all the perm was off.

Marc Lamont Hill: Were you nervous?

I cried. I cried. I was not used to seeing myself like that. I did not want to walk outside. I literally…I had to have… *pauses* oh goodness. My girlfriend, the same one who’d said a year or so before ‘your hair can do that’ she had to literally come over to my house and walk me outside because it was such an emotional experience and it wasn’t just about hair. It was about what my perception of beauty was and had been for all of my life and then I look at myself in the mirror and I’m like ‘That doesn’t look like what I thought was beautiful.’ And we literally held hands walking down 135 and Park Ave. And so that was my first moment in the world with my natural hair. And I know it doesn’t matter but that day, I got so many compliments on my big afro and I was like ‘Are they talking to me? Oh, ok.’ And it was really that moment of ‘Ok, I can do this.’ That was just my beginning of my journey into being natural. And since that day, it’s still been hard at moments. It wasn’t like ‘Oh, I was fine after that.’ No. It takes time.

At this moment, it’s not like I’m standing on a soapbox like it’s a mission but I really am personally, beyond what anybody else thinks or cares about, am trying to live in my truth and change the way I view beauty. And if other people’s perceptions change while I’m trying to work on myself, then that’s great. And hopefully a few little brown girls out there will look and say, ‘Oh, look I want my hair like that.’ And hopefully sooner than me, the age I was when it happened to me.

You can watch Teyonah Parris’ entire interview with Huffington Post Live in the video below. The part where she speaks about her natural hair starts around the 18 minute and 15 second mark.

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  • mmmdot

    Well I like her dress, that’s about it.

    • KathyBTurner


  • dhgwen

    We as black women do too much in aiding the persistent societal view that we hate ourselves and that we too, believe that we are less than. From comments like ” I don’t like natural hair,” to “don’t touch my hair,” to “I don’t swim or workout because I don’t like to get my hair wet,” to this nut’s publically broadcast comments about crying and being afraid to go outside because of her natural hair. It boils my fn blood! Then we wonder why its so easy for others, including our black men, to discount us as unworthy or disposable trash. Can we please stop acting like we require pity or the world’s “understanding” because of our God-given, non-European features!

    • glowChester

      Uuuh chile!! I Feel you sista!! There is a serious inferiority complex among us #Sad

    • mmmdot

      Well, I truly don’t want randoms reaching out and touching my hair and literally FIXATING on my hair like I’m an animal at the zoo, but I agree with a lot of what you say.

    • guest

      As evidenced by Black women ourselves, it is easier said than done. I agree with your sentiments, but it takes more than just saying, ‘We’ve got to do better’ for the ‘better’ to actually come about. That is typically where we, as a people, drop the ball.

  • Hannah Evans

    I never understood why black women are the only women who are constantly attacked for their hair. Why should a grown-behind woman be told how to wear her hair by blacks or anyone across the world. I am a black woman who does not do chemicals such as relaxers but yes I wear my hair straight and yes I wear my hair natural. FYI white women alter their hair as well because many people do not know that Supermodels Heidi Klum, Candace Swanepol, Karlie Kloss, Rosie Huntingdon-Whitley and Giselle Bundchen are not natural blondes. Neither is Brittany Spears, Jessica Simpson, or Scarlet Johannson why is it ok for them to chemically alter their hair thusly changing their appearances. But when black women do it because it is her God-given right to do so people feel it is ok to accuse or question her? I don’t think so! If that is the case when people age and their hair starts graying then they should be told they can’t dye their hair because it is an altering of the natural state of their hair at a given point in their lives. Black women express indivuality and uniqueness by being able to do so many different things with their hair that other cultures and races only dream of .

    • guest

      You cannot be that naïve.
      Yes, it’s true that “Black women express indivuality and uniqueness by being able to do so many different things with their hair that other cultures and races only dream of,” but that certainly is NOT representative of our feelings when we start out as young girls. A grown woman can finesse her answers about her true feelings on natural hair — children, however, will speak the truth. Ask most little Black girls what kind of hair they want, and they will tell you, without mincing a single word, that they want straight, silky hair like *insert friend/classmate’s name here* and that’s why they keep asking for a relaxer (or at the very least, a press and curl) at such young ages.

      Perhaps if we grown women actually took the time to teach young black girls that they are indeed beautiful in their NATURAL STATE, they wouldn’t feel the fear and trepidation that Teyonah felt the first time she stepped out with natural hair. If she (and all little Black girls) were RAISED with a sense of pride in their natural hair and natural features, then, when they grow up, and still choose straight, silky hair, it actually will be because they’re just expressing creativity in style, and not using that as an excuse to avoid their own, natural hair.

      • Hannah Evans

        Based on the beginning of your post I actually fear that you do not know what the word naive means. My post was NOT on children it was on the way GROWN BLACK WOMEN are constantly accused . Although I agree w/some of what you said it is also not my place to tell parents what to instill in THEIR children let alone debate it on a messgae board . Having said that the world is full of opinions nobody’s point of view is more valid than the next . Your view is your view just like my view is my view and there is nothing wrong with either of us exppressing them. I may not agree w/everything you said but I was raised to respect other people’s opinions and not falsely call them out of their character . So having said that I wish you all the best and a joyous weekend

        All the Best, Hannah.

        • guest

          I understand naivete and, again, I say you cannot be as naïve as your original post implies. I know your post was not on children. I was drawing a connection to how Black girls start out in life, specifically with regard to how we think/feel about our natural hair, and how those (usually negative) thoughts only follow us into adulthood UNLESS parents, aunts, cousins, role models TEACH young girls to value and appreciate their natural state. Simply put, you can’t go from disliking your natural hair as a child, to all of a sudden loving and embracing it as an adult. There is a process, an epiphany, a certain acceptance that one goes through to get to that stage.
          Secondly, do you have a problem with parents instilling positive messages about self-acceptance in their children?? I can’t imagine that anybody would, so why even use that as a rebuttal point? It’s weak and illogical. Rather than being so defensive, just consider the points I was trying to make and leave the arguing out of it.
          You have a great weekend as well.

          • Hannah Evans

            1) Nowhere in that post did I argue w/you so why I am being accused of arguing is unfounded . If you actually took the time to read what I said you would see that on some points I agreed w/you.
            2) It is not my place (since you clearly did not read my post) to tell parents ” WHAT I THINK” they should instill in their children. I am respectful of other people’s affairs regardless of the subject.
            3) You use the word “naivete” loosely yet you can not point to one instance where my post was naive. Hence the realization you have no understanding of the meaning of the word ans therfeore should not use it .
            4) My parents raised me to show others respect and not force my views or beliefs on others. They also taught me that it is not my place to call people out of their characer and that is a value that has not been instilled in everyone….but I respect the fact that many people were not raised as such .
            5) Opinions are like a**holes ….everyone body has one and when you least expect it sometimes *crap* will come out to . This should be kept in mind next time you accuse people of certain behaviors because the principle applies to YOU as well
            6) Calling people “defensive” and “naive”…although they were misused…..just because you disagree is what is wrong with us as women we tear each other down rather than build each other up.

            All the best , Hannah.

  • See The Light

    As someone who grew up teased about thick eye glasses and home made dresses, I have never relied on others for validation. I have not had a relaxer or weave for at least 10 yrs. I just stopped one day and decided to go back to my own hair. You just have to love you and not worry about others. Now I get the “is that all you, you ain’t all black, or where are you from” comments because according to some I have too much hair to be AA. You just can’t put too much value into the remarks from others.

  • Miss K

    Honestly, this whole interview is a little DRAMATIC over hair! I’ve had locs for years and a fro before that. It really isn’t THAT serious! Crying?…Just saying.

  • glowChester

    ” got so many compliments on my big afro and I was like ‘Are they talking to me? Oh, ok.’ And it was really that moment of ‘Ok, I can do this.’ <– See the real issue was really whether she would be 'accepted' with her natural hair. It was the compliments from others tht actually gave her validation and made her feel like she could do it and boosted her acceptance of her true self. I am truly a bit over these 'natural hair struggles' where we keep making it seem like such a battle. Perhaps I am biased but gosh man. Nd personally I hate the use and reference to 'hair transition' because it gives the impression tht the hair is 'being changed' when really all its doing is reverting to its natural, normal state. Ok, so I had a lil rant session here.lol. But I just had to say it

    • MyTwoCents

      I understand you. The kinks need to be removed from our minds, not our hair.

      • glowChester


    • Marie Bano

      She is telling the truth. We are bombarded daily of images that look nothing like us yet white women want fuller lips, bigger bottoms and darker tans yet they get credit and praise for it. For many of us we have to learn to love our face, features, hair and figures because we are not the standard, even for some in our community. She is being honest and I admire that. I am going to get braids in my hair after years of relaxer and weave, I do not need to impress or be on show for anyone but myself.

    • Afroch1c

      The term transition is used because it is a “change from one state to another” (i.e. we move away from chemical and the damage over processing has done, into working with the true natural kinks, coils, textures)…