Beth Pearson is not only a refreshing character to watch on This Is Us because of her blunt honesty mixed with heartwarming compassion and just the right amount of sass, but also because of her look. She is one of the few Black female characters on primetime television who gets to proudly wear a scarf to bed and change up her hair consistently — from twists to braids to her natural curls. And while that might not seem like a big deal for the average viewer, according to the woman who plays her, actress Susan Kelechi Watson, it’s intentional.
“My hair, I probably have the most freedom with because I design most of my styles,” the 35-year-old told Vulture after Tuesday night’s episode. “Renee, who does my hair for the show is so, so good at just making that a reality and making it look even better than what I see in my head. But I always have an idea of what I want her to be like for every episode. I’m not like that with every character, but with Beth it just always kinda comes to me before an episode and then we get it done.”
In the chat, Watson opened up further about why something as small as hair is so important in shaping her character, especially since Watson says her looks are something of an ode to Black women often told we have to look a certain way to be accepted, look professional or fit into a beauty standard. The freedom she was given when it comes to the styles she wears all started when she switched things up from her audition to her first table read for the show:
It’s funny, I showed up at our first table read looking very differently from the way I did when I first auditioned. I had my hair up in this curly ponytail when we first auditioned and then I came to the table read with these long twists in my head, and I just looked like a total hippy. It was a very earthy look, you know? And they looked at me and they were like, “Huh!” The executives were like, “That’s different,” and then they’re like, “We think you look really pretty.” And I was like, “Well, thank you.” And then from that point on nobody said anything to me so I just kept doing what I wanted to do, and god bless NBC. They all just really kinda love it. And it’s my shout-out to black women, because for so long we’ve been told we have to look a certain way, or our hair has to be a certain way just to even be accepted or as a part of what is considered to be the American standard of beauty. But you know for all this, we just have a different texture hair, and there are beautiful things we could do with our hair, you know? I’m just so happy that I have the opportunity to put that on NBC. It’s right in the forefront of the television diaspora and it gives a lot of people pride to see. You have no idea what it does for the consciousness and the self-esteem of so many people in this country who are beautiful but for so long have been told their differences don’t allow them to be.
It’s really refreshing to see characters like Beth Pearson on This Is Us, Issa Dee on Insecure, Nova Bordelon on Queen Sugar and Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish and gradually, more and more female characters of color, getting to look like everyday women of color when it comes to their manes. It’s also awesome to hear the lengths a lot of these actresses are going to make that happen. Here’s to diversity in everything, including in curls.