How Cicely Tyson Introduced Natural Hair To Television Audiences

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At Victoria’s Secret last annual fashion show, the American lingerie line debuted a look that had never appeared on their runway before, natural hair. Angolan model Maria Borges walked out onto the runway before millions with her hair in its natural state, a short Afro-textured pixie.

This “reveal” was praised by the press, announcing it as a visual step towards accepting more diversity in fashion. However, this wasn’t the first time that a gorgeous woman revealed her natural Afro-textured hair to a watching audience. In the early 1960’s, an emerging actress named Cicely Tyson used her natural hair texture to make a loud statement.

It all began when Tyson was selected to perform in a 1960s television production that according to Tyson, “dealt with the emerging African nations.” At the time Tyson wore her hair straightened, but she felt the style was improper to her character because it wasn’t a look women wore in the African nations of the show. So on the night before the first live production, Tyson went to a barber shop and asked the barber to cut her hair short and wash and dry it to it’s natural state. Tyson stated to Oprah’s Master Class, that the barber had to sit down and take a break before he finished the look.

The next day, Tyson arrived with her hair wrapped in a headscarf, and when it was time to film, she dropped the scarf. The crew went silent. Tyson said that you could “hear a hair hit the floor.” The director then walked up to her and said, “Cicely, you cut your hair.” She sheepishly nodded her head and said, yes. He then told her that he wanted her to do it, but never knew if it was appropriate to ask her to cut it.

Tyson’s hair transformation into a short afro was a major beauty statement in the 1960’s. This was a time where African faces were rare, especially with women. If present, they were expected to look “Europeanized,” meaning sharing similar features of Caucasian people, like straight hair. Tyson’s simple haircut was a major, and historical, transformation for both beauty and racial history in America. It even sparked a worldwide hair movement.

Although Borges’ hair on Victoria’s Secret runway and Tyson’s haircut in the 1960’s are unrelated, the fact that the lingerie model’s hair still makes news is something to think about. As fashion moves, at least tries, toward more diverse representation, that fact that it can all change in a season is still something to realize.


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