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 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 1960s, 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 the actress, “dealt with the emerging African nations.” At the time, Tyson wore her hair straightened but she felt the style was improper for her character. So on the night before the first live production, Tyson went to a barbershop and asked the barber to cut her hair short and dry it to its natural state. Tyson said 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 he 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 1960s. This was a time where Black faces were rare, especially with women. If present, they were expected to look “Europeanized,” meaning they had 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 1960s are unrelated, the fact that the lingerie model’s hair still makes news is something to think about.

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