One promising TV trend in 2014? The abundance of natural hair, as seen on black female characters from network TV to Netflix. Annalise Keating shed her wig and shattered narrow beauty standards on How to Get Away With Murder. The inmates’ textured hairstyles inspired emotional story lines on Orange Is the New Black. In Scandal‘s season premiere, Olivia took a rest from her silky-smooth D.C. blowouts. And Dr. Johnson’s hair on black-ish is exactly like Tracee Ellis Ross’ hair in real life: natural. Ross spoke to EW about what the boom in un-relaxed hair means to her.
I think what is important about Viola Davis taking her wig off on How to Get Away With Murder is that it illustrates that there is a mask that women are thought to have to wear. For black women, it can be a more complex mask. Our culture has created a very limited view of what beauty is and can be. I think right now television is one of the places where women are pushing up against that and saying, “You know what? I don’t need to play this game anymore in order to be considered beautiful.”
My mom [Diana Ross] is known for her big hair. So me embracing my big hair was not outside the frame of reference of where I come from. What I think is exciting is that to a certain extent, there is a revolution happening where black women are owning their own beauty, despite the standard of beauty that in the past has not had space for it.
I think it’s huge that I’m wearing my natural hair texture on ABC in prime time. As Dr. Rainbow Johnson on black-ish, I think my hair is part of the reality of this woman’s life. She has four children and is an anesthesiologist and a wife. She doesn’t have a lot of time to fuss with beauty, so her look is pretty simple. I’m very conscious of how I wear my hair on the show, and yet it’s the way I wear my hair as Tracee. You hire me, you hire my hair and you hire my ass. It’s all coming with me.
For more on 2014’s biggest moments, as well as the year’s Bests and Worsts, pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday.