Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong’o, has long embraced her natural hair. Nyong’o recently discussed her role in the new Jordan Peele movie, “Just Us,” as well as her take on beauty for Black women.
Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” discussed in depth how natural hair on Black women was perceived in her native country. It was not celebrated or embraced. In fact, Nyong’o recalled her own issues of acceptance of her natural hair.
“I remember when I was a teenager in Kenya, I had relaxed hair and I decided on a whim that I was going to cut it all off and grow my hair natural,” she said in an interview in this month’s NET-A-PORTER’s weekly digital magazine, PorterEdit.
“I’d been going to the same hairstylist for years, he was a Kenyan, like me, and when I went natural he didn’t know what to do with it. He was like, ‘They don’t teach us how to style natural hair in school.’ There’s been a whole revolution, led by African America[ns] for sure, where we are embracing our natural hair texture and returning to a past glory.”
She contrasted the differences of how she viewed natural hair when she was a young girl versus her now being an adult. Nyong’o remembered how hairstyles of Kenyan women during colonial times had been erased from the Kenyan history narrative and she saw it through the photographic lens of director and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. Hairstyles which at some point in Kenyan history determined the social status of women, if they had children, or if they were married. Nyong’o was both amazed and bothered by the imagery.
“This deeply colonialist, white supremacist gaze was introducing me to the people and hairstyles of the Nuba, Dinka and Shilluk of Sudan,” she said of Riefenstahl. “Essentially, even when we as a colonized or oppressed people are engaging with images or notions of our ancestry, it is so often within a Eurocentric gaze.”
“That idea has stayed with me,” the actress emphasized. “Now at least it seems like we are waking up to ourselves again and are like, Hey, hold on, wait a minute, our hair is kind of fabulous and it’s like clay and we can do all sorts of things with it.”
It is refreshing to see Lupita Nyong’o be comfortable in her own skin. And as more and more Black women embrace their natural hair, it is imperative that Black women see representations of themselves in mainstream media and Hollywood.