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How Nathalie Emmanuel fought hair discrimination on set – Read the interview

game of thrones alum Nathalie Emmanuel, who currently stars in the invite, spent his 20s fighting distinction of hair on the tray. Now 33, she’s made a big change, but there’s “joy, challenge and empowerment” in her new cropped look.

In my teens and 20s, I was already playing and I started to be in the public eye. Suddenly I had to present myself a certain way and I had the world’s expectations on me. I felt a little overwhelmed. My mother always said, “It’s not about looks. You’re pretty.
don’t need anything. You’re talented, you’re smart, kind, funny.” I could only be me at the end of the day.

But I was on a TV show in England called Hollyoaks, which was a teen show. Many students watched it and many women [in the cast] were very beautiful, glamorous. I really tried to be.

There was a lot of pressure to conform, to have straight hair and do a very western/white aesthetic. Every time I straightened my hair, people were like, “Oh my God, I love your hair!” You should do this all the time. I would always be like, “Hmm, or not.” I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of myself, [but] you just want to fit in at that age. You tend to be much more vulnerable to influences.

I remember when I first went to America and met other black and mixed-race women [and they said], “Oh yeah, you gotta have a weave. You gotta have straight hair.” And I was like, “Really?” I just didn’t want to do that. It is everyone’s choice for themselves. But for me, it never went well. I had my hair damaged on set because someone didn’t treat it right and literally had to cut tons of it. It was just really heartbreaking.

I think that has changed considerably. We have some great wigs now, but we’re still struggling to make sure our hair and makeup needs are met. [I’ve had people] touching my hair like it was a bomb about to go off. I don’t want to be sitting in a makeup chair crying because someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. People might assume that because I’m established that doesn’t happen. It’s not true. So imagine what happens to the actress who just became a daytime actress.

I recently cut my hair short. I asked my mother for the first time [if I could cut my hair] when I was maybe 15 or something, and she was like, “No, don’t do that.” For her, I was perfect. And she was probably right to tell me that because I think it was a reaction to not meeting certain beauty standards. It was not based on empowerment.

Very soon after, my family and I took a trip to the Caribbean, to Saint Lucia, where I have a heritage. There was just something really spiritual about this journey, about connecting with my heritage and understanding that’s why my hair is curling, because I have family from here. I went back to school in September with my hair done in a huge ‘fro’. I was like, “Let them tell me I can’t wear my hair.” I was like, “Yeah, my hair is amazing. Don’t touch my hair, but it’s amazing.”

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