The costume took its toll: I experienced breakouts thanks to all of the TV makeup, and since I had extensions that were blended into my real hair, my own hair began to break off due to the constant heat it took to get it camera ready. My dermatologist finally sat me down for some tough love, explaining that my hair was thinning. If I kept wearing tight extensions, she explained, I would end up with traction alopecia, a form of baldness Black women with extensions are particularly susceptible to. I told her I would consider removing them, but it wasn’t an easy call. After all, I wasn’t wearing them for fun but for my career.
Then something unexpected happened. After my stylist removed my extensions, I decided to go without them for a bit; I wasn’t scheduled to be on TV for a few days anyway. But my TV agent called to inform me that one of the most powerful people in the news business wanted to meet with me the next morning. I didn’t have time to get the extensions put back in. I took the meeting. While I didn’t look exactly like Keli Goff, News Barbie, I was still me, and I realized that was all that really mattered.
That meeting was the beginning of the end of my News Barbie persona. I slowly eased out of wearing extensions on air. Not everyone approved. An older male friend once referred to my previous on-air look as “more ladylike.” Some network hairstylists gently nudged me to return to my “more glamorous” look. But instead of looking back, I found my true calling. Mara Brock Akil, the creator of classic shows like Girlfriends, had followed my work as a journalist, and offered me a job as a writer on her TV series, Being Mary Jane. So I went from being a Black woman on cable news to writing for a character portraying a Black woman on cable news. Not a single person on Being Mary Jane cared what my hair or makeup looked like, and I realized I’d never been happier.
Today, I am writing for the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That. My first play, The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks and Curls, is streaming at Baltimore Center Stage. It is comprised of monologues and scenes depicting the heartache and humor that so often defines the relationship many of us have with our hair, particularly in a society that so heavily polices Black women’s hair. It is a play inspired by all of the years I allowed my hair to shape so much of my professional life. But ultimately it is a love letter to women, particularly Black women. Because whether we want to wear our hair natural, relaxed, in braids or in extensions, it is ultimately our body and our choice—and how we wear our hair should have nothing to do with how we are judged in our jobs.