T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh is no stranger to show business; in fact, she’s been performing since childhood. Along with her breakout role as a cast member on the iconic sketch comedy show In Living Color, Ms. Keymáh has starred in Cosby and Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven. She’s also the author of Natural Woman / Natural Hair: A Hair Journey. These days you can see her on episodes of BET’s Let’s Stay Together and in her upcoming two-person stage show, Sellout!?! Read on as we chat with Ms. Keymáh about all things hair.
How did you view your hair growing up? Have you always embraced your texture?
I didn’t view my hair favorably at all. I didn’t appreciate it in its natural state because I associated it with the torture of having it combed (with a comb not designed to comb my hair, of course) and the horror of having it pressed (and my ears, neck, or forehead burned in the process). Like most girls in my generation, I also accepted the wicked notion that my hair was not pretty (and therefore I was not pretty) unless my hair was pressed.
For a long time there was no image or voice to tell me otherwise. When I was around twelve I wanted an afro, but my grandmother was not having that. I choose my battles with her and did not wage an all-out campaign about it. Ironically, I came into my natural awakening not long after I got my first perm. It took me a several years (and a trip to Africa) to figure out how to get rid of it and the hot comb, but once I did, I never looked back.
I can’t recall ever seeing you with relaxed hair. Have you always been natural? Have you ever straightened your hair?
I’ve been wearing my hair naturally since before I came to Los Angeles in 1990, but I was raised with pressed hair.
You hair looks thick and lush…and there’s a lot of it! What is your routine? Do you use any particular products?
Thank you. When I’m good, I condition it regularly and protect it from chemicals, rough fabrics, and excessive sun exposure. I massage my scalp and apply oil when needed – with something natural. I test and use many different brands and products, including Nubian Heritage, AfroVeda, and Carol’s Daughter. I also keep olive oil in my medicine cabinet for my skin and hair. I include flaxseed in my diet, which is also good for both skin and hair.
What are your top tips for handling natural hair?
Be kind to your hair. Protect it from cotton, wool, or any harsh fabrics, chemicals, or other influences that may damage it. Comb gently and patiently with an appropriate device from the bottom up. Remember that what looks strong may be very fragile, especially when dry. Massage, brush, oil, and braid at least once a week. Condition when you shampoo.
You are truly an entertainment powerhouse. You’ve done everything from acting to directing and voice over work. How did you get started in the entertainment business? Has this always been your passion?
Thank you. I’ve been performing, writing, directing, and producing since I was a child. I created shows first in my grandparent’s living room, then in the back yard, and by high school at public venues. This has always been my passion. Even though I’ve wanted to do other things as well, I’ve always been moved to express myself creatively.
What, if any, challenges have you faced wearing your natural hair in Hollywood? Has it ever prevented you from getting a role?
Many. When I first came to Los Angeles, there were not many hairstylists in the industry who worked with natural hair. I often did my own hair. Sometimes a studio would bring in a hairstylist from a local salon to do my hair. Most people did not know what to make of the fact that I didn’t want heat, let alone a chemical in my hair.
I have been told directly that I would work more (or that I would have gotten a specific job) if my hair were straight. I have also been offered negative roles that I think someone thought would match my unstraightened hair.
Do you wear wigs and/or pieces on occasion as a compromise to straightening your hair?
Yes. I don’t mind wearing wigs (and do not consider it a compromise) when I’m playing a character with straight hair. I am just cognizant of why her hair is straight. For me, straight hair is not the given; natural hair is. So if I am playing someone with straight hair, it is not arbitrary. It is saying something specific about that person… and not that she is pretty. It is saying something about her mindset.
Any closing words of advice for new naturals or those considering taking the plunge?
Be patient. Be brave. Be proud. Be an example. Experiment. Enjoy the journey!
Connect with Ms. Keymáh at tkeyah.com, where you can also find her blog, social media links, autographed pieces, and copies of her books. She’s also the star and host of the Keymáh Network sketch variety show The Cool Crystal Show.
Originally posted 5/17/13 on NappyHeadedBlackGirl.com.