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Keke Palmer says cutting her hair helped her see outside of ‘Eurocentric’ beauty standards

Keke Palmer says she was excited to wear her natural hair on screen. (Photo: Getty Images)

From making history on Nickelodeon to announcing her pregnancy on Saturday Night Live, Keke Palmer knows what it means to be a trailblazer.

It’s probably why the actress is quick to sing the praises of the other Black women pioneers, including those who, like herself, are redefining beauty standards in the entertainment industry. “Look at Issa Rae with Insecure or Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, so many people continue to push for the narrative that natural Black hair is beautiful and presentable and respectable,” Palmer, 29, tells Yahoo Life.

The Nope star big chopped in her mid-20s and said the decision had a tremendous effect on her relationship with her natural hair.

“I remember just feeling so free because my relationship with wigs, weaves and all of that was so contingent upon how I felt about my life or if I looked good for that day,” she explains.

She still enjoys playing around with her look but no longer feels like she has to have straight or long hair to be beautiful.

“It’s been such a great journey to still be able to enjoy weaves, extensions, etc. but not feel like I have to have it in order to feel like my best. That’s the realization that I came to when I shaved all my hair off. I was like, ‘Man, I still feel good,'” she says.

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 18:  Keke Palmer arrives at the 2017 iHeartRadio MuchMusic Video Awards on June 18, 2017 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic)

Keke Palmer in 2017, after her big chop. (Photo: Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic)

In turn, Palmer was able to redefine what beauty truly means to her beyond what she had been conditioned to believe while growing up in the spotlight.

“It made me feel like there was so many other ways to express my beauty that weren’t solely defined by my hair or a Eurocentric look and style of hair,” she says.

This has transitioned into her work onscreen, as well.

“That was one of the things that I was most excited about when I did Nope, the opportunity to show my curls on the big screen in a universal setting both figuratively and literally,” she says.

“That was a great opportunity to express all the different ranges and nuances of Black beauty and Black hair,” she says.

As to be expected, spending the majority of her adolescence on TV and movie sets did play a role in the way Palmer conceptualized beauty. But she says that certain internalizations are so deeply ingrained in society that she never realized why she felt compelled to look a certain way until she was much older.

“It’s our culture in America. Like assimilation, code switching. I mean there was a time where Black women couldn’t get a job if they didn’t have a perm. It’s something that’s rooted in culture far beyond me and so subconscious that I didn’t think about it,” she says. “I was kind of just like, ‘This is what’s presentable.’ But obviously we’ve come so far in terms of changing those things.”

And while the beauty standards have come a long way, Palmer notes that the world of fashion seems to be experiencing a blast from the past, with many current trends serving as satirical homage to the aughts.

“I’m wishing that I kept so many of these things in my closet because I had all the stuff that y’all would have been gagged over,” she says.

She may not have all of her gems from the early 2000s, but she is already thinking ahead to ensure her kids will have the best vintage garbs from the 2020s.

“I love that we get these trends to keep going. And this time, I’m going to keep my stuff so that when I have my own girls, I’ll be like, ‘Girls go to the closet, go to the garage. I got all my stuff,'” she says.

Palmer, who has become synonymous with the phrase “booked and busy,” officially announced her pregnancy in December, adding another notch to a never-ending belt of commitments. But the soon-to-be mom has a system for navigating burnout.

“A big part of it for me is like diversifying my resume. I try to always add different skills and different things that I can explore, especially as it pertains to work because it seems like that’s usually where the burnout comes from,” she says.

And she doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. True to her trendsetter nature, Palmer is now the first talent for Pepsi’s new beverage, Starry, the official soft drink of the NBA. Her official commercial will premier during NBA All-Star weekend.

“Of course, I’m sitting courtside. You know you I introduce you guys to my sort of boyfriend, which we’ll know a little bit more about when you see the commercial,” she says.

And even though she is collecting career milestones like they’re Pokémon cards, she is still humbled by the opportunity.

“Pepsi is a legacy brand, but when I think about Starry it’s the opportunity to introduce a new soft drink to this generation and so I was excited that they thought of me,” she says.

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