A few days ago I posted photos from a Denim magazine shoot that featured actress Malinda Williams rocking a gorgeous natural look. The New Jersey native, popularly known for playing Tracy “Bird” Van Adams in the critically acclaimed drama Soul Food, spoke with me about her new do, and being a popular icon of black beauty. Enjoy!
When I posted the pictures of you, a few of my readers said that you’ve actually been natural all along, but just straightened your hair for photos/press. So I wanted to clarify; how long have you been natural? Is this look a new thing for you?
Malinda Williams: I go back and forth. I think the great thing about having short hair is that you sort of have the freedom to, you know, diversify, move around a little bit if you want to. Because I’m constantly cutting my hair, if I do decide to put chemicals on it it’s literally a matter of month before it gets cut off.
I decided to grow my hair long and when you’re transitioning into natural hair from a relaxer you have that whole ‘chemical on the ends, curly in the roots’ thing and it’s kind of difficult to really rock a style, so I put a weave in it. Also, when I’m in the in-between stage I get so tempted to cut my hair off. I wanted to just braid it and wrap it down so I wasn’t able to touch it.
I think I had the weave in for maybe about 5 months. It grew out to where it was long enough that I was comfortable cutting the rest of the perm off. And once I did that it was pretty long. It was down below my neckline where I could get a short bob. But I was just so used to having short hair that I was dangerously close to just taking a pair of clippers and rocking skin (laughs). Just buzzing it all off. I sat down and thought better of it and I just said, ‘You know what, let me just cut off the rest of this relaxer and then cut it down to where I can rock a short little afro.’
I just got really comfortable with it, I started really loving it. Our hair is so versatile; we can rock an afro, we can rock a weave, we can rock short or long or curly or straight. And I just happen to be one of those people who’s just not afraid to try anything. I love doing hair! And particularly doing my own hair, it relaxes me. One of my hobbies is doing hair. When I’m bored I’ll say, ‘Let me go in here and do something with my hair.’ That’s kind of how it came about.
So if your readers are saying I’ve been natural. Yes, I’ve been natural back and forth. Every now and then I’ll put a relaxer although at this stage I don’t think I’m going to go back to a relaxer. I think if I need to I’ll just blow my hair out and either press it or flat iron it. But of course, that is until I get bored again (laughs).
And when did you cut out the relaxer?
MW: It was last October when I did this film with Chris Rock called 2 Days in New York. I knew I didn’t want to wear the weave in the film so just prior to starting production is when I took it out and cut the hair down. And I actually went into a fitting with the director of the film and she loved my natural hair and she said, “Could you wear that in the movie?” and I’m like, “Of course!”
How would you describe the texture of your hair? In photos it looks like it has a soft curl to it.
MW: You know it’s funny, I have about 4 different textures in my hair (laughs). I describe it by different family members; I got my grandfather at the nape of the neck, I got my grandmother on one side, I got my mama in the center. You know what I mean? I use gel and Moroccan oil to manipulate the different textures. So, yes, it’s soft and curly. But it’s not so soft and curly that it’s like a wave. It’s more of a curl than a wave. I would say that down at the nape of my neck is where it’s wavy and the rest of the hair is curly.
Malinda rocking her curls at a Showtime Style event in 2006. Photo Source: Zimbio
You said that you love doing hair. Do you do other women’s hair too? Like, do you do your sisters’ hair? Or just yours?
MW: It’s funny. I will do my sisters’ hair just because I can’t say no. So if they ask me, “Malinda, do my hair!” yes I will. I enjoy it and I give them good results. Right out of high school I was in cosmetology school and I worked in a salon for 5 years.
Wow! I didn’t know that. How did you go from cosmetology school to acting?
MW: My parents always nurtured my gifts and one of my gifts was playing characters and imitating people, so they put me into modeling and acting when I was very young. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue it as a career because it’s sort of one of those extracurricular things that you do as a child, like ballet class or violin.
What I really loved was makeup and hair and beauty and products. And I also had a very strict father who didn’t let us go that far from home. I was one of those girls who definitely had to be home before the street lights came on, no hanging out with boys. So one of the ways I found to occupy my time was to do my hair. And I became known throughout my school years as the girl who wore a different hair style every day. Because I had lots and lots of time to just practice.
So I figured that I would go into cosmetology and go on to own my own beauty salon. That was my real dream. My aunt owned a salon at the time and I worked in her salon doing nails while I was in cosmetology school. Then I got this show called Laurel Avenue, and [executive producer] Charles Sutton, he encouraged me to come out to LA. I thought I would take a break, stop working at the salon, go to LA and try my hand at the Hollywood scene. What I really had in the back of my mind was, ‘Oh, I’ll go to LA and I’ll start my beauty career and on the side I’ll do the acting thing.’ Well, it kind of turned out to be the other way around because I kept booking these television gigs and it was like, “Wow”.
Finally, when I booked Soul Food I was on set one day and I realized — and it had never occurred to me — that I was playing the woman of my dreams; the entrepreneurial salon owner. It was so bizarre. I was like, ‘Oh my God! I’m completely living my dreams — both my dreams.’
I’ve heard women say that they cut their hair to look like you, or they’re rocking the “Malinda Williams look”. Do you ever have women coming up to you and saying you inspired their style?
MW: I experience it all the time and especially with social media. I have people send me messages on Facebook or tweets to mention how they love my hair and I’m the inspiration for them cutting their hair. It’s very flattering, it really is, and I think that whole trend of cutting your hair is great because — not that I have anything against weaves — but weaves are very expensive, time consuming and I think it takes away from the freedom of being the real you.
Malinda shows off her signature pixie cut at the 33rd Annual People’s choice Awards. Photo Source: Zimbio
And how did you come up with the idea for that style?
MW: I worked with a stylist years ago, his name is Niko. I remember sitting in his chair and telling him I wanted my hair cut. And together he and I came up with the style. He styled it and then he would play with it, and then I would say, “Wait, wait, wait, let me look.” Because you know in the salon there’s glass mirrors all around so you can see the back and the front.
I’m a shape girl. I’m a cut and shape girl, so I know what shape works well on my face. I have a very small face, I have a very small head. And so, we were just playing with it, and there were four hands in my head, mine and his. And we kind of sculpted this style.
I styled it according to how I felt about myself; it felt really classy and sleek, but it had a little edge to it, but it wasn’t so far left that it was punk-y, it still felt like it could go in the corporate world, but it had that little rebellious feel to it. I view my hair almost like art. You inject what you’re feeling into how you style your hair.
When people talk about the ideal black woman, physically, your name often pops up. How does it feel to represent ideal black beauty for so many people?
MW: I don’t really think about it but I’m very flattered to hear that. People, especially women, are so much more than skin deep, so much more than what we see on the surface. I think the beauty that people read in me is not necessarily the exterior beauty. I think what they’re reading is; this girl is honest and she’s herself. And I think — and I can only speculate — that’s what shines through more than anything. I’m not trying hard to look like anybody or be like somebody or even fit into molds of what people think celebrities should be.
I think I’m beautiful but I don’t even know externally what that means for other people. I know what it means for me; it means I accept who I am. I accept everything that my parents gave me. I accept my hair, I accept my skin, I accept my eyes. So I’m very secure about being Malinda.
Attainable beauty is all any woman really wants. And attainable beauty comes from accepting yourself first, before you even plop anything on your face or in your hair.
And also, I often get; you look like my cousin. I get that all the time; I look like a friend, a family member, a co-worker. I have so many twins out there. And one day I thought to myself, ‘Maybe that’s what the appeal is. Maybe I have such a familiar feel to them that everyone feels that I’m their girlfriend or their cousin.’
Malinda Williams will appear in the film 2 Days in New York, alongside Chris Rock, later this year. This summer she started production on another upcoming film. Follow Malinda on twitter @MalinsWorld, and tell her BGLH sent you ;)