CBS Star Ito Aghayere Learned to Advocate for Herself—and She Has Her Hair to Thank

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Photo Source: James Lee Wall

The following Career Dispatch essay was written by Ito Aghayere, star of CBS’ “Carol’s Second Act,” which has been picked up for a full season and which airs Thursdays on CBS

It could be said that you should ask a black woman about her hair only if you have time to hear about her life. As an artist of color, the issue of hair is a deeply personal one.

When I was 9, my father had to cut off all my hair. I remember staring in the mirror as the sound of his clippers buzzed on, knowing I wouldn’t be able to recognize the girl staring back at me once it was all over. Peering around the corner to watch it all go down was my curious older sister with her magnificent, kinky poof. She had what girls at school would call “good hair.” She didn’t need the perms that I did to make her hair more manageable. It was the kind of hair that respected her wishes to look cute no matter the weather or style. 

My hair, on the other hand, couldn’t give a damn about what I wanted; the broken combs and empty jars of Eco Styler littered the bathroom every morning in the aftermath of my hard-fought attempts to tame it. The final straw was one perm too many that led to my parents’ reluctant but necessary decision to cut it off. Needless to say, my unruly hair has always been “a thing,” but after years of patience and practice, I managed to find a way to work with what I got.

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Years later, after one of my first experiences on a set where I felt unwelcome in the hair and makeup trailer because of how “different” my hair was from that of my white female co-stars, I decided from then on that I would always come ready to do it myself. I’ve had years of practice I could put to good use. Plus, as a young black actress intent not to “rock the boat” for fear of being labeled “demanding,” I was determined to never be a burden. With one project, I let people think that doing my own hair for weeks was something I wanted rather than something I tolerated, simply because I thought there was no other recourse but to make do—as I always have—in the absence of a stylist who could do my hair. 

I never wanted to make a big deal of the issue, and nobody was moved to make a change on my behalf. I realized I can’t expect the people around me to take up my cause if I won’t. I’ve learned the hard way how critical it is to advocate for myself and the things I need to do my best work as an artist.

I never thought my journey with my hair would teach me how to stand up for myself as an actor. I wish I could say that I’ve checked the box of this life lesson, but if these past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m still learning. Of all the things I wish I knew when I first started out in this business, the most important is this: You can’t receive what you don’t ask for. You don’t deserve what you’re not willing to fight for. 

Never settle for less than you’re worth.

What advice would you tell YOUR younger self? Get more Career Dispatches right here!