Denée Benton Said She Felt 'Unstoppable' After Cutting Off Her Relaxed Hair

The Broadway and HBO actress was inspired to chop her hair by an early 2000s R&B song.

Denée Benton at the Markarian fashion show during New York Fashion Week against pink background
Photo: Getty Images

Seeing actress and singer Denée Benton on Broadway in Hamilton or in episodes of the HBO series The Gilded Age, you'd never know she was ever insecure about her looks. But in a new interview with People, she revealed that used to be the case.

Speaking with the publication for its 2022 Beautiful Issue, Benton opened up about her relationship with her hair. After having a relaxer her whole life, she shaved her hair off the summer before her sophomore year of college at Carnegie Mellon University, Benton told the magazine.

"Especially as Black women, our hair holds so much," she said. "It can be such a source of shame. So to release that for the first time, it really made me feel like I was unstoppable. I felt sexy." (

If you're wondering what inspired the sudden desire to chop her hair, Benton said she was empowered by artist India.Arie, specifically her popular 2006 song "I Am Not My Hair." To refresh your memory, the song's lyrics include the lines "I am not my hair / I am not this skin / I am the soul that lives within."

In fact, Benton's entire beauty philosophy seems to be inspired by India.Arie's music. The Tony-nominated actress pointed out specific lyrics from "I Am Not My Hair" that she relates to in the recent interview, quoting: "Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don't / Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won't / Depend on how the wind blows I might even paint my toes."

For Benton, this is what beauty is all about. "It really just depends whatever feels good to my soul. That's my way of beauty," she told People. (

In addition to R&B hits from the early 2000s, Benton's costumes for The Gilded Age, a period drama that calls for corsets and natural makeup, also impact how she chooses to presents herself. Having to dress according to restrictive norms has prompted her to make bold choices when she's off the clock, she shared.

"In period dramas, there are so many restrictions on women and the way we were allowed to be and look, and I think as Black women, we internalize so many of those rules about what colors we can and can't wear and how you need to look professional and all of these things," she told People. "So it's been a really beautiful invitation to break those respectability politics and just actually shine."

Benton's new outlook on beauty coincides with a boost in her confidence. "I'm starting to feel more beautiful now than I ever have, and I think it just has a lot to do with maturing," explained Benton in the interview. "The more I'm becoming myself, coming into my queerness, coming into different parts of myself...the more it's like, I can sort of feel beautiful in any space and have a lot more courage to look the way I want to."

If Benton could go back and tell her teenage self anything, she told People she'd say "she looks exactly as she needs to look," adding "that you will grow out of Eurocentric beauty standards stifling you and realize that being Black and beautiful is the best thing ever."

Here's to embracing what makes you unique — and if you need a confidence boost, listening to "I Am Not My Hair" is a great place to start.

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