The Real Meaning Behind Being Mary Jane's Major Hair Changes

When I read the news of Being Mary Jane's impending series finale, I literally stopped in my tracks and screamed "Noooo!" I was at a very public New York City concert venue and, as expected, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Yes, it was dramatic, but I'm not alone here. For four seasons, fictional news anchor Mary Jane Paul has hypnotized a rapt Tuesday night audience with her antics. Whether she's ducking baby mama drama, fighting for representation in a predominately White workplace, or being the glue that holds her dysfunctional family together, MJ was our girl through and through.

Gabrielle Union, who has said that Mary Jane is her "favorite character," played the hell out of that role and fans really identified. Truth be told, we've all got a little MJ in us. Granted, we're all not able to afford spacious New York City apartments or buy Birkin bags without blinking an eye — but the reason why we're all so devastated about the show ending is because MJ is so damn relatable. And if you can't identify with her wild personal life, then you can likely understand some of her hair transformations.

"Mary Jane wanted to present herself as the perfect Black woman on TV," celebrity hairstylist Larry Sims, who did Union's hair on the show since the beginning, exclusively tells Refinery29. "That obviously didn't translate to her personal life off-camera at home. As viewers saw, she was the wreck there."

It's not unusual to do a switcheroo when shit hits the fan. In fact, it can serve as a huge coping mechanism or an indicator of self-confidence. Whatever the case was with Mary Jane, she always ended up with her head above water — and that resilience is something to be admired by everyone, even the non-viewers. Ahead, see some of the hairstyles that marked major moments for MJ.

Warning: There are spoilers ahead.

Photo: Via @betmaryjane.
Southern Girl Curls

When BMJ premiered in 2014, everyone expected to see some lewks from the lead character. Union's hair is often laid IRL when she steps out, so why should her character be any different? Throughout season one, Atlanta native Mary Jane always wore long, expensive weaves to assimilate. "It was wavy, edgy enough, but also relatable enough for the character to stick to that one hairstyle," Sims, who is also a Schwarzkopf Gliss spokesperson, says.

In her new book, We're Going to Need More Wine, Union admitted to relaxing her hair during her childhood for the sake of fitting in with her White friends. Mary Jane's straight hair story is similar, too — until she (sort of) chooses to wear her hair the way she wants... just like Union is doing now.

"It's interesting because Gabrielle in real life is the total opposite of Mary Jane," Sims says. "We've completely shifted in terms of wearing hair that's always straight. She's really been rocking her natural texture."
Photo: Via @betmaryjane.
Natural Hair Distaster

Then it happened: Her stylist cancelled on her right after she had taken her tracks out. Boy, do we relate to that on a spiritual level.

It's not like MJ's curls weren't healthy. Going into Satellite News Channel au naturel just wasn't an option for her. In a moment of weakness, she called her niece (who she was beefing with at the time) to hook her up in the eleventh hour. "You know why I begged you to come over here? It's because your 'perfect aunt' was terrified of going to work without her weave," MJ said. "Terrified that no one would think I was beautiful, that people would think I was average and I'd be invisible."

MJ may have been able to head into the office sleek and chic, but that moment is a reflection of the plight that many Black women face after wash. Natural hair and protective styles still aren't accepted in the workplace as much as they should be. Just look at the recently-lifted U.S. Army dreadlock ban, which prohibited servicemen and women from wearing dreads and two-strand twists for years. Elementary school children are still suspended for wearing their hair to class. And just last week, a Banana Republic employee quit her job after her "urban" and "unkempt" box braids were criticized by management.

In real life, we see plenty of Black news reporters rocking straight hair — and that's their prerogative. Weaves and wigs are likely easier for hairstylists to work with (Viola Davis has spoken to this fact, too). However, as much as we love seeing representation in any form on the small screen, we couldn't help but sit up a little bit straighter when queen Tamron Hall wore her natural hair on Today. Plenty of other anchors have done it, too. MJ didn't take that bold step in that moment, but hopefully we'll see it in the series finale next year.
Photo: Courtesy of BET.
At-Home Head Wrap

Black women are "supposed" to be strong and smart gladiators who always have their shit together, right? Uhh, not necessarily. Jesse Williams once said it best: "Just because we’re magic doesn't mean we’re not real."

One of the reasons this series resonates with the masses is because we get to see this indomitable woman just... be. She laughs. She cries. She cheats. She wins. And sometimes, she fucks shit up. Her hair, makeup, and wardrobe is usually flawless in public. But some of my favorite moments, personally, was when we got to see MJ striped down — PJs, hair wrapped, chillin' with no makeup on.
Photo: Via @betmaryjane.
Power Bob

I don't want to give too much of the plot away for those unfamiliar, but trust me when I say it's worth binging. But just know that Mary Jane makes money moves all throughout the seasons. She was fired from CNN, had a tumultuous run at SNC, and ultimately landed a lead anchor role at Good Day USA — her dream job in New York City. Before moving up north from Atlanta during season four, we see MJ with the weave that we're used to.

"She goes back to a longer hairstyle that she thought [the network] would find more appropriate for morning news and more likable and relatable," Union once told Vogue. "But as soon as she gets her footing as the season progresses, she’s like, 'Oh hell! Game on!' and she gets that competitive spirit back to improve her lot with her career, and she goes full morning news anchor."

By the time that MJ landed that coveted role, she was back to bobbin'... and we couldn't have been happier. It's similar to the style that she donned after an almost-fatal car accident, where she came out alive but left with a huge scar on her face. The day before going back on air, Mary Jane wanted to come back on air with a new look that made you see her face and pay attention. Hey, that's likable to us.
Photo: Via @betmaryjane.
Freedom Hair

Don't get too excited, here... MJ only rocked her natural hair at GDU in the season four finale dream sequence. Sigh. But the fact that her workplace curls were a figment of her imagination signifies that she's still working on standing in her power. Here's hoping that dreams come true during the season finale. Sniff, sniff.

"Unfortunately, we only have two hours for the finale," Sims says. "I don't know what the angle is going to be in terms of how it's going to end, but her natural hair would be a great way for her to come into herself. 'This is how I'm going to show up at work, and this is how I'm going to change the face of what Black anchors look like.'"
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Show More Comments...