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Jada Pinkett Smith is something of a chameleon when it comes to her hair. Along the years, the star’s sported everything from finger-wave bobs to cropped pixie cuts and long braids to voluminous curls. But in 2018 her fans started to notice something: the Matrix trilogy actress was beginning to conceal her ever-changing locks with turbans. And when Pinkett Smith realized that her head was becoming a subject of fevered discussion, she chose to reveal the heartrending reason why she now covers up.

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Perhaps inevitably, Pinkett Smith broached the topic on her Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk. The series often sees her, her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and her daughter, Willow, discussing issues of the day from their different generational points of view. And on this particular occasion, the host wanted to dig into the subject of insecurities.

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But covering such a topic would require Pinkett Smith to make a few admissions of her own. For one, she found herself addressing the many people who had noticed her newfound affinity for turbans. And in doing so, the actress emotionally explained to viewers precisely why she had begun to wrap up and hide her hair.

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Pinkett Smith has long been in the spotlight, of course, and she had known early on in her life that she wanted to be a performer. To that end, then, she ultimately enrolled at Baltimore School for the Arts, studying theater and dance. Along the way, she also bonded with classmate and future world-famous rapper Tupac Shakur. And shortly after her 1989 graduation, Pinkett Smith started nabbing roles in Hollywood.

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First, Pinkett Smith took on bit parts in TV shows such as True Colors, 21 Jump Street and Doogie Howser, M.D.. A meatier role then followed as Lena James in A Different World – an NBC spinoff of The Cosby Show that followed character Denise Huxtable into college.

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But the fledgling actress’ big break would come in 1996, when she starred opposite Eddie Murphy in the box-office smash The Nutty Professor, playing the love interest of Murphy’s sweet-but-overweight educator. That same year, Pinkett Smith could also be seen in Set It Off, in which her character and her buddies raid banks in order to support themselves.

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Then came a quick part in the hugely successful slasher film, Scream 2, in which the killer slays Pinkett Smith’s co-ed character in a movie theater. After that, Pinkett Smith went on to star in Spike Lee flick Bamboozled as well as acting alongside her husband, Will Smith, in the boxing biopic Ali.

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Still, Pinkett Smith may be known above all for her work in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Both films continue the story told in 1999’s The Matrix, and the sequels’ creators specifically crafted the part of rebel Niobe for the actress herself.

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Pinkett Smith’s movie career has hardly faltered in the years that followed, though. In 2004, for example, she took on one of the supporting roles in the critically lauded Collateral, in which she starred alongside Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. Pinkett Smith took to voice acting, too, portraying one of the characters in 2005 animated flick Madagascar. And in 2008 she moved behind the camera to direct The Human Contract – a film in which she also starred.

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More recently, however, Pinkett Smith and her fellow stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish made audiences laugh in the comedy Girls Trip. The 2017 movie raked in $140 million internationally and earned substantial critical acclaim to boot; Time magazine even ranked Malcolm D. Lee’s work as being among that year’s ten best cinematic releases.

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But, of course, Pinkett Smith has ultimately branched out from the silver screen with Red Table Talk. The show began its run on Facebook Watch in May 2018, and during each episode, the actress, her mother and her daughter all chat about subjects that are pertinent to their lives – sometimes with the help of a special guest or two.

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Indeed, Pinkett Smith’s family have arguably come to play as large a part in her continued fame and success as her Hollywood roles have done. The star first encountered her now-husband, Smith, back in 1994 when she tried out for the part of his screen girlfriend Lisa Wilkes in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But those casting apparently thought that Pinkett Smith wasn’t tall enough to portray Lisa, and Nia Long ultimately landed the job instead.

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Still, Pinkett Smith did get something from her Fresh Prince audition: the star of the show himself. She and Smith built a platonic friendship first before beginning to date in 1995. And two years after that, the couple tied the knot in front of approximately 100 guests, exchanging their vows just outside Baltimore – the city where Pinkett Smith had grown up.

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What’s more, the couple would soon start to build a family together. They welcomed son Jaden in 1998 – less than a year after their wedding – with daughter Willow joining the clan in 2000. And to Pinkett Smith, her husband and her kids are seemingly what matter most. She told USA Today in 2018, “I will throw my career away before I let it break up [my] marriage. I made it clear to Will: I’d throw it away completely.”

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Fortunately, Pinkett Smith has apparently found a balance between her home life and the spotlight, as she’s managed to raise two kids, maintain a marriage and keep on top of her Hollywood career at the same time. And as she has changed, so too have her looks. Indeed, Pinkett Smith has rocked a slew of different haircuts and styles since becoming a household name.

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When Pinkett Smith appeared at the premiere of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight in 1995, for example, she had a blonde, close-cropped hairdo. While the star was on the red carpet for The Nutty Professor’s first showing the following year, however, she showed off much darker hair – albeit just as short.

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But Pinkett Smith has experimented with longer lengths as well. She attended the German Collateral premiere in 2004 with her hair in a high ponytail, for instance, and sported soft waves with a side part at the American Music Awards the following year. She has since worn more defined, bouncier curls, too.

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Bobs, braids and slicked-back ’dos have also adorned Pinkett Smith’s scalp. Yet while it’s clear that she likes to mix things up on the red carpet, she does now have a go-to hair accessory: the turban. And in 2018 the actress discussed why on an episode of Red Table Talk alongside her mother, Banfield-Norris, and her daughter, Willow.

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Starting off the conversation, Pinkett Smith says to her female relatives, “I thought we could talk about the things about ourselves that we might not like that we have to accept. I don’t care how beautiful of a woman [you are]; we all have stuff that we don’t like.” Instantly, Banfield-Norris and Willow agree with her statement – and her mother highlights how this affects older women in particular.

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Banfield-Norris says, “For older women, youth is everything. So, everything that you see on television, everything that you see everywhere is everything about staying young. And so it really becomes challenging as you become older to try to not get obsessed with trying to stay young.”

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Banfield-Norris adds that such scrutiny has led her to dislike one specific part of her body. She explains, “Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror, and I don’t like what I see. The worst part of my body for me are my legs, you know, my thighs. Like, I’m thin, and people think it’s ridiculous, but I have mad cellulite, and I hate it, so I hate my legs.”

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Pinkett Smith is quick to prop her mother up, though. She tells Banfield-Norris, “I love that you’ve gained weight.” Still, her mother admits, “In my mind, I feel fat. I know that that’s not true; I know I’m not fat. But I certainly am bigger than I used to be.” Willow chimes in to remind her grandmother, “That’s not a problem.”

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Banfield-Norris replies, however, that she “feels like [it’s] a problem” – perhaps owing to the youth-centric messaging that she touched on earlier in the episode. Plus, as Pinkett Smith points out, her mother is “used to seeing herself a certain way,” which in turn may make her feel more self-conscious about her body.

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Willow, on the other hand, admits that she feels most insecure about her figure. She reveals, “[I’ve] struggled with curvier women, and curvier girls have always gotten more attention from the boys that I’ve liked and have ended up dating the boys that I’ve liked.” In fact, the singer and actress claims that this is “constantly happening” to her.

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And Pinkett Smith apparently understands where Willow’s coming from. She responds to her daughter, “They always see you as, like, the little sister. They did the same to me.” But those words lead Willow on to ponder whether she’s “just not desirable.” She adds, “Like, is my body just like not what society likes?”

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Of course, Pinkett Smith quickly quashes such a notion by saying, “I tell Willow all the time she’s beautiful. Like all the time.” Indeed, Willow does reveal that she’s learned to block out those who criticize her body – albeit for a different reason. You see, the teenager often fields comments about her armpit hair, which she doesn’t shave.

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And as it happens, Pinkett Smith uses the chat session to address those who have asked her about her favorite new accessory. She says, “I’ve been getting a lot of questions about why I’ve been wearing this turban.” But there’s a sad fact behind her decision to hide her locks under a wrap.

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Pinkett Smith goes on, “I’ve been having issues with hair loss. And I’m going to tell you [that] it was terrifying when it first started.” The actress openly wells up as she talks about the experience, too, revealing, “I was in the shower one day, and then [there was] just handfuls of hair, just in my hands.”

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Pinkett Smith claims that she thought on that occasion, “Oh my god, am I going bald?” And, she adds, “It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear.” Hearing her mother’s story, Willow seems emotional, too. She responds, “That’s a really scary experience.” Yet thankfully Pinkett Smith has found ways to cope with her issue.

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Furthermore, it seems that Pinkett Smith’s constantly changing hairstyles had a story to tell after all. For her part, she reveals during the Red Table Talk conversation that her hair loss was the reason why she started adopting shorter and more varied hairdos. Still, taking charge of an uncontrollable experience doesn’t mean it’s any easier to cope with, as the actress seemingly implies.

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Pinkett Smith explains, “My hair has been a big part of me. Taking care of my hair has been a beautiful ritual, you know?” And so while she had no trouble cutting her locks or letting them grow in the past, her hair loss changed all that. During the Red Table Talk episode, she recalls having once thought, “Oh my God, I might not have that choice any more.”

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And Pinkett Smith fondly remembers her hair for what it was, as does her mother. Banfield-Norris says, “’Cause you had a lot of hair. Really thick, healthy, beautiful hair.” Pinkett Smith appears happy to have the corroboration, too – especially as people in her past have doubted that her natural locks were indeed God-given.

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Pinkett Smith says, “[It was] to the point that people thought I had weaves. They were like, ‘That’s not her hair.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, it is.’” Nevertheless, her once-plentiful and thick tresses have begun to disappear. And Pinkett Smith goes on to reveal that some people have suggested possible explanations for the loss.

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“I’ve gotten every kind of test there is to have,” Pinkett Smith claims. Frustratingly, though, her doctors have yet to pinpoint why her hair has started to fall out. The star adds, “They don’t know why. People have said stress.” Others, she continues, have pointed to another condition called alopecia as the cause.

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Alopecia causes the hair to shed in small areas, although this symptom can sometimes be camouflaged by healthier tresses. Yet as hairless spots grow and meld with other areas without follicles, the condition starts to become more obvious. And alopecia doesn’t merely affect the scalp; it can also lead to loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and even hair on the face.

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Some alopecia sufferers find themselves with the condition’s universalis type, which means that they lose all of their hair. And while sometimes the strands will grow back, they may yet go again after their return. Even more heartbreakingly for those with alopecia, no cure exists at present, either.

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But although Pinkett Smith found the initial hair loss to be devastating, her battle with her condition seemingly prompted some reflection. During the Red Table Talk episode, she recalls a moment in which she thought to herself, “Oh my god, why are you so terrified that you might lose your hair?” And from there, she was apparently able to ground herself and change her mindset on the matter.

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Of her experience, Pinkett Smith says on camera, “I really had to put it in a spiritual perspective of like, the higher power takes so much from people. People are out here who have cancer; people have sick children. I watch the higher power take things every day.” Her hair loss, she realized, was by comparison an insignificant problem.

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“By golly,” Pinkett Smith continues, “if the higher power wants to take your hair. That’s it? God, you want my hair? When I looked at it from that perspective, it really did settle me. When I had to think about – well, what else would you lose? What else would you put on the table for God to take? Take the hair. Take it!”

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This revised viewpoint allowed Pinkett Smith to find new contentment with or without her luxurious locks. And on the show, when she is seen sitting in front of a mirror and putting her turban in place, the moment’s not a sad one. Instead, the actress says, “When my hair is wrapped, I feel like a queen” – proving, perhaps, that she has indeed found the silver lining to her new hair accessory.

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