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Halle Bailey has singlehandedly redefined what it means to be—and look like—a princess, an honor the actor does not take lightly. “I remember Ariel being the reason I wanted to swim,” Bailey, who fell in love with the original Little Mermaid when she was five, tells Glamour. “When I saw her, [I was] like, ‘She’s so beautiful; I want to be a mermaid too.’ She didn’t look like me, but I was okay with that because it was what I was used to at the time.”
The next generation doesn’t have to see things that way, though, and videos of young Black girls gleefully reacting to an Ariel with whom they identified have flooded the internet since Bailey was cast. “When I saw those [videos] for the first time, I just cried,” Bailey says. “I was sobbing uncontrollably. The fact that these babies are looking at me and feeling the emotions that they’re feeling is a really humbling, beautiful thing.”
Bailey knows how impactful seeing oneself onscreen can be, as she herself was moved by The Princess and the Frog, in which actor and singer Anika Noni Rose plays the titular princess. “I know how much of that movie changed my whole perspective on life,” she says. “Wow, this is possible. Black princesses are possible. We deserve to take up these spaces too.”
While the live-action Mermaid pulls heavily from the original’s plot, there are some key changes, the most apparent of which are visual. Obviously, modifications are required anytime you adapt animation to live-action, but Bailey and the beauty department had to reimagine Ariel as a woman of color too. Bailey and the team opted to keep her hair red—that was essential—but opted for copper locs to make it her own.
“[Ariel still] has red hair, because that’s a very iconic part of her, but I really did admire the fact that because I’m a Black woman and I have locs, [the producers] wanted to incorporate that into Ariel’s look,” Bailey says. Hairstylist Camille Friend was tasked with the transformation that entailed dyeing Bailey’s roots red and wrapping her locs with hair the same shade.
“I wrapped Halle’s locs with 30 inches of custom-colored and perm hair,” Friend tells Glamour. “The hair was wrapped around each of her locs to achieve the style and loose pieces were added to achieve the loose wave, and was made up of three shades of red and has a wavy texture. When Halle was in the water, the hair would move freely, and on land, it would flow downward.”
As for why Friend opted for copper hair, as opposed to true red or burgundy? “When I start designing a character for a movie, I begin with a few questions,” she says. “What are the actor’s skin tones and undertones? What is their eye color and facial shape? Based on that information, I chose a golden-orange shade of red that would look most flattering on Halle.”
And of course, there was the whole under-the-sea aspect of the film, which can impact the movement and texture of hair. “In the water, we would sew pieces of her locs together to stay out of her face when swimming,” Friend says. “When she was out of the pool, we maintained her hair with edge control and shine products, and curled the loose hair with a GHD Oval curling wand. Tiffanne Williams maintained Halle’s hair on set for the duration of the film.”
Ghd Classic Wave – Oval Curling Wand
Halle Bailey’s portrayal as Ariel—and the film’s decision to make the mermaid’s hair to work with all types and textures, like locs—is undoubtedly a historic one. So while Bailey’s enthusiasm about the role is magnificent (“I’ve never seen myself on a big screen, so when I see myself there, I’m just like, ‘Is that me? Did I really do that?” she says), it’s nothing compared with the sheer joy millions of Black women and girls will feel upon seeing someone who looks like them onscreen.
“When I watch the babies react and they’re proud of me, it almost heals something within me and my spirit,” Bailey says. “I get really emotional when I think about it and when I see the reactions. It’s just lovely.”
Danielle Sinay is the associate beauty editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @daniellesinay.