“When I have my short, short hair, that’s when I’m my best self,” she tells PEOPLE. “But hair doesn’t define me. It’s just an accessory that I get to wear, like a handbag or shoes.”
However, at the start of Berry’s career, her lengthy locks did define her, since long hair is so often seen as beautiful in Hollywood. “I personally fought against that stereotype when I first started acting,” she explains. “I would go on acting auditions, and every black girl would have this long, curly hair, whether it was real or not. And I would go to these auditions and come back with nothing. So I had to somehow be different.”
Berry actually made her first big cut around 1989. “I remember I went up to my manager’s office and his heart probably stopped beating. And he said, ‘You’re never going to work, you’re not what they want!’ And I said, ‘Good. Let me be something different then.”
Two weeks later, she got her first TV job, as a model on the short-lived ABC series Living Dolls. “I had short hair and that’s why they chose me — because I was different and not like everyone else. It was the way I kind of rebelled against … the notion that you have to have long hair to be beautiful.” Hear more from Berry in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now. Tell us: Are you proud of your short hair?
–Reporting by Pamela Edwards-Christiani and Suzanne Zuckerman