Keke Palmer is R29Unbothered’s first ever cover star.
She’s an example of what we do here at Unbothered — shine, show up, and share JOY. You’re gonna *get* this joy, whether you asked for it or not, despite the fact that the world around us is constantly telling Black women we can’t be joyful, or we can’t be different, or we can’t hold power and peace in the same space. Keke is here to remind us that we can. We are. We WILL.
So, it’s only fitting that Palmer joins the Unbothered family officially, as the brand’s first ever Creative Advisor. In this newly-created role specifically curated with Palmer, she will creatively consult across Unbothered, supporting and co-developing new projects that push conversations and our culture forward. In this role, Palmer will partner with us to dream up new ways to build Black joy into our everyday content across platforms, ask those tough and taboo questions that need answers, and most of all, continue to create a safe space for Black women to be their freest selves.
You’re about to read about how Palmer is achieving her own sense of freedom, by one of my favorite writers, Alanna Bennett.
A few years back, Keke Palmer walked into a tattoo shop and had an artist etch the word "perception" in small block letters across her left hip. Then she had them cross it out. "At that time, I was going through a very big change," Palmer recalls over the phone early on a recent Friday, her morning voice easing into her signature mile-a-minute chatter. "I had just done Broadway, had just cut my hair off, I was getting a bunch of tattoos. A lot of people always had something to say about me and my experiences, not understanding that this is my life." Palmer was fifteen years into near-nonstop hustle at that point, still finding her footing as a grown Black woman in Hollywood who'd come from Nickelodeon iconography. Palmer wanted a permanent reminder to craft her life for herself, rather than in reaction to others’ expectations. Her message is even clearer now: She does not wish to be perceived.
But this is Keke "Keep a Job" Palmer we're talking about. She is booked, busy, and out there — often to her own delight. This is a woman who navigates her career with frenetic energy; a preternaturally gifted comedian who finds peace in creating broad comedic characters for social media, and who is constantly on the move. Perception — reaction, criticism, wanted and unwanted attention — is kinda part of the deal. But after a year that mixed international trauma with personal growth and big career gains, Palmer is slowly figuring out how to balance these two conflicting parts of her psyche: how to grow a healthy life, not just a prolific one.
"I've been burnt out many times," Palmer tells me over the phone as she gets her hair braided — straightbacks in tight lines down her scalp. "It’s just kinda what happens when you push yourself, and unfortunately when you're the kind of person that I am, [someone] who takes on so much at one time."
Now, almost twenty years into the hustle, Palmer's pushed boundaries, challenged taboos, and created opportunities for herself — all while simultaneously navigating the learning curve that is caring for yourself as a Black woman. She's been open about her struggles with depression, anxiety, and PCOS, and frank about her sexual fluidity. Palmer's natural, earnest, corny goofballness also belies a real dramatic range and a hunger that keeps her very busy. She's had two talk shows, one of which got her nominated for a Daytime Emmy, and an engaging, varied acting career. As a public figure, Palmer often acts as a fuel source for her audience — a shot of light and humor right through the heart. She's an energizing force of nature whether stealing scenes in 2019's Hustlers, playing bombastic characters like Lady Miss Jacqueline (soon coming to Amazon Originals), or becoming a viral meme after not knowing who Dick Cheney is in an interview with Vanity Fair.
All of this means there's not a lot of time to take care of herself. Palmer's met her own frayed edges more than once. This past year, as COVID-19 forced shutdowns across the world, including in the entertainment industry, Palmer was forced to find new methods of keeping herself well. In the past she'd turned to weed to help with ongoing anxiety, but she tells me she decreased her usage when the effects backfired and increased her paranoia instead. In 2020, wellness for Palmer meant acknowledging what it looks like when she hits a wall. Through the course of the pandemic Palmer's learned the value of periodically shutting the door on everyone and everything. She's embraced that sometimes she needs space to recharge before taking on the next hurdle.
Read Full Interview Here.