By Amari D. Pollard
“How do I wear my hair today?” We all ask ourselves this question every morning as we wash the tiredness off our faces and climb into the day’s outfit. But this question carries more weight when a black woman gets ready for her work day. When Eurocentric beauty standards have continuously told her that kinky hair is strange and unprofessional, straightening her curls or gelling them to smooth perfection oftentimes feels like someone else’s decision.
And it’s not all in your head. A 2016 study by the Perception Institute concluded that most people hold bias towards women of color due to their hair. It also confirmed that black women have more anxiety around their hair and spend more time on hair care. But over the years there has been a cultural hair shift, with more women of color rocking their natural curls. Even so, that progress doesn’t erase the centuries of societal pressure and judgement. I talked to several editors and writers of color about their personal relationships with their hair and how that translates into the workplace.
Alexis Jones, freelancer and Newhouse graduate student
She may wear her curls freely now, but Alexis hasn’t always been comfortable with her hair. When she was younger, people would tell her it was too big, so her mom put a kiddie relaxer in it when she was seven. A few years later Alexis stopped getting relaxers, but those negative comments stayed with her. “Before job interviews, I would always straighten my hair in fear that a hiring manager would see my big, unmanageable curls and somehow think that translated to my work ethic,” Alexis says. “I’m learning to love my curls in every state and in every environment.”
Jenna Milliner-Waddell, freelancer
Jenna has similar anxieties, specifically when it came to the “big chop.” She cut her hair before starting a new internship and was nervous about how she’d be perceived since she interviewed with straight hair. “I have been lucky enough to work in environments where my hair hasn’t been a topic of conversation, but even though I love my curls, I consciously think about the way I wear my hair and what others will think about it,” she says. “The important thing is to not let those thoughts influence the way you wear it.”
Andréa Butler, editor-in-chief and publisher of Sesi
As the EIC of a quarterly magazine that covers the black girls’ mainstream, Andréa has always been disturbed by the discrimination black women face for wearing their natural hair. While an editor at LivingSocial, she stopped relaxing her hair and went through the process of transitioning: “I had a love-hate relationship with my hair because I realized I didn’t know it at all and had to rebuild a relationship with it under these new circumstances. There were many days I felt self-conscious about how it looked.”
Co-workers oftentimes made comments like, “OMG, your hair grew fast!” when she returned from the weekend with braids. “At the office, there weren’t that many black women, but of the ones there, many of us wore our hair natural. Mostly, our coworkers would ask questions, genuinely curious to learn,” Andréa says. Now that she’s working from home, Andréa can wear her hair any way she wants. And she knows that when Sesi moves into its own space, her employees will know they can do the same.
Brianna Moné, Sesi contributing writer and Teen Vogue weekend social media editor
Thankfully, Brianna hasn’t experienced much natural hair bias at work. She admits that being early in her career and in a more creative industry might have something to do with it; however, she’s cognizant of how she wears her hair. “Most of the time when I’m wearing my natural hair, it’s pulled back in a bun or low puff, or a high puff or bun on top of my head,” says Brianna. “I rarely wear it out when I’m at work.” Still, she can’t imagine having to adjust the way she wears her hair for a job. To alter her hair would mean to alter a piece of herself: “I love my hair, and it’s a part of me. It’s beautiful just the way that it grows out of my head.”
Jamé Jackson, the editor-in-chief of TheBlondeMisfit.com
As the founder of a site that celebrates all things women-empowering and #BlackGirlMagic related, Jamé always had pride in her hair—and since locing it, that love has only grown. “Because I’ve always kept my hair in loc styles in the workplace, I’ve never had a blatant issue with people finding my hair problematic,” Jamé says. “Though I definitely felt stares when I would wear my hair down.” Instead of taking those looks on, she chooses to use her hair as an education tool for those who haven’t had exposure to locs. “People of color can pay homage to their culture through their hair,” Jamé says. “It’s professional, it’s clean, and it’s beautiful.”