After years of fighting, I’ve finally come to embrace my wavy tresses in all their frizzy glory. It feels good to finally be at peace. Unfortunately, that peace doesn’t translate well to the working world, where straight hair still trumps curly in the professional category.
It never occurred to me that sleek and straight was considered the norm until it was repeatedly suggested to me that my naturally styled hair — even when using smoothing products and wrapping techniques to boost the curl — was not good enough at work. In these situations, I always envision the archetypal ad for frizz control products (of which there are so many) where the woman fans out her smooth and shiny locks in slo-mo while an announcer tells you how using this simple serum can make your hair look like a flawlessly styled wig in seconds.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Am I supposed to feel ashamed of my curly hair? Why does it scream “business lady” if I torture it with a flat iron every day? My frustration is amplified by comments suggesting different techniques I should try to make my hair look better, as performed by other girls (with different hair types) with great success. Once, it was even suggested to me that I flat iron my hair wet. OUCH! No thank you!
I’ve struggled with low self-esteem and body-image issues for the majority of my life. It got to the point where I’d succumbed to the delusion that magazine perfection was attainable if I tried hard enough and rejected everything natural about my appearance. I did everything I could to make myself acceptable in my eyes, but I could ultimately never tame my unruly hair without serious effort and too much hairspray — the humidity in the south is indeed a harsh mistress. I learned that it’s not always worth the effort to fight against your natural style and texture.
I finally grew tired of the trouble my flat-iron provided. One year, I decided to let my hair grow out from the high-maintenance shoulder-length bob I normally kept and stopped using heat on a regular basis. I started feeling affection for the soft waves that I would wake up to in the morning, and with a little coaxing, I felt they framed my face quite well. It’s been like that for years now, and I’ve worn it as such in multiple job settings. I never considered it unprofessional. Because I never allowed it to look as though I’d just rolled out of bed and slapped on my clothes, I didn’t think it could potentially be hindering my image. Looking back, I question whether everyone has felt negatively toward curly hair but never said anything.
I can understand the professional appearance standard, but I was unaware that I was to reach the arbitrary attractiveness expectations of management in order to be considered a good worker. It’s not just me, either. A marketing director wrote a piece for xoJane where she recounted a conversation with her boss in which he told her that she probably would not have gotten her job if she had worn her naturally curly hair to the interview because it made her look too “girl next door.” Marginalizing women in the workforce based on their looks doesn’t make sense to me. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s considered discriminaton.
So what is it about a little curl that makes people uneasy in the office? The last time I skimmed a fashion mag, I saw girls rocking messy up-dos and beachy waves in almost every photo. Yet looking up synonyms for “curly” brings up a slew of negative descriptors and not much else. Curls are beautiful, and not just the kind that require effort and heat-assistance to achieve.
There is frequent dialogue about how our culture creates unrealistic expectations for women’s bodies. For some reason, I never thought to extend the argument for hair until recently. Let’s face it, it’s hard enough to foster a positive body image. A work environment is the absolute last place I want to receive criticism for my looks. Ideally, I’d like to have my virtues extolled by my talents and skill sets and not be held back by my hairstyle preference. If my qualifications aren’t enough to impress you, I sure don’t want to be handed the job because you think I’m attractive enough to pass through.