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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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Can Curly Hair Be Business Casual?

Can Curly Hair Be Business Casual?

| On 07, Aug 2013

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.

Written by Amanda Duncil
Follow her blog, Simple Syrup, or on Twitter!

  • Corey Lee Wrenn

    When it became clear that my employer was paying me as little as possible, not giving me benefits or job security, and I was doing the same work people were making 70k+ for and I was on foodstamps…I officially quit attempting to tame my curly hair. You don’t care? I don’t care. Deal with it. Too bad you didn’t mention race in this article, as I’m quite sure women of color have it even worse as far as natural hair and “professionalism”

  • Cranky old woman

    I really want to comment on this article, but I’m so close to screaming that I’m not sure I can. I’ve spent 30 years trying to tell my step-daughters that their curly hair is beautiful and that they should be proud of it. I can’t believe that any professional would judge a woman by her hair. When, when, when, are we going to start treating women as people and not objects? If I’m ugly does that mean I can’t be professional? We are born who we are – curly hair, big feet, silly smiles and all. I’m just me and I’m not changing – nor should I need to even for one second consider changing who I am for a job -

  • Sully

    As you can see on my profile picture, my hair is very curly. I love it, I wear it curly to work every day, I wore it curly to my job interview, I wore it curly for my wedding. I don’t feel at all self-conscious about wearing my curls to work, but it did take a long time for me to get here. I fried my hair as a teenager, mainly because when I was growing up my mother always straightened my hair and I was convinced that there was no way to make my curls look good. But now I feel much more beautiful with my natural hair than on the rare occasions over the past few years when I have straightened it (I’ve stopped straightening it all together now because I don’t feel I look as good with straight hair).
    I don’t feel that that my curly hair isn’t professional or formal enough for any occasion, but sometimes I do feel that I want to look more polished than just wearing my hair down. When that happens for a professional event I usually style it into a rose bun. The texture from the curls makes it look great (I may be biased, but I feel most hairstyles look nicer/are easier to make on curls because of the texture).
    Anyway, the point is, yes, curls should be acceptable for business casual/professional/formal/anything!