Photo: Flickr/Martin de Witte
Earlier this summer we wrote about how sometimes long hair, especially if it is a little wild, can be perceived as unprofessional.One of the people interviewed for that story, Alexandra F. Figueredo, said when she worked in banking she kept her naturally curly hair slicked back, because she thought it looked more professional.
But do curls, even if they are very well-kept, come off as unprofessional? We talked to some women about this.
Jessica Kupferman told The Grindstone:
“I have had curly hair all my life and I can tell you, many of us curly haired gals straighten when we go on a job interview so we don’t seem too “crazy” or wild-minded. I know I often do. In my more corporate days, when I wanted to be taken really seriously, I would straighten my hair—and it was much longer and took me an hour. I’m not sure WHY there’s that mindset—almost as if curls are created by some insanity brainwaves and therefore can’t be trusted—but even women with curly hair will tell you, we act accordingly. And men never seem to have this problem. I’ve never met a man interested in straightening his hair, ever.”
Courtney Huber, a communications specialist, told The Grindstone:
“I have very curly hair, and I try to own that about myself. Most of the time I let it flow in loose curls. It’s possible to wear it curly yet still with a professional look – up in a twist with curls loose at the top, or pulled back at the sides. Although I think the real issue is, who says “professional” has to mean straight? I think that is just a construct that Americans have perpetuated for unknown reasons. We don’t have to follow it.
I say embrace it. Maybe that doesn’t mean letting it flow all loose a la wild 80s rock band, unstyled and reminiscent of a she-Yeti in the woods when you’re in a board meeting – but embracing a curly style that looks polished and fresh. In short, I believe you can wear a curly style while still looking professional.”
It seems that curly hair, to some people, automatically represents a lack of seriousness. It goes against the slick-backed power suit look women are supposed to aspire to in the corporate world. Perhaps it is because curls are so unabashedly feminine.
The topic of curls also leads to the discussion of the predjudices associated with African American women wearing their hair naturally in the workplace. There is a much larger cultural stigma applied to black women who wear their hair naturally and it is a huge issue. Danielle Kwateng wrote for Madame Noir about her sister’s experiences with wearing her naturally:
“Soon after graduating she started working as one of the few black female engineers at Delta Airlines, where she first encountered an adverse response to her au naturale coiffure. Changes in her natural styles were met with comments bordering on insulting. “It was like, ‘Oh, your head changed’ or ‘Did you get a hair cut?’ As if I was another person. It was almost like if I had come to work with some really colourful wig when in actuality it was just a two-strand twist.” One co-worker at her second corporate job said she looked like “she stuck her finger in a light socket” in response to one of her natural looks. Eventually my sister, like many black women, decided her best option was to keep her hair pressed to reduce attention on anything other than her work quality.
When I was a child, African-American women like Melba Tolliver, Cheryl Tatum, Sydney M. Boone, Dorothy Reed and Renee Rodgers received national attention for the discrimination they faced while wearing Afro-centric hairstyles to work. While the black community is more accepting of natural hairstyles—now no longer solely seen as a black pride statement—the largely white corporate world isn’t totally there yet. But change is inevitable and it hasn’t stopped black women from all walks of life from getting the big chop.”
Jessica Ann Mitchell, the founder of Black Bloggers Connect an entity of Lamzu Media, wrote on the issue in 2011:
During this recent dip in the economy, many black people have been forced to endure the dogged job hunt chase. Many of us are qualified (or over-qualified) citizens with plenty of talent and credentials. However, by being black we are placed in a unique situation of double-consciousness. In the case of black women, we face a somewhat triple- oppression having to deal with our colour, sex and socio-economic statuses. One key factor in the job hunt fiasco that specifically affects black women is our hair. On countless blogs, websites and forums the questions continue to be asked, ” Is natural hair unprofessional?” or “Should I straighten my hair or wear a wig to get a job?” I have seen a plethora of answers and there is always the dreaded conclusion that we must alter ourselves in order to gain employment.
However this issue is much deeper than being about employment. When are we going to realise that the more we continue to alter ourselves to please “others”, the more we are succumbing to the sub-human state of existence that is being placed upon us. This is an issue of forcing the world to recognise our humanity, our God given right to exist the way we were created. When we change our hair, skin or body to please other people we are in essence saying, “You’re right, there is something wrong with being black.”
Some women feel so bad about their hair that they actually call in sick when they are having a “bad hair day”, according to The Daily Mail. The participants in the study admitted that “bad hair days” or “fat days” impacted on their performance at work, and 6% even admitted to even phoning in sick as a result.
Linda Trignano told The Grindstone:
“I believe that curly hair is definitely seen in a less professional light. I am a bit at a loss to say exactly why this is so however. Perhaps it is cultural – most images of successful career women show them with straight, sleek hair styles. I’m just not sure however if that is the full picture. I think a curly head signals less work dedication, more dedication to one’s image than some managers want to take a risk on. A former client of mine had a full head of curls. She (at middle age) looked “cutesie” and she garnered lots of male attention that she didn’t seek out. When asked what she did for a living – her answer of “I’m a lawyer” clearly was a shocker! For many, the curly hair simply did not compute into “professional with a career in law”. Funny to witness but sad to acknowledge as a fairly common experience!”
But just like long, even relatively straight hair, it depends on how well you take care of it.
Kamala Murthy told The Grindstone: “If curly hair is frizzy, messy, dry with a bad hair cut of course it can look unprofessional–the same goes for a straight person with a messy, bad haircut. Personally I am bothered by women who feel their curly hair is a defect, not an asset. Mot of them just haven’t been taught the right techniques to work with what they’ve got.”
Kat Griffin, founder of the work wardrobe blog Corporette, discussed this very topic. She said, “For my $.02: There is nothing unprofessional about curly hair. It looks beautiful, and a lot of strong, professional women I know (whose style I envy!) in fact have long curls. Furthermore, I strongly believe that it takes more time and energy to FIGHT your hair’s natural texture than it does to work with it—time that, frankly, is better spent elsewhere for most women.
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