I was told my curly hair was ‘distracting’ at my office job

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I was told my curly hair was ‘distracting’ at my office job

My hair has nothing to do with my work ethic

It was only three days into orientation at a new job when I got told my naturally curly hair was too “distracting” for the office environment.

Right before I transferred to Temple, I decided to apply to a more professional job to expand my work experience. Hiring managers not only look at your resume, work history and ethics, but also take your appearance into consideration.

I was always taught to keep a simple appearance at a job interview, so I followed that advice. I kept the look to a minimum by brushing my curls into a sleek bun, along with the appropriate attire.

Luckily, I landed the job.

Throughout my first week of orientation, I decided to let my locks loose. After the second day of doing just that, I noticed the orientation trainer eyeing my afro, but didn’t think anything of it.

After the third day of training, my female supervisor pulled me aside and said, “Although your curly hair is nice, it is a bit . . . distracting.”

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I was confused and at a loss of words, questioning if my hair was in the way of someone’s view? Apparently, curly hair is just not considered a professional hair style in an office setting.

I could not grasp the concept of there being an acceptable type of hair in an office setting, especially when I was to be working alone in a cubical. But I pulled my hair up in its curly ponytail and completed the day of training.

After some critical thinking, I decided to not show up for my last day of orientation. The comment my supervisor made affected me in a way I didn’t expect. It made me feel bad to think my natural hair was a bother at a professional work facility. Did this mean I would have to constantly damage my hair by using harsh chemicals and heat to straighten my curly locks?

But, why? I cannot help I was born with a certain texture of hair.

I do believe what the supervisor said to me is a form of discrimination. I would have pursued the issue and disputed it, but I figured that job didn’t deserve me as an employee.

My hair does not define my work ethic

Those who have naturally curly or kinky hair may experience many more disadvantages than advantages for their textured locks. From the maintenance of the curls down to the ideal appearance in a professional job, we have a lot to deal with.

Working in a retail store since high school, rocking my curly afro seemed to be somewhat in the norm. I used to work in a suburban community where locals and travelers came to shop. I always got questioned if my hair was fake, permed, or they would ask to touch it like I was some sort of pet.

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Even though society doesn’t consider curly hair appropriate for work, many other cultures value this type of hair.

In fact, cultural and religious beliefs play a big role with hair as a valuable asset, especially in African descent. In an article in The Huffington Post, Taryn Finely shares a similar story to mine of a black woman named Chastity Jones.

Jones rocked dreadlocks and was asked to ditch the hairstyle in order to keep her new position. She took the initiative in taking what seemed like discrimination to court. Unfortunately, in the protection of the Title VII protocol, companies have the right to ban certain hairstyles if it is their policy.

However, according to Finely, “Society, often times, views what’s acceptable for black hair through a white lens so braids, locks and afros can be deemed unkempt.”

Why is it up to mainstream society to determine what hairstyles, colors and textures are considered professional?

Why should an employer have the ability to dismiss an employee due to their hair, especially when that kind of hair is natural for a particular race? Having to press curly or kinky hair to make it conform to guidelines set by white women’s hair is time consuming and draining.

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Moreover, towards the end of New York Fashion Week, Marc Jacobs used white models with blonde and pastel dreadlocks for a particular style. There was a controversy about Jacobs and cultural appropriation between the use of blonde models wearing a black hairstyle. Commentators criticized his use of dreads, leading Jacobs to share his thoughts on cultural appropriation:

“And all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race – I see people.”

His comment about black women straightening their hair is basically saying that black women are trying to appear as White. This is where people take Jacobs’ comment in offense. Having to press curly hair to be viewed as “professional” for an office facility is what people of color tend to have to do without a choice. We often don’t have the option in the professional world to embrace our own hair.

Jacobs’ racial comment wasn’t well thought out, and it backfired. However, Jacobs did clarify his statement and apologized.

Society shouldn’t look down on curly hair. It has its perks. Curly hair can also be styled in a variety of ways. I myself, have styled my hair in numerous ways that do not involve heat to protect my textured locks.

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Besides my curls, I have done bantu knots, dreadlocks, Marley twists and braids, and I can style my hair where it will last for days. I choose these hairstyles because they protect my curls. Curly hair is very time consuming to maintain, so hairdos like these can last up to a week or so with just a little bit of maintenance. Other than the convenience of these hairstyles, a majority of them come from ancestors who had no hair tools like we do today to maintain their locks.

The cultural aspects of these looks are held close and valued by many. They are artistic in a natural way. My ethnic background is Puerto Rican – a blend of Spanish, Indian and African decent. Puerto Ricans have a variety of looks from the color of their skin to the variety of textured hair. This connection to the cultural heritage is what many Puerto Ricans take so much pride in.

It’s important to consider certain hair styles as cultural appropriation because of the judgement associated with them. Curly hair has been a dominant part of my life since I learned to deal with the struggles it brings. It is a shame there are narrow-minded people who can never know the hurt unless they have gone through such circumstances themselves.

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