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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Curly hair shouldn’t be associated with a lack of professionalism

My thick, curly hair has always been one of the defining features of my appearance. For years, I fought a constant battle to tame the beast. I saw all of my straight-haired friends effortlessly wear their hair down and receive compliments on its perfect shine. The movies I watched growing up portrayed protagonists with stick-straight locks and wild, crazy side characters with curly hair.

There is an underlying assumption in media that straight hair is normal and more attractive than curly hair. I’m not talking about the curls that come from straight hair worked through a curling iron to achieve perfect ringlets. I’m talking about naturally bushy, curly, frizzy or Afro hair.

A common trope in pop culture is the makeover or transformation of a female character — an “improvement” that always seems to include a blowout of her hair. For example, in “The Princess Diaries,” curly-haired protagonist Mia Thermopolis is portrayed initially as clumsy, awkward and unpopular. She discovers that she is a princess, and is immediately given a makeover, which involves straightening her hair. She then learns to act like a princess, and her straight hair serves as a symbol of her transformation from an awkward teenager to — quite literally — royalty.

Many celebrities have also abandoned their naturally curly hair in favor of “sleeker” styles. Taylor Swift, for example, started straightening her hair just as she was rising in stardom. Other celebrities, such as Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Nicole Kidman also took to straightening or relaxing their hair as they made it big. What kind of message does this send to young curly-haired girls who look to the media for style icons who resemble their own features, only to find nothing?

Women in the workplace, usually in corporate environments, can even be stigmatized for their naturally curly hair. Those with curly hair are seen as wilder and more frazzled, especially during a first impression such as in a job interview. Women are often advised to wear their hair straight for interviews to come off as more serious.

While curly hair has become more accepted in work settings in the past few years, Afros and weaves are still sometimes seen as unprofessional. Black women who feel they have to spend hundreds of dollars relaxing their natural hair to seem more professional are experiencing discrimination.

In political settings, especially, naturally curly hair is rarely seen. Women make up 19.4 percent of the U.S. Congress with 104 seats, and only a few of these women sport natural or curly hairstyles. This directly contrasts the fact that about 60 percent of people have curly or wavy hair. Unfortunately, women who choose to wear their hair curly still face backlash.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for example, has curly hair — an attribute that has been repeatedly mocked by conservative media. Rush Limbaugh, while talking about Schultz, once said: “The good news is that she does use a domestic brand of mayonnaise in her hair to compensate for the fact that she doesn’t buy an American car. Well, she’s doing something to her hair. Looks like mayonnaise, I don’t know what.”

She has been called “Frizzilla” by Greg Gutfeld and “She of the Angry Perm” by Monica Crowley on Fox News. Instead of talking about her politics, they fixate on her hair. Other politicians see this backlash and decide not to wear their hair curly for fear of their actual work being ignored.

I’m tired of seeing curly haired women portrayed in a negative light. I’m tired of being told my hair looks better straight, and being asked why I don’t straighten it more often. I’m tired of the images perpetuated by the media; images of the straight-haired businesswoman and curly-haired crazy or unprofessional employee.

We need to stop forcing women to conform to this unnatural beauty standard by stigmatizing the hair that grows naturally out of their heads.

Follow Apoorva Bhaskara on Twitter

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