The Life of a Ladybug

live with intention. walk to the edge. listen hard. practice wellness. play with abandon. laugh. choose with no regret. continue to learn. appreciate your friends. do what you love. live as if this is all there is. -mary anne radmacher

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Business Hair

This woman is Susan Taylor, pretty much Queen of the Essence Magazine Universe. She has been (and continues to be) a writer of the column "In the Spirit" in which she discusses how we, as Black woman, can learn to nourish and respect our physical selves. She has been editor-in-chief and just about anything else over there. In all the years I've read Essence, I never remember one issues without her image gracing the pages. When I think of Essence, hers is the face and shape that gives it form. She and the magazine are one-in-the-same to me. It is through her industrious and loving efforts that the magazine has reached its heights. Recently, Susan was supposed to speak at the Hampton University Graduate School of Business Administration. That is, until she discovered that one of the rules of the school is that students are not allowed to wear their hair in braids or cornrows, as this is considered "unprofessional." As you can see from the picture, Ms. Taylor wears her hair in long cornrows. In fact, I believe her hair has been in this style for over 20 years. Now, we can debate whether that style is flattering on her. We can even debate whether having your hair in cornrows for 20 years is healthy for your hair. But we cannot debate that Ms. Taylor is the epitome of professionalism. Well, you could try to debate that topic with me, but I would shut you down. I have never met her, but in all the times I've seen her on television representing herself or the magazine, all the times I've heard her mentioned, no one has ever been able to say that she conducted herself in an unprofessional manner. Ms. Taylor refused to speak at Hampton because of that ludicrous rule and I must congratulate her and say that I wholeheartedly agree with that decision. Since I've worn my hair in natural styles, including double-strand twists, twist-outs, afros, afro puffs, braids and the like, I've had several people approach me about whether my hair holds up to professional standards. And I am always offended and irked by the ignorance of such statements. My question is, why is it that when Black people decide to wear their hair in styles that are the most flattering and conducive to their natural hair texture, we are considered less than professional? White people do it all the time, as do Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and so on. It is fine to come to work with your hair just hanging straight down, pulled back into a ponytail, in a messy bun ... I've even seen a woman who has the spikiest hair imaginable - she looks like a porcupine. And yet ... my afro is less than professional. Or, GOD forbid I wore braids. So, I'm less than professional because I refuse to bend my will to fit this country's standards of beauty? I'm less than professional because I've chosen to accept and revel in my complete inability to be White, to have straight hair (naturally)? Because if that's what professionalism is, you can have it. And you can shove it where the sun don't shine.

10 Comments:

At April 20, 2006 9:31 AM, Anonymous koz said...

Kudos to Susan Taylor!! That's awesome.

I have to say, though, that white people also have been accused of non-professional hair; it's not a black phenomenon. I'm not trying to say that it is probably anywhere on the same level as you have experienced, but it does happen. I, personally, have been told that letting my hair be its natural color is unprofessional--and ugly.

 
At April 20, 2006 9:48 AM, Blogger sparkles anonymous! said...

WOW -- really??? People think your hair is unprofessional?

Holy crap. I mean, if you were wearing your hair in pigtails or something, then I'd see the point. But just wearing it in cornrows or fluffed out?

Is your office ultra-conservative, or do you just work with weird people?

 
At April 20, 2006 10:10 AM, Blogger Toya said...

Koz - I'm sorry to hear that people have said that. How is graying hair unprofessional? Goodness. And, you're right, I'm sure it's not an *entirely* Black phenomenon, but I do believe that we get the bulk of it. I mean, maybe you've been told that your graying hair is unprofessional, but have you been told that your *straight* hair is unprofessional? Because we're not talking about color here, we're talking about texture and style.

 
At April 20, 2006 10:12 AM, Blogger Toya said...

Sparkles - My office is definitely not ultra conservative. There are folks here who wear jeans every day and are never questioned. I think it really has a lot to do with beauty standards and the belief that we all should stick to this little box of what is and isn't attractive.

 
At April 20, 2006 10:33 AM, Anonymous Londa said...

I love your blog today Toya. In the words of India.Arie, "I am not my hair; I am not this skin; I am a soul that lives within." We need to realize our hair alone doesn't make us beautiful.

 
At April 20, 2006 1:10 PM, Anonymous rachel said...

Great post, Toya. I had never heard of natural hairstyles being considered unprofessional. I have heard of other standards for professional appearances, but this bias against people's natural look is unconscionable. Add me to the Susan fan club.

 
At April 20, 2006 7:39 PM, Blogger Ericka said...

And that's it, then. You see how I never really belonged at Hampton. I picked up my two good HU friends and bounced.

 
At April 20, 2006 9:29 PM, Anonymous Punky said...

I feel you Erika. I was at Hampton for one good year and I just couldn't take it anymore. Too many of their "rules" disturbed me.

 
At April 20, 2006 9:35 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Wow. I've put up with comments like this (over my hair or my piercings), but I know that those things are my choice, no one is making these judgements about me for who I am inherently (except my personality).

This also reminds me of something I was thinking about lately, my own image at work. All day long we have a parade of well coiffed and put together office workers coming into the store. And some days I reflect on my image (our dress code at work is relaxed, but I try to keep myself pulled together as I am a manager), which I feel is never quite up to par. My hair is straight, but when it's down it straggles , clumps and ends up limp, unlike the shiny manes of the office ladies. When it's up in a bun, little bits stick out all over and frizz, unlike the sleek updos of the office ladies. My clothes are never quite matched right. I was wondering one day if it's even possible for me to look "professional" - I've been working on clean and with a minimum of cat hair, and hoping for the best. I'm doomed to be the messy cat lady.

 
At April 21, 2006 7:23 AM, Blogger Toya said...

I can understand you, Amy. I'm also in a n office of people who look nothing like me at all. I know that I *could* get all buttoned up and "corporate", but I'm just not willing. I don't have any intention of being an executive for the rest of my life - at least, not in the way that these folks think of "executive." I don't care if I never become an upper-level manager here. I *must* be Toya - even when I try my best to do the whole corporate thing, some of "me" seeps in and I wind up with big ole earrings or fuschia lipgloss or something with sequins or pailettes on it. And, you know ... the blonde afro.

 

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