AJ Walker celebrated a monumental moment in her career when she went on air at CBS 12 with box braids in her hair. While this may be like a simple, everyday type of style for a Black woman, Walker constantly felt pressured to conform by wearing her hair blowdried straight. No one ever told her that braids were prohibited, but there was always a heavy influence on her wearing straight hair over other styles.
In an interview with Yahoo Style, Walker says, “When I discussed the possibility of wearing braids on-air with stations, the answer was, ‘Let’s keep your hair the way it is,’ ‘We like your hair the way it is’ and ‘That’s too dramatic of a change,’” Walker explains. “To me, that was still a ‘no,’ although it wasn’t worded that way.” She continued, “There are many limitations placed on on-air personalities when it comes to our look. Your station makes it clear that they are within their rights to have control over how long or short your hair is, and hair color, whether or not you can wear extensions, braids, or natural hair.”
When Walker was between jobs, she put some braids in her hair, like most women of color do. She was dealing with the loss of her mother and decided to ask the Sinclair station if she could wear braids on air because it was a sweet memory of her mother. “I had worn braids several months before getting hired when I was in between jobs, but I took them out to go on job interviews out of concern that braids might hurt my chances of getting hired. But I missed my braids,” she says. “It is a skill my mother taught me. When she died a few months ago, part of me felt like wearing my hair braided was preserving a part of her.”
Walker hopes that her victory will spark the bigger conversation on what is deemed acceptable on air. “Not many people realize that African-American and other women feel and often are forced to wear hairstyles that the company or news station deems acceptable,” Walker tells Yahoo Style. “The freedom to wear my hair in a style that is a part of my culture and a skill handed down to me from my mother gives me a stronger sense of self-esteem, self-worth and confidence as a person and as a woman. This is a hairstyle I chose for myself. It reflects who I am.”
The feedback on Walker’s hair has been overwhelming and has inspired others to tell their stories regarding hair discrimination. We commend her for taking a stand for something that should be an innate right for all women of color. Hopefully this story continues to circulate and employers can educate themselves on the damage they do to a person’s self-worth, confidence and sense of self when they strip them of their rights to wear their natural hair or protective styles.