Corporate Curls: The Struggle To Wear My Natural Hair As a TV Reporter

May 9, 2012  |  

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a general assignment reporter for a television station, and if you’ve watched any of the hard news shows, there is a trend that you probably see. Whether the women are African-American, Caucasian, Asian, or Hispanic, their hair is generally straight, and up until three years ago, so was mine.

The decision to go natural was one I came to on my own after expressing an interest once my mother had undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer. When her hair grew out, due to the treatment, my mother’s curl pattern changed, which lead me to believe that my curls would look similar to hers. I quickly learned, however, that our hair was nothing alike. While hers was soft and smooth, my curls were more apt to the consistency of cotton balls fluffed on top of my head. However, I fell in love with them. But while I adored them, people in the journalism industry doubted that I would be able to get an on-air position with my hair in an afro.

If you look around at some of the more “contemporary” television shows, you will see an array of hairstyles and looks: crazy curls, some interesting colors, and even piercings depending upon the network, but if you stick strictly to the big networks, you only see the more personal style and fun side of reporters on shows that air during the early morning hours or around noon. However, my goal was and had always been to be on the evening news.

When I got to my final year in college, I began sending out applications and DVDs that had a compilation of my work, and soon after that, I landed an interview that would prove right one of the assumptions everyone made about my career: that natural hair and news don’t mix.

During the interview my hair was straightened, but since I knew that the area was humid, I knew my best bet at keeping it in this style was to sacrifice my curls to a relaxer. The woman interviewing me was very clear on her perspective: “I love your curls…but if you’re going to work here, you will have to have your hair straight…you know, for the conservative area that we work in.” And that was it. She set the standard that I would run into for nine months as I searched for a job working in television.

While the doors of opportunity weren’t shut solely because of my curly coif, I couldn’t help but wonder if my job search would be easier had I made a new video with my hair straightened consistently. While things could have been easier, I decided to stick with my curls. Of course, there’s a happy ending to this story, and clearly sticking to my guns paid off because I have a job reporting at the top station in my area now.

Working in an industry that has a large focus on outward appearance can be difficult when your hairstyle can be seen as unprofessional or even intimidating to others. While I know that it has limited me in some regards, I can’t say that I regret my decision. It has opened my eyes to the ways in which people are ignorant to the world around them, but I have yet to receive a negative comment from a viewer in the conservative area that I work in, nor have I had any comments from coworkers or my boss that hint towards preferring my hair straightened. So I wear my afro proudly to work and on television for all in my area to see.

Ashley is a blogger and reporter for a television station. You can follow her on Twitter, @beserious_ or on her blog ayoungblackwoman.com.

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