‘Can I Touch It?’ Photographer Gives White Women ‘Black’ Hairstyles For Corporate Portraits

October 15, 2013  |  

The fascination of our White counterparts with Black hair has always attracted mixed emotions. While some find their interest to be humorous and even natural, others find it annoying and offensive. In an interesting collection called, Can I Touch It?, photographer Endia Beal rounded up a group of middle-aged White women and took them to a hair salon to get hairstyles typically worn by Black women. The hairstyles were free, the ladies simply had to agree to have their photographs taken in corporate attire after, even if they were unhappy with the style afterwards. Interestingly, Endia did not allow the women to choose their hairstyles, instead, the styles were selected for them.

“I said, ‘I am going to give you a black hairstyle,’ and they were like, ‘You’re going to give me cornrows?’ ” Endia told Slate.

“And I said, ‘No, we’re going to do finger waves.’ ‘Finger waves? What’s that? You mean from the ’20s?’ And I said, ‘These are a little bit different type of finger waves!’ ” she continued.

Endia revealed that she went after women who were at least 40 years old, but that she was really hoping to get the baby boomers.

“I wanted people that had a certain idea of what you’re supposed to look like in the workspace, because it would be a challenge for them to understand what I experienced in that space. And to a degree, many young white women have shared that experience, but for older white women it’s an experience they haven’t necessarily had,” she said.

She went on to reveal that the idea for the shoot was inspired by her experiences while interning in the IT Department at Yale, where most of her co-workers were White males. A big red afro was her style of choice at the time and one coworker tipped her off to a rumor that had been going on around the office about her male coworkers wanting to feel her hair. She allowed them to and then recorded their reactions on camera a week later.

“I wanted to allow someone to feel something different, to experience something they never had before, and through that experience, they felt uncomfortable. And then to talk about it kind of amplifies that feeling,” she expressed.

Turn the page for photos from the shoot. Thoughts?

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