In best-selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah the main character perms her hair in order to look as professional as possible for a job interview. Months after getting the job, the slim African immigrant is back to natural and out of a job in a week.
This extreme scenario may not be the case for all, but many African American women struggle with deciding the best way to wear our hair in corporate America. But could the tide be shifting? It is for Angolan model Maria Borges. Borges entered the the modeling industry sporting a long, straight weave often seen on many black models until a conversation with designer Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy changed that.
“He asked me to change my hairstyle,” Borges told Style.com. Tisci had made the same request last season, but Borges was not up for it just yet.
“I had booked an H&M campaign that same week and at the time I wasn’t feeling as comfortable with change. This season I finally felt ready, and I’m glad that I did,” said the stunning model.
Borges removed her weave and did the “big chop” before her next Givenchy show for Fall 2015 and to her surprise many fellow models found her unrecognizable. Many Black girls who have done the same know what it’s like switching hairstyles among their non-Black coworkers.
“They didn’t recognize me at all,” recalled Borges. “There were people asking backstage, ‘Who is that new girl?’ which I thought was hilarious.”
But her new cut made her feel more confident on and off the runway. While the big chop can often be an emotional experience, many Black women find themselves growing in confidence as they accept their natural tendrils.
“I feel like I’ve proved that I can be beautiful with or without the hair. Since I’ve gone natural, I feel younger and fresher. With my short hair I don’t feel like I need makeup—maybe I’ll use a little foundation, but I’ll skip blush or lipstick,” Borges said of her new beauty regimen.
And the new look isn’t just helping her confidence, but her career as well. Since Borges went natural, she feels she has attracted a broader pull of clients and looks even more high fashion. Borges realizes the versatility of her new coif allows clients to pop in extensions when longer hair is desired or let her fresh cut flow.
“The industry—thank God—has become more accepting of individuality… I think that for those of us who grew up watching Naomi Campbell and all the top models who had beautiful long extensions, it’s freeing because now you don’t have to adhere just to that standard. You can change, you can go natural, you can have different colors, and you can be yourself,” said Borges.
Borges was discovered in 2010 when she placed second at the Angolan edition of the contest, Elite Model Look. She is a Givenchy favorite and has also walked the runway for Victoria Secret’s Angel collection, Marc Jacobs, Armani, Christian Dior and many more.