Can Having Curly Hair Hurt Your Career?

I was somebody who never loved my hair. I had curly hair and wished it was straight.-Jennifer Aniston

Earlier this summer we wrote about how sometimes long hair, especially if it is a little wild, can be perceived as unprofessional. One of the people interviewed for that story, workplace. Alexandra F. Figueredo, said when she worked in banking she kept her naturally curly hair slicked back, because she thought it looked more professional. But do curls, even if they are very well-kept, come off as unprofessional? We talked to some women about this.

Jessica Kupferman told The Grindstone:

“I have had curly hair all my life and I can tell you, many of us curly haired gals straighten when we go on a job interview so we don’t seem too “crazy” or wild-minded. I know I often do. In my more corporate days, when I wanted to be taken really seriously, I would straighten my hair – and it was much longer and took me an hour. I’m not sure WHY there’s that mindset – almost as if curls are created by some insanity brainwaves and therefore can’t be trusted – but even women with curly hair will tell you, we act accordingly. And men never seem to have this problem. I’ve never met a man interested in straightening his hair, ever.”

Courtney Huber, a communications specialist, told The Grindstone:

“I have very curly hair, and I try to own that about myself. Most of the time I let it flow in loose curls. It’s possible to wear it curly yet still with a professional look – up in a twist with curls loose at the top, or pulled back at the sides. Although I think the real issue is, who says “professional” has to mean straight? I think that is just a construct that Americans have perpetuated for unknown reasons. We don’t have to follow it.

I say embrace it. Maybe that doesn’t mean letting it flow all loose a la wild 80s rock band, unstyled and reminiscent of a she-Yeti in the woods when you’re in a board meeting – but embracing a curly style that looks polished and fresh. In short, I believe you can wear a curly style while still looking professional.”

It seems that curly hair, to some people, automatically represents a lack of seriousness. It goes against the slick-backed power suit look women are supposed to aspire to in the corporate world. Perhaps it is because curls are so unabashedly feminine.

The topic of curls also leads to the discussion of the predjudices associated with African American women wearing their hair naturally in the workplace. There is a much larger cultural stigma applied to black women who wear their hair naturally and it is a huge issue. Danielle Kwateng wrote for Madame Noir about her sister’s experiences with wearing her naturally:

“Soon after graduating she started working as one of the few black female engineers at Delta Airlines, where she first encountered an adverse response to her au naturale coiffure. Changes in her natural styles were met with comments bordering on insulting. “It was like, ‘Oh, your head changed’ or ‘Did you get a hair cut?’ As if I was another person. It was almost like if I had come to work with some really colorful wig when in actuality it was just a two-strand twist.” One co-worker at her second corporate job said she looked like “she stuck her finger in a light socket” in response to one of her natural looks. Eventually my sister, like many black women, decided her best option was to keep her hair pressed to reduce attention on anything other than her work quality.

When I was a child, African-American women like Melba Tolliver, Cheryl Tatum, Sydney M. Boone, Dorothy Reed and Renee Rodgers received national attention for the discrimination they faced while wearing Afro-centric hairstyles to work. While the black community is more accepting of natural hairstyles—now no longer solely seen as a black pride statement—the largely white corporate world isn’t totally there yet. But change is evitable and it hasn’t stopped black women from all walks of life from getting the big chop.”

Photo: Inga Ivanova/

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