I walked into an audition for my very 1st major professional runway show. I looked exactly the way I did in my head shot photo; my hair was pulled up, curly, and with a flower on the side. That’s pretty much how I roll most days. The show producer thought I was A-DOR-A-BLE. All of the designers that chose me and they did ALL choose me… loved my entire “look”. I was a curvy girl, with natural hair, beautiful eyes, and a pleasant disposition.
On the day of the show, can you just imagine my surprise when I arrived for hair and make-up and the stylist pulled out her blow dryer to straighten my hair? The head full of curls I had twisted for 2 hours the night before was now being pulled into a sleek, braided up-do. I was pissed off. And my usually pleasant disposition immediately had caught a major attitude. I quickly had flashbacks of sitting near the stove on Saturday night before church as mama cracked me on the head if I flinched from the heat of the hot comb. And in the tone of Ms. Sophia from the movie “The Color Purple”, I was mumbling under my breath “All my life folks have been burning my neck!” I had to muster up quite a bit of energy to rock the runway that night.
Let’s fast forward to audition #10 when I walked into the room and saw the majority of the show organizers were Caucasian. I knew right away what they’d do to me on show day. The reality is, for some reason, even though they loved me in print they had to change me in person. I’ve often wondered… What is it that makes people so incredibly uncomfortable? In Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair”, comedian Paul Mooney said, “If your hair is relaxed, then white people are relaxed.” It puzzles me why my hair and the way it naturally grows out of my head is a threat somehow! The perception seems to be that straight hair is more culturally acceptable. It signifies conformity and beauty. But curly hair makes me appear to be rebellious, a revolutionary, intimidating even. For some non-black and non-curly women, when you enter a room, your curly hair becomes the topic of conversation. Some days, it’s even an experiment gone wrong where people can’t seem to help but ask to touch it as if you’re some kind of “pet” (FREE ADVICE: Do Not under any circumstances reach out to touch a woman’s hair without her permission. And understand that even asking to do this makes you look strange and creepy to most people). Nevertheless, it behooves me to know that people are paying more attention to what’s on my head than the designer clothes I’m hired to sell on the runway. My hair should be an accessory, just like my jewelry. It shouldn’t be what determines whether or not I make the cut. I come to strut… and I do it well.
Clearly, there hasn’t been enough progression in the concept of beauty in the fashion industry. Even with the embracing of the natural hair movement, just like plus-sized or curvy women, we are still for the most part only accepted into specified productions. In 2015, I was cast for 16 runway shows. But they were all primarily for plus-sized models (of which I barely meet the standard as a borderline size 14). The remaining shows always wanted a more European and sleek look. That description always meant that my hair would indeed be straightened. So this year, I’ve been very selective of what shows I audition for. I ask questions before I accept a project or a photo shoot- mainly about my hair. And regardless of the smiles, head nods and positive responses I receive, when I arrive for work, I always brace myself for change. I’m prepared for the possibility of them “wanting to go in another direction” with my style, or lately, the possibility of me turning in the other direction and walking out. Because now, I know without any doubt that I am worth far more than the hair on my pretty little head.