Curly hair in a straight hair industry

By: Ruby Asgedome





I’m 19 years old, five-foot-six and I have naturally curly hair that’s coloured brown with blond tips. I have brown eyes — sometimes they look light brown, but only in the sun. I got braces when I was in seventh grade and they were removed three years later. I’m an only child, I live with both my parents and I love to read. English and history are subjects I love and law is my passion. My name is Ruby — oh, and I’m a female.


A female of colour.


A female journalist of colour. 


A dangerous combination, right? I know.


When I was young, I decided I wanted to go to law school and realized that if I wanted to pursue my dream of being a lawyer, I had to do one thing first — earn an undergrad in something. I loved to read and I loved to write, so why not journalism? I chose this degree in the end, but nobody told me that what I pictured in my head wouldn’t be the reality.


In my first year of journalism at Ryerson University, I often looked at my classmates in lecture and thought, “Wow, there are a lot of women in my program.” I remember thinking to myself that this was amazing. I was surrounded by all these empowering women with whom I was going to work alongside, fighting for equal rights.


As the year progressed and I began to interact more with my peers, I noticed that, although it was great to have so many women in my program, it lacked colour. What specifically stood out to me was the lack of Black people. It was at this moment — halfway through my first semester — that I started to feel like it was my duty as a Black female journalist to excel in everything I did within my four years at Ryerson.


During my second year in the program, I had styled my hair many ways: in its natural form, straightened, curled, with added extensions and box-braided, put into twists and styled in slick buns — both up and down. Every time, people made remarks like: “You changed your hair today,” or “Did your hair grow ten inches over night, how’s it so long?” They would laugh. But I never laughed. 


The one remark that haunted me the most happened in my first year.


As per the journalism curriculum in first year, we participated in “story days,” which were days where we’d go out into the city to conduct interviews and have a story finished by the end of class.


One story day, I straightened my hair. 


My hair is naturally curly, so of course I heard people tell me that my hair looks “so different” and that it “looks pretty,” all of which I was expecting, so I wasn’t surprised to hear it. What shocked me was what happened the following story day, two weeks later. 


For this story day, I had conducted all my interviews ahead of time and I was heading back to my class, ready to write when I ran into a girl from my program. She was a white girl that had straight blonde hair. By this time, my hair had already been washed and it was no longer straight. My natural curls stood out. We greeted each other and briefly spoke to one another about how our story days had been going so far. Toward the end of the conversation, she looked at my hair and said, “What happened to your hair? Last time it looked so good.” This caught me off guard. I was so surprised. To this day, I still can’t fully comprehend how my facial expression didn’t give away the fact that I was offended.


Realizing that she was standing there waiting for a response, I simply chuckled and said, “Yeah, I got tired of that and decided to let my natural hair out.”


She responded with, “Well, I think straight hair suits you better.” 


I think straight hair suits you better.


I think straight hair suits you better.


I think straight hair suits you better.


These words haunted me for days. How could someone tell me that something I was born with — something that is part of my identity — didn’t suit me? 


At first I was annoyed, but the annoyance grew into anger very quickly. Why didn’t I say anything? How come, after the conversation, I just smiled, wished her the best and walked away? Why didn’t I defend myself? Why didn’t I tell her that what she said to me was inappropriate and not taken as a compliment like she had probably intended? 


The answer: I didn’t want to be labelled as the “angry Black girl.” I didn’t want people thinking that I’m sensitive. In doing this, I lost my voice.


As a Black woman pursuing a career in journalism, I already have to work twice as hard. To be called out about how my hair is styled every time I change it distracts me from doing the best level of work I can do. It makes me feel like my natural hair isn’t nice enough or professional enough for the industry, which is far from the truth. 


From that point on, I made a promise to myself to ensure that no matter what, I would never accept an empty compliment about my hair ever again. My hair shouldn’t change the way people treat me, no matter what way it’s styled — naturally curly, box braids, straightened or twists. They should all be respected. 



It’s never curly versus straight, it’s always curly or straight.


© 2018 New Wave Magazine

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