My Hair ~ Karen Reyes
My hair is one of the first things people notice about me. One time I was to meet a contact at a networking event. After a few minutes of fruitlessly scanning the crowd for her, she came up to me. “I spotted you across the room,” she said. “From your picture on your law firm’s website, I knew I had to look for somebody with big curly hair.”
My hair tells the story of my family. My parents are from Honduras, a country beautifully mixed with indigenous, African and European roots, where curly hair like mine is common. My hair tells the story of my father, from whom I inherited it, who wore it as an afro during his youth when he thought communism would save the world. My hair tells the story of my childhood, during which I went to school with mostly white and Asian classmates and whose long, straight hair I yearned for. My hair reminds me that as an eight-year-old, I misguidedly tried to brush my hair while dry because that was what my friends did. My hair reminds me that as a high school student, I started weighing it down with multiple products so that if it had to be curly, at least it wouldn’t be so big. My hair also reminds me that as a college student, I began to accept and (dare I say it) even like the way nobody had hair quite like mine and the way it always had volume.
In professional settings, I don’t come across a fellow Latina or Black lawyer as often as I would like. When I do, they often have their hair straightened and we talk about hair as an icebreaker. “My hair is just like yours,” they’ll sometimes say under a crown of straightened and frizz-free locks. I realized a few years back that my curly hair in the hyper-conservative professional environment I work in is seen as a political statement. Black women often talk about the pressure to straighten their hair for job interviews. It was naïve of me, I realize now, but I just didn’t think about my hair when starting my career. And so I’ve worn my hair curly in every interview I’ve ever been on, and if I’ve been turned down for a job because of it, I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that I do not intend for my big curly hair, coupled with my power suit and kitten heels, to be a political statement, but if others perceive it that way, so be it. The personal is political.
My now-boyfriend has a thing for curly hair. He loves how big and coiled my hair is, and he tells me often. I am convinced it is one of the reasons he saw my profile picture on Instagram and decided to direct message me. And so I am glad that one day I decided to wear my natural hair at all times in all settings. It led me to a man who does not just tolerate my hair, but likes it, and to a job where, at the very least, wearing my hair curly was not a deal-breaker in hiring me.