I'm Afraid My Curly Hair Is Holding Back My Career

I’m trying to decide if I should just totally give up on making my curls look professional and like, marry my flat iron already.
Publish date:
April 23, 2013
career, hair, curly hair, jobs

Curly girls, relax, I stand with you. I love my hair curly. But I also love my hair straight. And blonde. And black. And not so much strawberry blonde, but it’s definitely been there. The point is I want the option to wear my hair however I like it. But can I be a professional and still do that?

About two years ago, I got my first real break in the marketing world. I’d had other jobs, but this time I was going to be a director. With employees! People had to ask me if they could go to the bathroom. OK, fine, they didn’t - but I could have made them if I wanted to!

At the time of my interview, I had just lost some weight and was feeling super awesome about my size four Banana Republic suit, so I put on my makeup, straightened my hair and went and landed that mo’ fo’.

Fast-forward about three months, I’m on a five-hour road trip with my boss to attend a regional meeting and he is giving me career advice. After some chatting about the importance of building relationships with the sales team, he says, “You know, you might not have gotten the job if your hair was curly at that interview. You look sort of girl-next-door. When it’s straight, it’s like, ‘Wow’. Isn’t life funny?”

Um, no. Not funny.

In fact, to show him how unfunny I found it, I immaturely wore my hair in its natural, elongated Jew-fro out of spite the next day.

Since that day, I’ve thought a lot about his words. Now I really think that guy was being totally genuine; he felt we’d bonded and he could tell me this information because he thought it might help me in the future. I’m (slightly) older and (sliiiiightly) wiser now and I finally concede my old boss might have been onto something.

Last year, I quit my fancy director job to move to Los Angeles. I knew I would have to step down the ladder, so about a month ago I took a mid-level job. By some crazy piece of luck, I was handed a huge opportunity last week (just three weeks after my start date). My straight-haired, blazer-wearing, director-level supervisor left the company.

When the VP of my department called me into his office to break the news and tell me they were searching for a replacement, I instantly regretted my curly hair and my off the shoulder, asymmetrical LF sweater.

My outfit was technically fine; we have a pretty informal office. But I looked like a 15-year-old Weird Al Yankovic (going through a very fashionable cross-dressing phase). And I felt even younger.

Obviously I couldn’t yell, “Wait, I own 3 suits! And at least one pen I didn't get for free at an apartment complex! I can write RFPs and briefs! Pick me, choose me, love me.”

So instead, I put on my most serious face and said I was happy to handle her responsibilities until they found someone new. I did not (even though I wanted to) tell him that I wanted the job. I could actually feel the waves of insecurity folding over me, or more accurately, falling across my face.

You may be thinking, “Why though, Rachel? You should have just been confident instead of manifesting a mean-girl inner monologue.”

Well, the answer is that I was confident. Confident that the version of me sitting in his office would not be taken seriously.

So this week I’m busting my ass to prove I can handle the position before asking to be considered, and I’m doing it with straight hair. And occasionally with hair that I’ve straightened and then recurled with a curling wand because I’m obviously nuts.

Do you think curly hair can be worn professionally? Am I abandoning my curly roots if I always reach for the flat iron before work? Did Weird Al only start making parodies because no one would give him a corporate job?