As I was shaving my face this morning I thought of Tina Opie’s post on hair and identity. She raises some interesting questions. From a male perspective, I know that the expectation in a professional setting is to either be clean-shaven or if we choose to wear a beard/mustache, the expectation is that it be neatly trimmed.
I recently wrote a Post on facial hair and I am delighted to publish commentary that I received. Mr. Amir Reza wrote an interesting personal piece on his experience with facial hair. Here it is; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
“Men and Facial Hair” by Amir Reza
As I was shaving my face this morning I thought of Tina Opie’s post on hair and identity. She raises some interesting questions. From a male perspective, I know that the expectation in a professional setting is to either be clean-shaven or if we choose to wear a beard/mustache, the expectation is that it be neatly trimmed. I recall when I stopped shaving a few years ago during vacation and decided not to shave before returning to work – that period when your beard hasn’t fully grown in and you are not clean-shaven is interesting – there were colleagues that loved the facial hair and others that didn’t care for it. There wasn’t much in between. Most everyone had an opinion one way or another. There were many questions; was I going to grow it indefinitely? Would I consider a goatee? What did others think about my new look?
Mr. Reza sporting a beard
There were also joking comments about my identity as a Middle Eastern American and what facial hair meant in light of the stereotypical terrorist suspect. This makes me think of that period after September 11, 2001 when the Department of Homeland Security instituted color-coded threat levels and profiling of Middle Easterners (in particular young men) was prevalent. I recall half-jokingly commenting to my friends that if the color code was “orange” or higher I would definitely shave, lest I be profiled as “one of them.” Maz Jobrani (an Iranian-American comedian) has a funny segment on this topic – “you don’t want to be Middle Eastern and show up at the airport with a beard!” (watch here minute 3:50 of this youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYlaIxNX01Q ).
Returning to Opie’s blog on facial hair, it seems that facial hair is a political & social matter for men, whether you are running for office or trying to navigate society (east or west). As for me, I ended up shaving my beard/mustache eventually, not because of my colleagues’ comments, but because my two-year old daughter didn’t want to kiss me because I was too itchy!
Mr. Reza sans beard
What do you all think? Please share any thoughts that Mr. Reza’s story triggered in your mind. Thanks for reading!
Yesterday was my first day back to work with my TWA (teeny weeny afro). I was a bit nervous because as one of a few Black professors on a predominantly White campus, I stand out. In the past, my dreadlocks drew quite colorful commentary and was one of my distinguishing traits. I was nervous because I knew that my hair would draw comments. Most of my colleagues were quite gracious although, I had my share of shocked responses complete with “WHAT DID YOU DO?!!”.
I am so proud of myself for not letting others’ responses dictate how I feel about myself. Of course, I want to be perceived as an attractive person. Yet, when I look in the mirror that is what I see. I am learning to detach opinion of self from opinions of others. Others’ opinions do indeed matter but they are not central to my identity. Believe me, as a self-professed people-pleaser, this is a HUGE step for me.
We’ll see how I do the first day of classes when I stand before a hundred plus students!
NOTE: The video of my Big Chop is still being edited but I will post it and still pictures as soon as they are available. Please stay tuned, comment and pass the blog along to others. Thanks! Tina
A few days ago, I said “I continued to feel like an alien in the workplace, well, at least when it came to my hair. There were very few Black consultants never mind Black people with natural hair.” I went through a self-discovery process as it relates to my hair. I asked lots of questions of myself. Why did I feel like a fish out of water? I don’t know who first said it, but I’ve often heard people say, “the first step to recovery is to acknowledge that you have a problem”. Well, I had a problem with my own self-image and being in a professional environment exacerbated the problem. I then began to explore why this identity issue may have arisen. Could it be that I’d been receiving messaging that I was less than? Hmmm, maybe this wasn’t just about me. Yes, my personal experiences played a role in my path, but maybe, just maybe, there were macro forces at work that influenced how I felt about my hair. Of course!
I felt like I was in a scene from the movie “The Matrix” by Warner Brothers Pictures. What? Bear with me. In that movie, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) recognizes that he is in fact in a world under the control of forces he’d previously not noticed. Then, he “awakens” and fights against the control of these external forces. The thing is, I was fighting against external NEGATIVE IDENTITY forces that had slithered their way into my own thoughts! I know that sounds creepy and I mean it that way.
I was feeling so on edge about my appearance that it became quite time-consuming: make sure your twists are tight and your edges are smoothed; it’s raining outside, do NOT wear a twist out to work and definitely not to the client site; keep gel and a toothbrush in your bag for quick bathroom touch-ups, etc., etc.. Don’t get me wrong, personal grooming is important to me. However, I was basically engaging in a covert cosmetic mission: keep the naps out of sight at all cost! What a waste of time and energy! Given that other women have confided in me that they’ve also engaged in such activities, I can only imagine the loss of mental energy and productivity in the workplace. When people feel that they have to constantly strive to attain an image that is not naturally attainable, such striving cannot lead to their best performance at work or in life.
Something to think about for employees and employers.
“You should really reflect how the client’s top executives look.”Say what?!I was taken aback by the comment because I was dressed beautifully in a tailored suit and donned a cute natural hair style.At the time, I was working as a management consultant on a work project in one of the largest private firms in the United States.The comment came from one of my project leaders.How do you react to such a comment?Perhaps she was referring to the fact that I was wearing a red suit?Or, was she talking about my hair? That is one of the challenges of being in a society where your beauty is often devalued:you don’t know if such comments were intended to be personal and related to immutable characteristics (e.g., YOU need to have straight, long hair) or general and related to things that you can change (e.g., NO ONE should ever wear a red suit).As our conversation continued, I picked my mouth up off of the floor and realized that her comments did in fact seem to be about my hair.Wow.I took a deep breath and weighed the thoughts whirling in my mind.Should I blast her?Should I say nothing?For those who know me in a professional setting, you know that I picked a diplomatic way, but direct way, to let her know that I thought her comments were ridiculous.I said, “Wow, that’s a…different perspective.What if we were working at Black Entertainment Television?Would you be willing to shave your head and wear a short hairstyle a la Robert Johnson?”A blank stare greeted my gaze.That was the end of that. Well, at least she didn’t say anything else. But, I’m not so naive to think that her authentic beliefs were changed as a result of our exchange.
Was this a one-off situation?I think not.The article in this link suggests that other Black women have been and will be subjected to insensitive comments about their hair in the workplace:http://ybpguide.com/2007/09/02/natural-black-hair-not-glamorous/.The picture of the beautiful, professional Black woman was copied from the same article.
What do you think?How would you have responded to my situation?To what occurred in the article?Have you experienced such behavior in the workplace?How did you react?To those who are non-Black, how would you have responded if you witnessed this situation?