Pressure to maintain ‘perfect’ hair comes at a higher cost for some more than others

#RealMeKC
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The purpose of FOX4’s #RealMeKC series is to embrace our natural beauty, but how many of us embrace our natural hair? We all feel the pressure to style our hair a certain way so we can be “presentable.” But that pressure comes at a higher cost for some more than others. 

Hair takes a lot of time and money to maintain – especially if you’re trying to keep up with the new ideal.

“There’s a wide variety of hair types, and some people have that loose hair curl pattern, but a lot of women don’t, and they go through hours and hours of hair treatment to try to mimic that,” Salome Wilfred, a third-year doctoral student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said.

She adds that the price that Black women pay for their hair extends outside the salon.

“There’s research that shows women, Black women specifically, experience high levels of anxiety because of it when working in a workplace with mostly white women,” she said. 

That anxiety and pressure to fit in with the white-dominant culture can start at an early age. Aja James says she felt it starting in middle school.

“I went to school with a bunch of people with straight hair. Everyone had the same hair style, and I wanted it. And I think I asked my mom if I could start dyeing my hair because I wanted my hair lighter. Thank God she said no,” James said.  

What starts in adolescence lasts well into adulthood. A study by dove found that 90% of African American women felt they needed to switch their hairstyle to something more conservative in order to fit in at work. It’s something Kendra Parks, the owner of Crown of Glory Salon, says she hears from clients all the time.

“You don’t hear stories about Caucasian people having issues about how they’re wearing their hair. And I have clients that talk about how they have to look a certain way in corporate America. ‘My hair has to be straight or a little wavy’ so we look the part,” Parks said. 

And those concerns are valid. In 2017, a court ruled against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying it was legal for one company to not hire someone because of their dreadlocks, something that Parks finds infuriating.

“It makes me extremely upset, because like I said before, my hairstyle and how I wear my hair, it doesn’t determine if I’m capable of doing a job,” Parks said.

A new campaign is pushing for change. “The Crown Act” is a law that prohibits discrimination based on hair, hair texture and protective hairstyles tied to race like braids, locks and twists. The Kansas City, Missouri City Council passed it unanimously in October.

“I think it will have a great impact. And I think it’s important to know it’s not women, it’s for men. And not only in corporate America, but in the school system, too, and recreational sports,” Parks said.

“It shouldn’t be this traumatic experience to have to change your hair style in order to conform to old societal norms. We’re evolving. And The Crown Act, it’s huge. It’s bigger than I can even put into words,” James said.

The crown act is not yet a law in Missouri or Kansas, but the legislation has been filed.  

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