You know how we’re told at a young age that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes? Forget it. There’s still a bias against “natural” hair, specifically, the textured hair of women of color. NPR reports, “The ‘Good Hair Study’ asked over 4,000 participants to take an online IAT, or implicit association test, which involves rapidly-changing photos of black women with smooth and natural hair, and rotating word associations with both. According to the study, ‘a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their hair.’ But the results also indicate that this bias is learned behavior, and can be unlearned.”
The article continues with the findings that “White women demonstrate the strongest bias–both explicit and implicit–against textured hair.” They rated it as ‘less beautiful,’ ‘less sexy/attractive’ and ‘less professional than smooth hair.’ However, white women who are in contact with black women naturalistas demonstrated lower levels of bias.”
A correlation is made between this information and that many female managers decide what looks are “appropriate for work.” This adds pressure to women of color to “soften” their image and, consequently, straighten their hair. “Given that white women make up a large majority of the 38 percent of female managers who decide what looks are appropriate for work, legal conflicts sometimes ensue. And courts tend to rule in favor of employers in such cases.”
Granted, people can find different variations of physical appearance acceptable. A lot of people don’t like tattoos. A lot of people like tattoos. A lot of people don’t prefer short hair. A lot of people prefer short hair. The key is to identify whether your bias is rooted in invalid assumptions or perceptions about the identity of that person. This is something that needs to be addressed and unworked as we move to celebrate a culturally diverse society that recognizes all the representations of genetics and culture.
Test yourself at Perception Institute’s Hair IAT and think about it.