The COVID-19 pandemic has deprived us of so many things we usually take for granted — like a trip to the salon to get our hair done. For many women, it’s completely changed their relationship with their hair, whether it means embracing their gray or switching up their hair products. And for Black women, it’s part of a natural hair revolution, with TV reporters at the helm.
This revolution has been going on for years, however — and has been a long time coming. Credit also goes to the Crown Act, a California law ratified in summer 2019 that prohibits discrimination in schools and workplaces based on hair style and texture. Following California’s example, New York and New Jersey soon followed suit, and cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio, also banned this type of discrimination. Other states and cities have laws pending. This all makes it easier for women to wear natural styles without fear of punishment.
After Cleveland, Ohio, news anchors Sia Nyorkor (Cleveland 19), Romney Smith (3News) and Amanda VanAllen (News 5 Cleveland, which is owned by Simplemost’s parent company, E.W. Scripps) appeared on TV recently wearing their natural hair, Nyorkor wrote on Twitter, “Ladies, I think we made history this morning.”
Ladies, I think we made history this morning in Cleveland: 3 African-American women anchoring the news wearing our natural hair. Love you @RomneySmith & @VanAllenNews 😍😍😍 #NaturalHairOnAir #NaturalHair #TVNews #ThisIsCle pic.twitter.com/kfK5yEHkMD
— Sia Nyorkor🌟🎥🎞🎙📺 (@TVNewsLady) June 6, 2020
For on-air TV reporters, the struggle has been even more real, thanks to the fact that they must please not just employers, but viewing audiences. Nyorkor, a chapter director and board member for the National Association of Black Journalists, spoke to Yahoo Life about the high standards of appearance that have been placed on all on-air female reporters for decades.
“We have image requirements. So, typically, the way you’re hired in is usually the way they’d like you to be on the air,” she said. “Back in the day if I was hired with straight hair, it would be jarring if all of a sudden I pop up with braids or with curls one day. You’re supposed to remain consistent, that was what we were always taught in journalism school and that’s what the managers always told us. You have to be consistent, stick with one look.”
But the pressure is highest for Black women. Dove, the soap brand, conducted a recent survey that found that Black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet work expectations and that Black women are the subject of formal grooming policies at a much higher rate than white women. What’s more, natural Black hairstyles were ranked lowest in perceptions of “job-readiness.” Yet, even when Black women and white women wore the same hairstyles, white women were judged to be 25% higher in “job-readiness.” Today, these perceptions are finally being challenged.
ABC 7 Chicago news reporter Samantha Chapman was among the women who shared her natural hair on Twitter.
— Samantha Chatman (@SamChatmanABC7) June 11, 2020
KCTV5 News reporter Kaci Jones also shared her experience of the extraordinary pressure put on Black female reporters.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always been expected to maintain a ‘professional image.’ But who defines professional? I’ve been told to be careful not to wear lipstick that could be distracting. But who defines distracting?” she told Yahoo Life. “Because of the ambiguity, most of the industry defaults to lightly layered straight hair, a bold, solid-colored dress and a full face of makeup. Some people are specifically contractually bound to ask a manager before changing up anything about their appearance. We also have consultants who are hired to make suggestions about our clothes or hair based on what looks good to them on air.”
Jones shared her all-natural look on Twitter, revealing that for the first time in her career she was wearing braids on air.
“I’m so happy to be a part of an industry-wide shift challenging and refusing ‘beauty norms’ that stem from white supremacy,” she wrote in the caption. “Thank you to all the women who came before me that encouraged me to be authentic.”
For the first time in my career I’m wearing braids on air. I’m so happy to be a part of an industry wide shift challenging and refusing “beauty norms” that stem from white supremacy. Thank you to all the women who came before me that encouraged me to be authentic❤️ pic.twitter.com/IVUBXYJhe0
— Kaci Jones (@KaciONTV) June 15, 2020
West Michigan’s WOOD TV 8 reporter Dana Whyte revealed that she made the decision to fully embrace her natural hair almost two years ago, and shared “then” and “now” pictures on Twitter.
— Dana Whyte (@dwhytereports) May 10, 2020
Check out #NaturalHairOnAir on Twitter to see more Black women embracing their beautiful hair.