Discrimination against natural hair exists. I’ve had clients whose supervisors made comments like their hair would look better straight or they should put it into a ponytail to look more professional.
There are stigmas attached to natural hair. People often misinterpret natural hair, thinking it’s a statement that the wearer is radical, rebellious, political or militant. Hair is usually just a form of self-expression.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Jolivette, a student in Walden University’s PhD in Psychology program. She is a hairstylist who specializes in working with curly hair, particularly Black hair. Her research at Walden examines the psychological roots of biases and discrimination against natural hair, and how those biases affect members of the Black community and other communities of color.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit of your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was born in Korea. My family traveled around the United States before finally settling down in Texas. My mother is Korean and my dad is African American. As a biracial child, I had a different hair texture compared to everyone else in the family. No one knew how to do my hair, and it was a struggle for my family and me. I went to the beauty shop on special occasions, but even the stylists there did not know how to do my hair. As soon as I was able to do my own hair, around the age of 8, I no longer let anyone else style it. Later in life, with the encouragement of my mother, I went to cosmetology school.
Can you tell us a story about what inspired you to become a natural hair advocate?
I have been in the hair industry for more than 20 years and I have embraced the natural hair movement for the past 15 years. I have many natural hair clients from all over the world. I support, coach and educate my clients to give them confidence in wearing their natural hair. I love how this support empowers women on their natural hair journey.
My passion for this subject reached another level when I started my own natural hair journey. In the beginning, committing to my natural hair was difficult, but I am so glad I stuck with it. I realized wearing my hair naturally had a psychological impact on me. I didn’t have confidence in myself with natural hair. I found myself researching hair, learning about its anatomy and identifying the best products for each natural curl pattern. I realized natural hair exists on an incredibly broad spectrum.
As I worked toward my PhD in Clinical Psychology at Walden University, I began to research natural hair from a mental health standpoint. I found that I wasn’t the only person who has experienced psychological and mental issues surrounding natural hair in general. These issues include deeply ingrained biases against wearing and styling hair naturally. The hair industry did not generally address these issues.
I noticed the discrimination faced by people who wear natural hair. It’s hard to find stylists who are educated on and experienced in working with natural hair. Wearing your hair naturally can affect the way people perceive you at work or school. This discrimination has been going on for centuries, and I want to see it change. I have become so passionate about the subject that I decided to make it the focus of my dissertation. I’m examining the psychological roots of biases and discrimination against natural hair, and how those biases affect members of the Black community and other communities of color.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The moment I decided to go fully natural with my own hair was a turning point in my career. I noticed that my clients and I wrestled with the same struggles. We became a team, supporting each other through our natural hair journeys. I found that the more authentic I became about my hair journey, the more confident I got. I knew I wanted this confidence for my clients.
As a PhD candidate studying clinical psychology at Walden, I became aware that we were all going through some level of psychological struggle in our hair journeys. I decided to further explore this idea by doing my dissertation on the topic, “Identifying the lived experience of self-perception by African American females in wearing their hair naturally.”
As an influencer, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact, perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?
My advice to others is to let your heart be the guiding force for your professional passion. When your heart leads, no matter how hard it gets, your vision gets clearer. Respect the process, embrace the journey, and you will succeed.
Can you share three ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
A few keys to feeling beautiful are self-awareness, self-acceptance and being able to self-embrace.
- Self-awareness is being present in how you feel about yourself and choosing to honor your positive attributes. Mirror work is a great way to practice this. Stand in front of a mirror, look into your own eyes and tell yourself you are beautiful at least 50 times.
- Engage in self-acceptance by feeling the energy of the mirror work and realizing that you are beautiful and unique just the way you are.
- Finally, embrace yourself. Self-embrace is self-love. You are an original and that is what makes you a masterpiece. You must have unconditional love for yourself. Love yourself better than anyone else does, as only you can.
Can you share with our readers some of your techniques to style natural hair?
Three elements are critical to success in styling natural hair.
- Know your hair pattern. Is your hair kinky, coily, curly or wavy?
- Know your hair texture. Is your hair fine, medium or coarse?
- Know the porosity of your hair. Is it low, medium or high?
Knowing your hair is essential to guide your hair care and styling.
Can you share some of your techniques about how to best maintain natural hair?
I have a few go-to techniques to maintain my healthy and beautiful natural hair. First, I only shampoo my hair twice per week. Additionally, I use only cold water on my hair to keep in the moisture. I also use a leave-in conditioner and gel to style my hair. I have a routine that makes my natural hair journey easy and fun.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can help articulate to our readers your “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination.” If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Discrimination against natural hair exists. I’ve had clients whose supervisors made comments like their hair would look better straight or they should put it into a ponytail to look more professional.
2. There are stigmas attached to natural hair. People often misinterpret natural hair, thinking it’s a statement that the wearer is radical, rebellious, political or militant. Hair is usually just a form of self-expression.
3. Hair bias is often expressed via microaggressions. People who see natural hair as strange may engage in microaggressions. These include unwanted hair-touching or making comments about hair looking sloppy rather than professional. People who hold these biases may complain that natural hair is a distraction in the workplace. They may ask if the hair is real or if it just grows like that.
4. Natural hair bias is a type of racism. This bias has deep psychological roots in people on both sides of the issue. For example, from early childhood, African American girls and women are told they need to go to the beauty shop to get their hair “fixed.” Ideas like that leave a psychological mark on children’s minds. At the same time, children of other races who grow up in homes that look down on the Black community also have bias ingrained in their minds. The issue is pervasive in our culture.
5. It’s important to be educated and informed about hair discrimination. Look for news articles about the issue. There is not much literature on the topic, but reading about racism and anti-racism and considering natural hair in that context is a great way to learn. Talk with friends who do wear their hair naturally and get their perspectives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To thine own self be true,” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To me, these words emphasize self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love, which are three crucial components of being authentic to yourself and your truth.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. :-).
I would like to have an open meeting with Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris — the three women from the show Red Table Talk. I would use the opportunity to bring broad awareness to hair bias. I want to be part of a positive movement toward less prejudice and discrimination and more fairness when it comes to natural hair.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.