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Photo Series Asks, ‘What if Black Women Didn’t Have to Change and Conform to Get a Job?’

Avatar • Oct 9, 2015

Photographer Ednia Beal, who also is the brains behind the series “Can I Touch It” in which white women were photographed with traditional black hairstyles for corporate portraits has debuted a new series of photos entitled “Am I What You’re Looking For”

Beal elaborates on the inspiration behind the project on her website:

The photographic series, “Am I What You’re Looking For?” captures young minority women between the worlds of identity and conformity. Many of the women are college students who have not started their careers, yet have heard of the obstacles with being accepted that women of color face in traditional corporate America.
 
These “transitional” photographs were taken in the home where the women grew up. They were asked to wear their “ideal” business professional attire, hairstyle and pose in front of a typical office backdrop. The women are asked to practice their performance like a mock interview. “I want you to pretend you’re waiting for your interview, how would you feel?” In that moment of contemplation, the camera snaps and their thoughts are revealed. Some of the women are uncertain, while others gaze directly into the camera with confidence. Although each woman presents a different attitude towards the question, the emotional range depicted reflects the feelings one may have in the office space. Can I be my true self without being judged? Ironically, these young, educated, minority women are in their authentic environments where they should feel comfortable. Yet, like many individuals confronted with the illusion of acceptance, they must ask, “Am I What You’re Looking For?”
 

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Beal, who is now an art professor at Winston-Salem State University explains her project echoed the concerns of many black students who are attempting to enter the work force:

My students were coming to me, and they were like, listen, Professor Beal, I went on a job interview and they told me that my hair was unkempt. Or they told me I needed to change how I looked,” she recalled. “Your heels are too high, your skirt is too short, your earrings are too long. This is the advice they’re given, and this is the advice I was given.”

The corporate backdrop used in the photo series is the Yale IT office, Beal’s first corporate workspace.
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What are your thoughts on the photo series?

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About Rinny

Texan by birth, Los Angeleno by situation. Lover of Tame Impala and Shoegaze music. Comedian by trade. Macaroni and Cheese connoisseur by appetite.

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Amelia Wiggins
Amelia Wiggins
5 years ago

For most of the young ladies in this series, I would be more concerned with their “business professional attire” than their hair.

adicadabra
adicadabra
5 years ago

I think they look fine, although some are showing more skin than would probably be considered acceptable in a professional business setting; and the heels in the fifth picture don’t look professional. I think it’s just common sense. If you work in an office, dress like you work in an office, not like you’re going to the club. And that goes for anyone in such a setting, not just black women.

Angiemama=samboandvisaversa
Angiemama=samboandvisaversa
5 years ago

I know I have stories for days. I know that our people can be very judgmental. I would hear constantly women speaking in regards to my hair shamefully amongst one another in their downtime. I feel like we already have the world against us. Unfortunately wearing your hair a certain way can get you harass, discipline by an employer or not even hired. I say be yourself. If it’s not meant for you to have the position then so be it and if you are being harass at your job take legal actions.

Chrystani
5 years ago

I love those fros in the work place. Hair is natural, it grows out of our heads, it shouldn’t have to be altered besides being clean. But. I think there needs to be a sort of business clothing standard. Liiiike club wear fancy is not the same as office fancy. Snake skin platform heels are not the same dressy as a work heel. Its not all these women’s fault, there should be some type of workers etiquette being taught. Or maybe veteran black women from corporations mentoring these young ladies. Most of these looks are well put together, but one… Read more »

Robin
Robin
5 years ago

Three things grabbed my attention in each photo. 1. Body language and facial expression. A couple of these young women look so unsure and self-conscious, it breaks my heart a little. Example: in the first photo, the woman’s holding her arms and hands up around and in front of her bare midriff. It’s that familiar body language that sometimes happens on a subconscious level, where folks second guess their abilities, clothing choices, etc. The emotional range I get from these isn’t so much “can I be my true self without being judged”—which to me implies not conforming at all. Instead, I… Read more »

Youngin girl
Youngin girl
5 years ago

Yes there are many professional natural hairstyles. The only thing your hair should be expected of is not all over your face where we can’t see whether your eyes are blinking? Jobs should be focused on presentation and clothing, not hair. My counselor told me I can leave my hair down for my interview because it’s not that long.

Reina Benoir
Reina Benoir
5 years ago
Reply to  Youngin girl

So if it were longer you wouldn’t be albe to wear it out? I’m not sure I understand what it is your counselor is saying vis a vis your hair. Because in theory the women with the voluminous afros do not have their hair in their faces and you can see their eyes. However, I suspect that there are a lot of places that would have something negative to say about their hair.

Wendolyn Davis
Wendolyn Davis
5 years ago

I’m not sure I understand what these photos convey. I also think that it is rather assumptive that black women are the only ones who would like to dress like this in the workplace and that we as black women are the only ones altering attire, hair, and makeup to conform to workplace culture and increase employability.

Nichole
Nichole
5 years ago

While I am okay with the hair choices for the most part, the attire is not business or professional. A part of me wants to say it is common sense to NOT wear a crop top or tight fitting clothing to a work setting. The rule of thumb should be: if you can wear this to the club, then just maybe it isn’t work appropriate? But back to the hair component: typically when I wear braids, I bun it or wear it in a ponytail for work. Conforming? Perhaps.

AfroCapricornette
AfroCapricornette
5 years ago

I think only 2 outfits there could be worn to an interview regardless of the race of the women wearing them. Some skirts and dresses were too short and heels too high, especially for a corporate setting and not a high fashion
magazine. Some of those, I’ve worn to social events/lounges NEVER interviews. Even my hair is put up or in braids. Wearing a huge 70s fro, no matter how gorgeous, will be frowned on. Same with odd hair colours and cuts regardless of race

It’s all about gauging the company culture. Always err on the side of caution.

Patricia
Patricia
5 years ago

im not going to talk badly about them bc i was raised by a mother who is a legal secretary and editor and worked in law firms so she taught me the dress rules. its basically “churchy” without the floral prints and gold bling if that makes sense. i would recommend these young ladies take a trip downtown and just observe how corporate america dresses and go shopping and imitate until they get the hang of it all. the world does judge outward appearance so you gotta be ready to dress the part.

SantanaNyla-aka-Dawn
SantanaNyla-aka-Dawn
5 years ago

Men can’t wear beards at certain jobs so one should consider the type of workplace before signing on.…..

Jack
Jack
5 years ago

There’s a basic/general dress code (corporate, conservative) that many, many jobs follow. If these women considered the type of workplace they wouldn’t work anywhere. I feel like many corporate jobs follow the same basic dress code.

Neema
Neema
5 years ago

This photo series was a really beautiful idea and I hope that it helps us talk more about this really important issue. I support individuality but a professional work environment comes with rules and an ingrained culture. Before you start of in your respective career learn about the environment, rules and corporate culture. Remember you’re walking in as a blank canvas so people will mostly judge you on your appearance, body language and tone. Companies essentially look for people who will ‘fit in’. First Impressions are really, really important in an interview situation. The best thing these young ladies can… Read more »

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

Really? That lady has her stomach out. I don’t think having to cover your stomach is asking you to change who you are.

Monica
Monica
5 years ago

Reading the comments, I feel like many of you either didn’t read what the photographer requested of the ladies, or you didn’t understand. The photographer asked the ladies to wear THEIR ideal business professional attire and hairstyle. She did not ask them to wear the American ideal business professional attire, nor did she ask them to wear what they actually would wear to an interview. The whole purpose of this photo series is to present what each of these women would ideally look like at an interview if THEY set the standard, and if they were allowed to be themselves… Read more »

Judy
Judy
5 years ago

I would disagree with you, London. I love channeling Olivia Pope and her style when I go into the office in my corporate business attire — I think it’s entirely dependent on the person you are and the environment in which you work.

jazzythoughts
jazzythoughts
5 years ago

I remember I took a free seminar class at the YWCA in Manhattan years ago and we had a guest speaker from Human/Civil Rights Department she explained legal questions that employers can ask potential employees and gave example of illegal or inappropriate questions. Also we were taken to Sak Fifth Avenue and given opportunity to try on beautifully tailored skirt or pant suits of our choice within the parameters of Corporate appropriateness-small earrings-less is best for corporate-neutral makeup-Unless you are going for Artistic type positions where there is more freedom to express oneself through attire-although initially the first interview may… Read more »

drenie beans
drenie beans
4 years ago

According to what i have been taught, only one outfit would be considered appropriate …the black dress with the blue blazer. For interviews the idea is not to be fashionable or have sex appeal but to wear tailed color neutral clothing.

ss (short & sweet)
ss (short & sweet)
4 years ago

In my industry the only color I’d wear to a job interview is pinstriped blue, but all of the models are dressed appropriately for an employee in a business setting. The article does not specify the types of business, but there are workplaces (music, art, advertising) whose cultures would even embrace the cut-out dress! I think all of the models in this photo series look fantastic. The first hurdle is getting your foot in the door, the outfit is just a “frame” to highlight the artistry (that’s you).

Thank you for posting this article!

London
London
5 years ago

I agree with you Monica. Most people commenting seemed to miss the point of the shoot. However, I challenge the underlying idea that black women conform to any greater standard than anyone else. Hardly anyone feels formal business wear reflects who they are. Everyone, including white males are conforming to a uniform (similar to a pilot or a doctor). I work in a formal business environment and no women regardless of race enjoys the look. Some men do but only in the way a nurse might like wearing a nursing uniform etc

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