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Glamour Magazine & The Politics of Hair

©2007 National Law Journal Online
Page printed from: http://www.nlj.com

Cleary Gottlieb has a bad hair day
Vivia Chen/The American Lawyer
August 27, 2007

It seemed like a nice frothy summer treat for some hardworking gals at a hard-driving law firm. Instead of hosting another earnest discussion about client cultivation and leadership, the women lawyers group at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton invited an editor from Glamour magazine. The topic: the dos and don’ts of corporate fashion.

First slide up: an African-American woman sporting an Afro. A real no-no, announced the Glamour editor to the 40 or so lawyers in the room. As for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful! The style maven said it was “shocking” that some people still think it “appropriate” to wear those hairstyles at the office. “No offense,” she sniffed, but those “political” hairstyles really have to go.

By the time the lights flicked back on, some Cleary lawyers — particularly the 10 or so African-American women in attendance — were in a state of disbelief. “It was like she was saying you shouldn’t go out with your natural hair, and if you do, you’re making a political statement,” says one African-American associate. “It showed a general cluelessness about black women and their hair.”

The episode also produced a “mixed reaction” along racial lines, says this associate. “Some [whites] didn’t understand what the big deal was … but all the black associates saw the controversy.”

Cleary Gottlieb’s managing partner, Mark Walker, who heard about the incident from some of the attendees, also saw trouble. Soon after the event, Walker issued an e-mail that denounced the hair commentary as “racially insensitive, inappropriate, and wrong.” Calling the beauty advice “appalling,” Walker says, “You don’t tell people that their physical appearance is unacceptable, when certain characteristics are associated with a racial group.” He asks, “What’s the alternative? Straighten or bleach your hair?”

As for the identity of the editor, neither Cleary Gottlieb nor Condé Nast Publications Inc. (publisher of Glamour) would say. Indeed, almost all of the half-dozen Glamour editors contacted for this story professed not to have ever set foot in a law firm. “Cleary what?” asked several.

And Walker says he has no idea whether the editor who sparked all this controversy is a well-known fashionista. Not that Walker would know, even if Anna Wintour herself crossed his path. “Who is she?” Walker asks. “I really don’t know people in the fashion industry.” (If you have to ask, she’s the editor of Vogue.)

So did the Glamour editor realize how many feathers she ruffled? Walker says that the speaker was “spoken to by one of the women partners” and that she sent an e-mail apology. “I assume she was oblivious; I doubt she’s racist,” says Walker. “She wasn’t thinking and said something hare-brained.”

Or is that hair-brained?

Glamour Magazine editor responds

I read your post about a Glamour editor’s comments on hairstyles for work, and I’d like to share with you our thoughts. First, we regret the comments were made. The employee — a junior staffer, not a beauty editor — spoke to a small group of lawyers at a private luncheon without her supervisor’s knowledge or approval, and her comment — that afros are not work appropriate — does not represent Glamour’s point of view.

Secondly, immediately upon learning of it, we sought to rectify the situation. The editor has been dealt with in a very serious manner, and the entire staff has been reminded of the magazine’s policies and procedures for making public appearances.

Glamour is proud of its diverse readership and celebrates the beauty of ALL women. We have responded directly and openly with readers to assure them of this fact. We have also apologized to the law firm, and we extend the same apology to you.

Cindi Leive
Editor-in-Chief of Glamour

Is there any wonder why black women have a fucked-up relationship with their hair? Let’s see if I can get this straight (pardon the pun). If I fry my hair or put lye-based chemicals in it in order to achieve a straightness inconsistent with my ethnic heritage, then I am doing the right thing. Yet if I enjoy my hair in its natural, kinky state, then I’m making a political statement…and that is so 1980s!

Well you know what? I’ve suffered way too much over the years trying to make my hair do something that it just isn’t meant to do. I’m nappy, I’m loc’ed and I’m proud. Deal with it! And fuck you, Glamour Magazine.

(Whoops, I guess I just went political again…)


12 Responses to “Glamour Magazine & The Politics of Hair”

  1. Flicka says:

    Snort. I’d like to say that Glamour has just lost my subscription but I’ve never been interested in the publication to start with. Looks like I haven’t been missing much. Wear your hair prouldy, Liana, like the woman you are.

  2. lynn says:

    Whether a Black woman wants to straighten her hair or wear it natural is a very personal choice. I have done both. Women are always evolving and so therefore our looks change too. My sister was loc’ed for 5 years and due to a financial change, she decided she couldn’t keep them. She should have asked me because there was an alternative for keeping her locs. I think any hair style is fine as long as it is clean and well groomed and that goes for locs, braids, cornrolls, naturals or processed hair. Good grief, Liana when I was reading this all I could see was a big sign flashing “Good Hair”. I can’t believe Glamour hasn’t moved beyond this stereotype idea.

  3. Julie says:

    Not that I’m a fashion diva (far from it), I’d kill to have your beautiful hair! That junior editor is an asshat.

  4. Yolanda says:

    So well said! Zara is very lucky to have a Mommy that can share with her the natural beauty of black women. Part of the reason I went natural 6 years ago is that I wanted my children to know their hair is perfectly beautiful just the way it is. I spent so much time in my life trying to make my hair appeal to others, its wonderful to finally enjoy it without the relaxer damage and baggage.

  5. moo says:

    Well said. Especially your final point.

  6. Louise says:

    Well said!

    And I would hate to hear what Glamour would say about my current hair! :-)
    Does anyone still subscribe to them anyway? Grr!

  7. Neko says:

    I finally stopped putting a perm in my hair; finally realized my natural hair is beautiful and now I read this crap. Fuck Glamour.

  8. Gabrielle says:

    Very well said. I don’t even read Glamour because they have nothing to say to women that arent white. When is the world going to realize and appreciate diversity?

  9. DeAnna says:

    ARRGH! — although I’ve never been a Glamour fan myself. So what about us white women who have frizzy, kinky, curly hair — what kind of statement am I making – I guess that I just don’t have good hair. :) Joking aside, I do realize there is a difference and is just based on a racist prejudice. I worry about this for my Amelia, I absolutely love her hair — although she is only 18 months, I see so many little babies her age with braids and even that I don’t want to do right now. Not because I can’t or won’t learn — I just LOVE her hair. But I know that others don’t feel this way, I had one lady ask me “Do you think her curls will ‘loosen’ and be like Isabella’s?” I guess she didn’t agree that Amelia’s hair is gorgeous. I wanted to say “Isabella is hispanic/asian – Amelia is african american/puerto rican — what do you think?”, but I just said “I hope not, I love it.” I really hope she will feel the same way about herself and I hope this crazy world would get that before she is older, but I’m assuming it won’t. I hope that as a white woman I can raise my african american daughter and hispanic daughter to see just how beautiful they are and forget about the stupid way this world continues to think.

  10. christine says:

    I have always loved natural dreds, in fact, I am jealous that I can’t have dreds.

    I hate that there is a rule that AA women on television have to have straightened hair (whether it’s an official or unspoken rule, I’m not sure, but it exits.)

  11. classyd78 says:

    I don’t by Glamour mag, and it’s safe to say I never will. They rarely have natural ethnic women on the cover of their magazines.So that tells me alot about the content inside.(It probably won’t help me enhance my beauty). When are these companies going to understand diversity is the key to success and if they don’t embrace it like other companies they will not continue to grow. White supremacy will not last forever as America is changing and it’s success will soon depend on multi cultures and not just white.

    Funny they said it was a “junior staffer” speaking before the lawyers. Whatever! It doesn’t matter,they will suffer a huge loss in their sales because of her conduct. I guess now they will be more selective about the type of people they employ and really enforce diversity policies in their organization.

  12. classyd78 says:

    I don’t buy Glamour mag, and it’s safe to say I never will. They rarely have natural ethnic women on the cover of their magazines.So that tells me alot about the content inside.(It probably won’t help me enhance my beauty). When are these companies going to understand diversity is the key to success and if they don’t embrace it like other companies they will not continue to grow? White supremacy will not last forever as many us are tired of conforming to what they believe is beautiful.
    Funny they said it was a “junior staffer” speaking before the lawyers. Whatever! It doesn’t matter,they will suffer a huge loss in their sales because of her conduct. I guess now they will be more selective about the type of people they employ and really enforce diversity policies in their organization.

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