First apologies for the lack of posts the past few weeks. Vacations, busy schedules etc. left me no time for my bi-weekly musings. I’ve missed my blog! But I think I’m back on track now.
I am about to share a true story of an incident that occurred recently when a junior Glamour magazine fashion editor decided to give a talk to a group of lawyers about corporate fashion do’s and don’ts and essentially didn’t know what she was talking about. The incident underscores the importance of celebrating diversity in all its forms and more importantly, highlights that we all need to be careful about making generalized statements ESPECIALLY when they target a particular ethnic, gender, cultural or other demographic group.
As Vivia Chen reports on the August 27th issue of The American Lawyer, the lawyers at Cleary Gottlieb & Hamilton invited an editor from Glamour magazine to give a talk to their lawyers about corporate do’s and don’ts. The editor commenced her discussion by showing a slide with an African American woman wearing an Afro and proclaiming this was a no no. As Chen reports, "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." Of course the 10 African American women present were offended as I would have been. Since when is a choice of hairstyle a political statement?
According to Chen, "Soon after the event, Walker (a managing partner at the law firm) 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?"
In true professional form, Cindi Leive, editor in chief of Glamour magazine responded to the article and officially apologized on behalf of the junior fashion editor and asserting that her views did not reflect the views of the magazine and that, "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. " Good going Glamour!
Personally I find this type of situation appalling in this day and age where you would think on certain racial issues that we made real strides as a country. The black "hair" issue is SO old, and we’re still talking about it? In a time when the myriad hair styles and options available to ALL women are so prevalent? It just goes to show these issues and others are very much alive and well in our culture and it takes just one unguarded moment, or one person who goes unchecked to bring up these issues all over again.
I care about this not just as a black woman but as an image consultant. And in my role as an image consultant, I would NEVER undermine anyone’s pride in their culture or heritage however that chooses to show up. One of my client is Indian and works in Corporate America and for her baring her arms and legs in any setting is a no no. She wears pants suits, never skirt suits to work. She will never be caught dead in a top without a sleeve. This is part of her cultural heritage and it is my duty to respect that and work within the realm of what is acceptable for her. And this goes for every individual. I believe in celebrating diversity in all its forms and I am blessed that I get to work with clients of all hues and of different cultures. Any type of cookie cutter approach when dealing with image issues simply does not cut it. (pun intended).
Natalie Jobity, Élan Image Management