Gabrielle Union Was Told Her Braids Weren't Workplace Appropriate — Even For Her Fictional Character
Gabrielle Union is the queen of all hairstyles. She's rocked everything from braids and natural curls to voluminous topknots and pin straight bobs. Honestly, you just never what she'll try next — but she will always look fab. But, apparently, executives have been telling her how to wear her hair on-screen to be "respectable" — and it's not OK. In her interview with online publication Byrdie, Gabrielle Union says that she was told by executives that her braids weren't "workplace appropriate", proving that we still have a long way to go when it comes to beauty standards and racial inclusion.
Despite how many times people preach that everyone is beautiful, it doesn't change that people are still judged on their appearance — and that especially extends to black women in the workplace. In fact, according to Union, it even happens in the realm of fictitious characters.
"I was doing a project and, with the character, the producers were coming up with what they wanted to do for her hair," the actor told Byrdie. "And they were like, 'She’s beautiful, sophisticated, and professional.' I was like, 'Well, I want to wear braids.' And they were like, 'Well, I mean, she’s beautiful, sophisticated, and corporate America.' I responded, 'Yes, and specifically I want twists.' And they went on to say, 'We just really want her to look more polished.' I said, 'You all really don't understand what are we talking about here?'."
The infuriating exchange illuminates the concept of respectability politics and how it extends to the workplace for black women. Mainly, Union says, the executives were upholding the idea of whiteness as the pinnacle of "polished."
"If you get into the Eurocentric beauty ideals that the [black community] has adopted ourselves at times, it's even more maddening," she says. "We're all on our hair journey, and everyone's journey is beautiful and valid and amazing."
The bottom line is that how you choose to wear your hair doesn't make you more or less capable of doing your job. And a black woman's worth is not decided by how she wears her hair. Honestly, it's upsetting to even have to type those words to justify the point.
Union also commented on the retouching that has happened to stars like Solange Knowles and Lupita Nyong'o. Both women had their hair altered on magazine covers without their knowledge, and spoke out against what had happened.
"There's a larger conversation with people of colour when it comes to our hair and our skin colour," she told Byrdie. "People will try to lighten our skin tones and alter our hair, which says a lot of about how we feel about ourselves versus how other people feel about our blackness and textured hair.
"We need to showcase the fullness of our beauty."
Until every woman can look exactly how they want to in the workplace, and beyond, the fight for equality is not over. And Union is certainly fighting the good fight,