I am very selective when taking on issues of race on my blog. I think that it is a very tired argument to be having in 2013, however I do recognize that issues do exist. Being a former corporate slave, I can relate a million times over to feelings of of trying to fit in and toiling over conformity. As a society, we have come to recognize the acceptable corporate look as this one dimensional, standardized, “in the box”, physical manifestation of some ideal. No tea no shade, we’ve adopted this standardized image of a white collared white man as the rule for what men and women alike should look like in a corporate setting. Often timess, for reasons far beyond our control, minorities have difficult time conforming to to these standards. Physically, many of us just aren’t able to. The few modifications we can make to our physical appearance to to conform to these standards lend themselves to high anxiety and a heightened self consciousness in the workplace.
In the words of India Arie, “I am not my hair.” This project forced viewers to reexamine all they’ve come to know. The most compelling aspect of the photos is not necessarily the physical discrepancy between a white woman and her black hair, but all of the complex histories, assumptions, silences and transformations that make such a discrepancy so apparent to the viewer. Catch these T’s when Becky becomes Tanisha.
For a photo series entitled “Can I Touch It?” Beal approached white women in their forties — some colleagues, others strangers — and gave them a hairstyle typically seen on black women. After the makeover, the revamped women posed in corporate portraits, suits and all, donning their corn rows, braids and finger curls. The resulting images offer a striking juxtaposition of the women’s demure button-ups and pearls and their intricate, seemingly out-of-place coifs. ~ Huffington Post
What inspired you to do embark upon “Can I Touch It?”
I recently graduated from Yale with a masters in Fine Art and while I was there I was interning at the IT department. I am 5’10″ and I have a big, red afro. And most of the office was men. White men. A friend of mine told me the men in the office were interested in my hair, kind of fascinated by it. So I set up two cameras in the middle office space and allowed them to touch my hair. Only, I didn’t want them to touch it, I wanted them to pull it. A lot of the men were white and it was the first time they had ever touched a black woman’s hair.
A week later I interviewed the men and asked them how they felt about touching my hair, if they liked it. Participating in this project was very new for a lot of them and made them feel — weird. ~Huffington Post
And what about the photos?
After that experience I shared it with a few of my colleagues and many people could relate to feeling other within the corporate space. I was trying to think of a way to take it to another level, while dealing with the issue of performativity in the corporate space. So many minority women have had to change the way they look to fit in in a corporate space. I approached colleagues and other women who were recommended to me, and they allowed me to change their look and give them a new hairstyle. With this project I want to explore the corporate space and how women feel within that space. This idea of performativity crosses racial lines, gender lines and generational lines — people literally change themselves to fit in certain environments. ~Huffington Post
How did the women respond to the project?
I came in with a certain perception. I thought these women would not be able to relate to a 28-year-old black woman in the corporate world, but the response was amazing. So many women had similar stories. One woman, whose name was Desiree, told me her employers once asked her to change her name, because it was inappropriate. Another woman had her boss tell her that her hair wasn’t appropriate for the boardroom and asked if she could send a representative in her place. It’s not just a minority thing. It’s a woman thing. All women can relate to that experience in some way. So I really learned something through this project as well.