my beloved boss was fired, is curly hair unprofessional, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My beloved boss was fired

My company has been going through a long, drawn-out restructuring that has been very painful and anxiety-provoking. For example, we were told in December that the department I work for was going to be restructured, and are finally scheduled to hear in April what that will look like and whether we have jobs. 

The latest axe to fall is that my beloved boss was fired last week. He was literally here at 10 a.m. and gone by 10:15. I’m gutted. This man was the best boss I have ever worked for, and the company treated him like crap. I’ve heard rumors that the reason for this firing is so our VP can bring in someone she worked with at her previous company. This would be the third time she has done that.

I’m fairly new to business and I’m not sure I’m cut out for it, because my reaction to this has been extreme. I’m so depressed that getting myself to work is difficult, and once there, I can’t focus. Is this just how the world of work is? My teammates seem to be bouncing back better than I am.

Are you sure you have enough information to know that they treated him like crap? It’s pretty normal to have people leave right away when they’re fired or laid off (in part for security reasons and in part so that the people remaining can begin the process of moving forward), but good companies will give severance and sometimes other forms of support. If you know that they let him go without severance, then yeah, that’s crappy … but it’s possible that they treated him reasonably well and you’re just not privy to the details (which would make sense; you wouldn’t normally be).

Restructurings and layoffs are stressful. It’s hard to do them well. If you don’t give people notice, they’re upset they didn’t have notice. If you let them know it’s coming, they spend weeks or months being anxious about it (which sounds like it’s what’s happening in your case). But they are a thing that happens, often for good reason. It’s also not uncommon for new senior execs to want to bring in their own teams. It’s possible that your boss would have seen that coming or even was explicitly told it was coming. Or maybe not. It’s hard to know from the outside, and even from where you’re standing.

It does sound, though, like you might be taking this unusually hard. That’s understandable if this is the first time going through it, but I’d try to keep in mind that you probably don’t have all the details.

2. Is voluminous, curly hair unprofessional?

My hair is naturally thick, curly, and voluminous. I do my best to keep it in neat spirals, but every once in awhile it gets a mind of its own and starts to frizz. When this happens, I pull it back into a ponytail (even though that makes it look like I have a bush growing out of my head). I used to straighten it when I was in college, but it was very damaging and took many hours a week to maintain, so I’ve learned to live with the curls.

I am a receptionist at a university in a wealthy and conservative area. On a recent humid day, my hair began to frizz mid-day. Before I got the chance to grab a ponytail holder from my bag, I interacted with a parent who told me my hair looked unprofessional and I later found out complained to my boss about it. My boss told me this wasn’t the first time he’s gotten a complaint about my hair and asked me to do something to make it look more “normal.” I’m stumped on what to do. I don’t want to spend a ton of time or money straightening it. Updos aren’t a great option because my hair tends to be too thick for pins or clips to hold for extended periods of time. Are daily ponytails my best bet? I would love to hear if you and your readers have guidelines on professional hair or experience with this. Also, in case readers are wondering, my hair texture is not indicative of any ethnicity or culture that might get my boss in hot water for his “normal” hair comment. I am a pale white girl from the southern U.S.

People are complaining to your boss about your hair? And a parent even complained to your face about it? Unless your hair is a crazed rat’s nest, this is ridiculous.

You have voluminous hair. That’s how your hair is. As long as you’re keeping it reasonably well groomed, a little bit of frizz is not offensive or unprofessional. You certainly don’t need to straighten it!

The one thing I’ll note is that you didn’t say how long your hair is. It’s true that long hair — whether curly or straight — sometimes does look more professionally polished when it’s pulled back, and ponytails are a good option for that. If you’re working around people who are the type of complain about other people’s hair (and apparently you are) and you feel like you need to mollify them, ponytails might be your answer.

But truly, if your boss makes any more comments about “normal” hair, it’s reasonable to point out that this is your normal hair.

3. Telling my new boss about a chronic medical condition

I’m wondering when the right time is to tell a new boss about a chronic medical condition. I was offered a job last week (yay!) and accepted. I start in a couple weeks. However, it has occurred to me that I need to let my new boss know that I sometimes have medical issues.

I don’t need any special accommodations and it doesn’t affect the quality of my work or my ability to work, but when the condition flares up I usually find myself needing to work from home for a day or two until things calm down again.

I doubt this will be an issue because the company is known for being very flexible and they openly encourage telecommuting and whatnot, but I do want to be very upfront and transparent about it, and let my boss know as soon as possible. How would I approach such a thing?

At some point during your first week, ask your boss a bit more about how telecommuting works — how often do most people on your team do it, does she prefer that it’s scheduled in advance, etc. Then, assuming that her answer does indicate that they’re as flexible about it as you expect, say something like this: “I have a medical condition that sometimes flares up and when that happens, it’s much easier for me to work from home for a day or two. It doesn’t happen often — usually it’s about once every two months (or fill in with whatever is accurate) and it doesn’t impact my productivity. It sounds like that won’t be a problem, but I wanted to mention it to you ahead of time.”

4. Working with a traumatized volunteer

I work in a small nonprofit organization of 10 people. We are all one- or two-man shows in our departments. We have a new volunteer coming in today, and it is about this individual, Sansa, a young woman and recent graduate, who I’m writing to you about.

I first met her yesterday, when she was being shown around the office by my colleague. We exchanged only a few words and greetings, but my impression of her was that she was someone who had very recently undergone a severely traumatic experience, and was broken as a result. This was later confirmed in a group text to that effect by that colleague, informing us all that Sansa would be coming in as a volunteer, introducing her as a philosophy graduate and writer, as well as mentioning that “she had a traumatic experience while overseas and her helping out here is a form of therapy for her.”

Because of Sansa’s skills, it has been heavily implied that I am the one she’ll be working with most closely. The problem is that I’m a young man – which I’m pretty sure would mean discomfort for her at best and a trigger at worst. Do you have any tips on how I can best handle this? My initial thought is to just handle her like how I would any other volunteer, but I would definitely welcome other voices of experience, wisdom and advice.

They’re handling this oddly. Certainly they shouldn’t share details of Sansa’s trauma without her okay, but it’s not especially helpful to say what they said without providing any additional guidance about what that might mean for you and how you work with her.

In any case, I think you could go back to your colleague now and ask for guidance about whether you should do anything differently with Sansa than you would with any other volunteer. But otherwise, yes, I would work with her like you would with anyone else. (I also wouldn’t assume that being a young man will make her uncomfortable. It’s certainly a possibility and it’s good to be sensitive to that, but that’s not necessarily the case so don’t take it as a given!)

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Should I send a movie recommendation to a recruiter?

I spoke to a recruiter at a job fair and don’t think I made that much of an impression. Indeed, it’s hard to make an impression when there are many other candidates who have stopped by with the same intention – to get a job. He gave out his email to contact him about a particular position that I would possibly be a good fit for but it seemed like he was giving out his email to everybody, so nothing special.

As I do with everybody I meet, I check them out on LinkedIn to see if we have any mutual contacts or just to gauge their personalities. On the recruiter’s profile, there was a request for movie recommendation. Out of the ordinary request on LinkedIn, but there it was.

What I’m wondering is, should I mention the movie recommendation in the cover letter that I am writing to express my interest in the aforementioned position, as a way to make me stand out from others? My recommendation is actually quite spot on to the specifications that he requested and not something just anybody would know. But would it be inappropriate and expose that I was doing my due diligence in researching/stalking the recruiter on LinkedIn?

It wouldn’t be inappropriate to make it clear that you read his LinkedIn profile. (Facebook would be different, but LinkedIn is for business so it’s fine.) But giving a movie recommendation in your cover letter isn’t really going to help you stand out — standing out in this context means that something about your qualifications stands out.

And really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to include a movie recommendation in a formal cover letter; that’s not what your letter is about or the reason you’re writing to him, so it risks looking a little gimmicky or you’re trying too hard to build rapport. Instead, go for warm, friendly, and interested in the job, and focus on why you’d be great at it.

{ 744 comments… read them below }

  1. TheNotoriousMCG*

    I am one whose curly-ish hair very frequently goes into unprofessional (or maybe a better word is informal) territory, but for the opposite reason. I don’t have enough natural volume or definition in my waves for them to look like an intentional style without spending at minimum 1 hour but usually closer to 2 either diffusing and gel-ing it to be curlier or blow drying and straightening it. I generally end up putting it in a French braid straight out of the shower which I hate.

    But OP doesn’t have that problem! She has defined spirals and volume. Those look intentional and is perfectly professional. If she really wants, she can look into flexi-clips which are highly recommended by a friend of mine who has big, thick, barrel curls. They hold her hair really well and it looks very nice.

    1. MerciMe*

      I’ve found that some hair oil or curl cream can help tame my frizzies. But also, I just keep mine short enough that the Einstein hair I inevitably get (from running my hands through it while I think) can be easily retouseled into place (or close enough that no one mentions it to me!).

      Everyone’s hair is different though, so good luck finding something that works for you. Your stylist may also be able to make helpful suggestions next time you go in for a cut.

      Also, I agree that if it’s reasonably clean and unknotted, people are being oddly sensitive about this – straightened hair is not a requirement for a professional look.

        1. Chayse*

          I did notice when I lived in Northern Florida vs. the Midwest that I had a lot more frizz. I got largely under control by switching from mousse to hair gel(I used Aveda be curly) and by getting my hair cut/trimmed every 6-8 weeks. The best change I made was telling my hair stylist to stopping using thinning shears on my hair. If your hairdresser is thinning or removing bulk with shears, consider asking them to stop. It eliminated most of my frizz problem. A good, wide headband can help in a pinch too. Good Luck!

          Also, for what it’s worth, I work in a very conservative legal firm with a strict dress code and have super curly hair past my shoulders. I wear it down every day and no one has ever mentioned it.

          1. LBG*

            Absolutely no thinning shears! Those little short hairs are impossible to control. Good point.

          2. Curly Top*

            Another curly girl here. I will second the whole Aveda Be Curly line – style prep, shampoo, conditioner, hair spra. It’s not cheap, but it sure works well. It’s cut down drastically on the frizz. I can also recommend Paul Mitchell’s Super Clean sculpting gel. It’s very strong, and keeps the curl in line. I also use a good strong hairspray when I wear my hair back – I put it in a ponytail (mid-head), brush the strays back, spray liberally, and then brush over the spray. It gives it a nice sleek look. Not sure what kind of cut you have either, but consider layers which can help cut down on the bulk. The right cut can make a huge difference – make sure you find a stylist who knows and understand curly hair.

            I feel for you on a personal note, it’s disheartening to have to listen to people’s questions/opinions/insults about your hair. It’s part of you, and as long as it’s well groomed, people should just keep their mouths closed. I’m sure it’s beautiful!!

            1. Curls for days*

              My hairstylist likes to emphasize that when curls get frizzy, it’s because they need moisture. Curly hair tends to be much drier than straight hair anyways because of the shape of the actual hair itself, so she got me to start using Sebastian Professional’s Drench line. It’s fantastic.

                1. MerciMe*

                  If I forget to use hair stuff in the morning, I have sometimes used a very little hand cream instead. It works just fine.

              1. copy run start*

                +1 What solved my horrid frizzy curls was moisture.

                I found that going low/no poo and coating my hair with conditioner and leaving it in there AND then adding in a good moisturizing gel was what it took to keep my hair from frizzing terribly. Prior to that I just pulled my hair back on a daily basis. YMMV but a good haircut and then a good moisture regimen can do wonders. Unfortunately it was a 2 hour investment every morning to keep long*, so I cut it short.

                *Had to wash and then pin it up for about an hour and a half to dry before I could let it down and scrunch the gel and expect it to hold for the work day.

            2. Eye of Sauron*

              Chiming in to jump on the Aveda bandwagon. It’s the only thing that works for my curly hair. I use the dry remedy shampoo and conditioner, damage remedy oil, thickening tonic, be curly enhancer, confixer gel, and brilliant hairspray. (whew! that sounds like a lot but it’s not that bad). I’ve heard rumor that they will be bringing back the sap moss line of shampoo and conditioner.

              All curly hair is different, but for me I’ve found that I need weight and moisture to keep mine looking good. I have fat giant ringlets. If left to frizz or is combed, I get the Janis Joplin look.

              I’ve taken the approach with mine that I aim for the ‘deliberately messy’ look. Yes, I made that up, but it has appeared to work and most definitely hasn’t held me back professionally. My hair will never ever be ‘polished’ so I quit trying to make it do something that it won’t, instead working with what it wants to do naturally and it looks much better.

              If the OP trying for updos they may have to get creative with the types of clips they are using. The best one I ever used (same thick hair as described) I bought at a Renaissance Festival, it was metal and about the size (length and width) of a deck of cards, with two long pins that would go through the hair and clip butterfly style into hooks. I was devastated when I lost it because it was the only ‘barrette’ type thing that I found that would hold all of my hair comfortably.

              .. now that I’m writing this, I should check out Etsy to see if I can find something similar.

              1. einahpets*

                Unrelated: my youngest daughter (2 years old) has curly hair that she doesn’t seem to be growing out of (big ringlets)– neither my husband, nor myself, nor my daughter, nor any immediate family have the curls so I am a bit at a loss on what to do with it now that is growing out longer. (Well, my husband’s brother seems to have them but he keeps his hair super short.) I’m taking notes on you gals recommend!

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I often tell my curly-haired daughter how lucky she is that I have curly hair, because DEAR GOD my parents did not know what to do with mine! The most important thing is DO NOT brush it (I get PTSD just thinking about it). You really can’t brush the tangles out. Wash it, or get it wet (either with water or with a detangling spray), and then comb it.

                2. only acting normal*

                  Seconding the *do not brush it*. Use a tangle teaser style thing on wet hair (possibly while conditioner is in for big tangles).
                  If curls reaaaaally must have a tidy while dry, use a very wide tooth comb.
                  And never let a hairdresser use thinning sheers (my hairdresser scowls at the mere mention – if necessary there are far less damaging techniques for thinning out hair using regular scissors).

                3. Q*

                  My dad has curls, but no one in his family kept their hair that way so I had to learn by trial and error.

                  Do not brush! Try not to blow dry it, either, and if you do, use a diffuser. It will look much better if you air dry it.

                4. Triumphant Fox*

                  I echo the no brushing, but my hair is actually really fine and tangles super easily, so I have to brush it thoroughly every time I do it or it will become unmanageable. I have wavy hair that will curl on its own if I do it right. I have found that brushing my hair with a wet brush and conditioner in the shower/tub first, then drenching the hair completely works well. I like to do this with my head down and all the hair forward. I then let the hair drip until it starts to separate into a few pieces. When that happens, I scrunch each section with my hands first, establishing the ringlets. If I use product, I put it in then – usually a little curling serum (nothing too intense or my hair will look wet when dry). Then I towel dry by scrunching my hair with the towel. Then I lift my head up and let the hair fall. It helps create volume and at no point am I manipulating my hair with a brush or too intensely with my hands. I then let it air dry or use a diffuser. I never use a straight blowdrying when I’m wearing my hair curly because it will mess with the curls I’ve established.

                5. Geillis D*

                  Thirded on the no-brush rule for curls!
                  Another hard lesson learned from my younger days: please, no home haircuts unless you are a professional hair stylist. I waited until my daughter was 4 to take her to a hair salon to spare her the truly awful pictures I had at that age.
                  One last tip – condition, condition, condition, and run a wide-toothed comb through the hair while the conditioner is still in. She’s still young so her hair is fine and tangles easily, as she gets older her hair will thicken.

                  Curls are… interesting.

                6. medium of ballpoint*

                  You can also take her to a Ouidad or Deva salon when she gets older for a good cut tailored to her curls. They’ll also teach you how to work with her curls. In one of my previous cities, the Ouidad salon actually had classes for parents who didn’t have curly hair themselves and didn’t know how to work with their kids’ hair. They were pretty popular.

                7. ContentWrangler*

                  It really makes such a difference if you go to a hair stylist who specializes in cutting curly hair. If anyone ever tries to cut your daughter’s hair while it’s wet (and thus, straight), they have no idea what they’re doing.

                8. Rusty Shackelford*

                  @Triumphant Fox:

                  I echo the no brushing, but my hair is actually really fine and tangles super easily, so I have to brush it thoroughly every time I do it or it will become unmanageable. I have wavy hair that will curl on its own if I do it right.

                  Wavy hair that can be curly if encouraged enough needs different treatment than hair that is straight-up (heh) curly. Einahpets, your daughter’s hair might be like this right now, since she’s so young. Those baby curls might grow into something that can’t be brushed, or they might not. I have a friend whose daughter’s hair was pretty curly when she was very young, but as she aged, it because mostly straight. The difference between her hair and my kid’s hair was that her hair became less curly when it was cut, and my daughter’s was more curly when it was cut.

                9. Justme, The OG*

                  I will second what Geillis D said about conditioner. When you think you have over-conditioned, use more. And that might be enough.

                  There’s also the Curly Girl method and accompanying books, which I use on my kid. No sulfates or silicones, and I only actually shampoo her hair once in a blue moon. The rest of the time it’s a cleansing conditioner, or even just a clarifying conditioner. I like Miss Jessie products, personally.

                  Parent with a curly kid

                10. Kate 2*

                  The book “Curly Girl” is the best! Lots of info about curl care, from washing and cutting to styling for adults and kids.

                  One of the best parts for me, as a grown up curly haired person, is the short personal stories from others like me. It can be hard to hear your whole life about how messy your hair is, and have people tell you to comb your hair. Jerks! Anyway seeing lots of people with curly hair and reading about how beautiful curly hair is was very comforting and reassuring.

                  Also Ulta sells the products Curly Girl recommends, but I have had very good results with Garnier. They have a line of Curl products, but I also like to mix and match the Pure Clean shampoo (no or low sulfates), with the Triple Nutrition conditioner. The more moisture the better!

                11. An Underemployed Millennial*

                  I have a very oily scalp so I have to wash my hair every other day or it gets gross and dandruff-covered but my roots are very dry and argan oil is a lifesaver! I put it in when it’s wet and make sure it’s spread through my ends evenly and it makes my waves magically smooth.

                12. Elizabeth H.*

                  eihnapets, she could still grow out of it! Hair can change multiple times throughout your life!

                  I had extremely curly hair (like ringlets) up through age two or three, and it was red! By the time I was four, my hair was straight and brown. It was straight with just a tiny bit of wave up until I was thirteen or fourteen, and then it started getting wavier and wavier until it was the worst possible combination of “not curly and won’t form ringlets, but too curly to wear styled wavy.” I hated it so much and straightened my hair every single day from ages 21 through present. I spent hours and hours and hours trying to find products that would make my hair look OK without straightening, trying different haircuts, everything, until I finally just accepted using the flatiron. I got SO MUCH FLACK from everyone in my life about risk of damage, how it looks better curly, etc. and I resented it because it’s nice if other people like it, but it’s my hair and I want it to look like MY preference, not like other people’s preference. I held out this hope that the texture would change again when I got pregnant or something, because I know that can happen, and then one day last year I suddenly realized that my hair has become basically straight-wavy again at the age of 29. I have no idea why. I still hit it with the straightener for a couple moments for styling purposes, but that’s it. Now I will deliberately curl my hair with foam rollers, HA!

                13. Millennial Lawyer*

                  I was traumatized as a teenager by my mother insisting I brush my hair. I looked horrible. Comb it in the shower and then let it try naturally, and when she gets older allow her to put in a smoothing milk/cream type product (not a mousse or gel those are extremely outdated – the curls should be soft, not crunchy).

                14. Anion*

                  Underemployed Millenial already mentioned Argan oil, but I’ll second it. A friend of mine’s daughter had hair that was not only crazy curly, but coarse in texture. It was extremely difficult to manage. She started using Argan oil on it while it was damp after washing & conditioning, and then added more to the ends when it was dry. It was almost a night and day difference!

                  Use maybe a nickel-sized amount while hair is damp, then a dime when it’s dry (and only to the ends/lower third when dry). It made her hair so much smoother and easier to handle, and cut down on tangles. And it was shinier!

                  You can also buy all kinds of tangle-taming or curl-taming products that won’t remove the curl but will make it easier to work with. And my friend bought one of those hot combs–the smoothing brushes that work with heat/ionic heat, too, which helped. She’d use it when the hair was almost dry and basically detangled.

                  Or you can carefully wind it into a bun while it’s still semi-wet, and let it dry like that. Braids are good, too. My youngest’s hair is wavy, not curly, but it’s fine and tangles like crazy. We started braiding it while damp and letting it dry that way, and bought her satin pillowcases to reduce tangling, both of which made/make a big difference.

                  Hope that helps!

                15. einahpets*

                  Yeah, since she is the toddler who totally still think putting stuff in her hair is fun (food, paint, etc) we do have to shampoo it occasionally but it is approx 1-2 times a week now. I am going to look into those cleansing shampoos folks mentioned though!

                  I’ve also been using my fingers + a very large toothed comb to detangle while she is in the bath with conditioner in her hair (a curly conditioner, can’t remember which at the moment!). If she’ll let me detangle at all — sometimes I get a bath toy to the face for my efforts. :) Glad I am doing something right on it so far, heh.

                  And I totally expect it will change as it is growing out longer, it just hasn’t yet. It is funny when we are out as a family because her hair is not only ringlets curly but light blonde, while my husband, daughter, and I are all black hair to brunette. I’ve had multiple random strangers come up to me and ask where it came from.

                16. HB*

                  Put her to bed with her hair in a scrunchy (not elastic hairband) or in a loose braid. And actually silk pillows are supposed to be great for not frizzing up hair overnight. A good way to keep curls for a few days!

              2. Turquoisecow*

                Oh, giant butterfly clips are my friend when I just want to get it out of the way, especially right after a shower, because regular hair ties just get tangled and stuck.

                Ymmv, of course, sounds like you (Eye of Sauron) have longer hair than me.

                1. Dr. D*

                  I have had success with extra large bobby pins or vertical pins. I was surprised that they come in more than one size. Stay twisted fellow curly-person!

                2. Your Weird Uncle*

                  Thank you for posting! I browsed through their other items and found an old barrette thing I used to have for years, which was perfect as you could adjust the clip if you had thinner/thicker hair (I was always going from long to short with, you know, various lengths in between, so I just bent the clip in or out depending on how much hair I was putting back and it stayed perfectly well). I lost it a few years ago and now I think I’ll have to get something similar again. :)

                3. SadieMae*

                  As a person with really big hair that’s hard to corral, I love those bun cages and never can find them anymore – thanks for the link!

                  Spin Pins also work really, really well for me – they can handle a lot of hair and they don’t work their way free by lunchtime.

                  OP #2 should wear her hair free and embrace the curl if she wants to – it’s ridiculous for anyone to suggest curly hair isn’t “normal” – but if she wants to pin it back sometimes, these are good options.

          3. Runner*

            I use Ouidad Climate Control right after showering to keep the frizz and flyaways in check. (But I HATE HATE HATE the Ouidad cut method itself for curly/wavy hair. It is basically that very rough scraping/thinning technique, which destroys my hair and had nothing to do with giving me a style of cut for the waves to work best.)

          4. ThatGirl*

            Random comment re: Florida, my hair is short but thick and has some natural wave to it (not really curly) and in Florida I get super frizzy bushy hair real fast – all that humidity. If I had to live there full-time I’d have to change my whole style or routine, probably.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              When we lived in Florida, my kid’s hair looked amazing. And looks better in the summer too with the humidity we have here. Porosity is a huge thing with curly hair, and low and high porosity hair needs to be treated differently.

            2. tangerineRose*

              I’ve visited Florida a couple of times. Every morning I put gel on my hair, and every morning my hair got bigger. But the gel helped.

          5. Bertha*

            Hmm! I have fine, curly hair, but a lot of it, and I find that when my hairstylist uses a razor — kind of like the thinning shears, but I overheard her telling a stylist in training that whatever technique she was using was part of a specific curly hair “course” she took so perhaps it’s different — it actually makes it look *much* better and less frizzy when I wear it curly. Again, it could be that she is trained in a specific method that is good for curly hair, so maybe it’s not the same as what you have done, but she referred to it as removing bulk.

            1. Desdemona*

              One difference between razoring and thinning shears could be that with the razor, the stylist retains control of what’s removed,so she can create pathways in your hair for the curl to form. Thinning shears remove hair willy nilly, taking bits out of multiple curls so the curl can’t form smoothly.

      1. Specialk9*

        OP, thanks for letting us know your ethnicity, that is super relevant.

        But the thing is, they’re not being racist at you (since you’re white) but they are definitely applying racist thinking. Curly hair is associated with brown people (African descent, Jewish, etc) and straight hair is associated with white people; it’s no coincidence that curly is disparaged and straight is held up as the model. And one does not have to be actively trying to be racist to be actually being racist, since our culture is so stepped in racism.

        I’m not sure how that helps you, but if your boss is someone who is at all reasonable, you might have that conversation with him. Basically, he’s instituting a racist policy (likely without in any way intending it) that could get the company in trouble.

        More broadly speaking, as a woman with straight long hair, once it gets past a certain point I start to go to ponytails and updos. So if the question is specific to curls, oh heck no; but if it’s about length, maybe.

        1. Penny Lane*

          Jews are “brown people”? Of course there are Jews of all ethnic backgrounds, but FYI those of Ashkenazi Jewish background (most of those in the US) are indeed white.

          I’m active in Jewish genealogy and it is a major point with us that how one looks has very little to do with whether one has Ashkenazi Jewish DNA. We make it a point that if someone says “I think I have Jewish ancestry because my hair is dark/frizzy/curly” that we explain that there is no one look. Our community has people with all different physical skin and hair colors/textures. The stereotype of the dark-haired frizzy Jewish person is old and tired!

          1. blackcat*

            While I agree with you that Jewish people are generally not considered “brown” many people consider Jewish folks as non-white, even if they look white. Yes, “The stereotype of the dark-haired frizzy Jewish person is old and tired!” but that’s sorta the point. Bias against curly hair is rooted in stereotypes about those considered non-white, which, historically, has included Jews. So it’s both racist and anti-semitic!

            1. JessaB*

              Exactly. Any time people are complaining about frizz, thick hair, curls etc. No matter what the ethnicity of the person with the hair, they probably don’t realise that it comes from a place where people that don’t have nice straight hair, were discriminated against because they weren’t classed as white. Even if their skin tone LOOKED white to people. And for a very, very long time (see definitions of white in Nazi Germany for instance,) Jewish people were not classed as white.

              And my sister has the thickest bushiest Hermione Granger hair ever, she’s Armenian and back a million years ago my father had the idea to take her to a stylist that did hair for Black women. They gave him all kinds of good advice on it. Products to put, how to moisturise, etc. And yeh the one big thing they said was frizzed out or out of control meant DRY. And thick hair like that also meant her scalp would get dry and flaky because just putting stuff on, didn’t actually GET to her scalp.

              1. Xay*

                I was about to suggest this. I have referred curly haired white women to my hairstylist who is brilliant at working with a variety of textures of non-chemically straightened curly and kinky hair.

          2. Specialk9*

            I’m so glad you mentioned this! I thought it was overkill to mention this in the original post.

            For the purposes of curly hair, Jews were brown when the racist rules about “white is good, brown is bad” were formed in the US.

            The interesting thing is that Jewish people were early in in US history considered to be *legally* Caucasian, but in reality a nuanced lesser-than that translated in practical life to be non-white. They were classified as “Mongoloid”, “Asiatic”, “Semites”, and were viewed with deep suspicion and mistrust. (We’re not even going into European views.) People in my temple remember having been called “colored”, despite white skin, so this change was really recent.

            But then over time Jews were assimilated and generally considered to be white (though that pretends to a level of homogeneity we just don’t have — black Jews, Asian Jews, Sephardic Jews (in Israel called “black” even though Ethiopian Jews are really common there), and Mizrahi Jews, Indian Jews, not to mention all the converts — and that whiteness label wasn’t accessible to all Jews). So white with a recent past of being treated and viewed as brown.

            If nothing else, 2017 has taught us viscerally that we Jews are not considered to be white, really white, by the racist sexist Nazis who have a disturbing amount of cultural clout. (My Jewish baby had a passport when he was only weeks old.) So this whole conversation on whether Jews with white when are actually white feels very relevant.

            On the other hand, many of us are white enough that we have to be upfront and honest about white privilege. Which… Always sits funny with the feeling that our neighbors may rise up and day and slay us all.

            So yeah. Big side topic. But I stand with Jewish being brown when those rules were being formed.

            1. EvanMax*

              I tend to use the phrase “passing privilege” instead of “white privilege” to clarify the whole thing. Then again, I definitely listed my race as “Hebraic-American” on my college applications, so the whole “not technically white” thing is a sticking point for me. The short version is: for many generations my family were persecuted for being non-white. Now, when being white is suddenly considered a negative in some circles I am told that I can finally have that “privilege”, well, why should I want it? Similar to when I asked my Holocaust-surviving grandfather if he considered himself Polish (“Feh! The Poles don’t want me, and I don’t want the Poles. I’m Jewish!”)

              A fun oddity in my family, though, on my other side, is that an early twentieth century census has my paternal great-grandfather’s household listed as “Negro”, and the public school that my grandfather (his son) attended I have heard remarked upon as a segregated black school. I don’t have any evidence beyond this of my family “legally” being treated as black (they were Levites who emigrated from Russia/Lithuania, so demographically it wouldn’t make much sense) but I do have those fun two details.

            2. Ali*

              Hell, there was a time when Irish and Polish people weren’t considered “white”, so I guess anyone slightly more “ethnic” than the most lily white English person could have been considered “not-white”? Discrimination and stereotyping are so toxic and utterly idiotic that it almost doesn’t make sense to try and understand it because who’s in the in-group fluctuates according to who’s making the rules.

          3. Kate 2*

            Yes, what Blackcat says. In the same way Irish and Italian people were also not considered white. For example “No Irish” signs that stores and workplaces would put up. And in some ways still aren’t. Part of my recent ancestry is Irish, and it makes me furious how many “drunk stupid wife-beating” Irish stereotypes there are in our culture. Especially because it seems to be one of the last acceptable prejudices, and even so-called liberals and liberal media engage in it.

            1. Specialk9*

              Check out Bill Bryson’s book “One Summer: America 1927”. It’s a fun read, largely about murder scandals and the crazy world of early flight, but the window into US ethnic conflicts of the time is… wow.

            2. Gloucesterina*

              This history is also super interesting in the light of the history of minstrelsy in the U.S. (white performers performing in blackface to entertain white audiences with racial stereotypes). Many of these blackface performers were Irish, and there some pretty fascinating scholarly arguments about why they did this and to what effects (whys include lack of access to range of occupations available to other European American groups, class-based contact between Irish Americans and African Americans in urban settings; effects include making the Irish ‘more white’ by contrast.)

              1. TardyTardis*

                Which is so well illustrated in BLAZING SADDLES, where many kinds of Ethnic People are hired by one crew, but ‘no Irish need apply’. Mel Brooks knew what he was doing.

        2. Q*

          I’d agree that this complaint is rooted in racism whether or not OP is actually a person of color or not. I’m super white. My curls came from Irish genetics, not anywhere else.

          And yet inevitably people ask if I’m mixed-race when they see my hair despite the blue eyes and translucent skin.

          1. Linzava*

            Portuguese here, with very curly hair. I’m constantly asked if I am mixed when my hair is natural. When it’s straight, no questions at all.

            1. Just Tired*

              It’s frustrating that so many people think questions like this are OK, especially when asked of a stranger. Why is it their business? This is not hair, but I have a large birthmark on my face, and my entire life, to the point where I’m shy about going out in public, people ask, “What happened to your face?” Thus implying that my face is wrong, which is already something I struggle with. What is their gain from this line of questioning? As you have pointed out, they don’t ask people with straight hair where their hair came from. People need to mind their own business, unless they have a super-patient friend willing to answer thoughtless inquiries.

              1. Anion*

                Some people think curly hair is beautiful, and are just trying to be complimentary and friendly to a stranger. Or they’re hoping it’s not natural so they can ask where you got it done.

                Asking “What happened to your face?” is indeed disgustingly rude, but the intent behind “Are those curls natural?” is usually completely different, and innocent.

                1. Q*

                  The only question I mind about my hair is “Can I pull it?” because they always ignore it when I say “No, they aren’t actually springs and that hurts”

                2. Girlwithapearl*

                  “but the intent behind “Are those curls natural?” is usually completely different, and innocent.”

                  This is patently untrue in my own personal experience and you have no way of knowing if it is accurate overall.

              2. Q*

                Many of the people who ask me this are black…and often they follow this up with how much their hair or their kid’s hair looks like mine. Mine isn’t afro-textured, but they aren’t touching it.

                I don’t assume they’re being racist.

          2. An Underemployed Millennial*

            I’m northwestern European, Spanish, Asian, and Pacific Islander. I have thick, dark, wavy hair. When I wear it natural people think I’m Spanish, Italian, or Greek and when I wear it straight people think I’m Inuit or Latina. No one ever realizes half my DNA comes from the British Isles at all even though several relatives on my Irish side also have wavy hair.

          3. only acting normal*

            Yep, Celtic curl-genes are definitely a thing. I’m Welsh (at least 4 generations back, on both sides), and very pale: my hair is about 3A curly and very thick, my mother’s is more like 3B.

            I also agree the straight==professional BS is still racist (as well as being based on a racist stereotype that isn’t even correct).
            I’ve straightened my hair only a handful of times – it took me 2 hours each time (I said it was thick). Life is far far too short!

            1. Renee*

              I’m Welsh curly too. I have a sense that my curls are regarded as unprofessional, but I work for a small technical manufacturer where I’m well-respected so I don’t care. I did cut it short while looking for a job 5 years ago and it was awful. Completely untameable. It’s tidier when it’s long and wild. It also takes me two hours to straighten and about four to fully dry. I use hair forks to put it up and they work great. They’re about the only thing.

          4. AsItIs*

            Agree Q. If the OP was black, the boss would not have said a word. But because she is white she is told to fix it.

            (But then I’ve been told that white people’s hair is racist because it “forces” non-white people to copy it. If white people didn’t have white people’s hair, other races would be happy and satisfied with their natural hair. LOL! Nuts I know, but racism ends up losing its true meaning when people say stupid stuff like that.)

        3. Gayle Davidson-Durst*

          Yep, this was my thinking too. Having an office standard that curly, big hair is unprofessional is racist. Even though the person it’s affecting at this moment is white. I vote for “if boss is reasonable, have a conversation.” It might be helpful to frame it as all of us absorbing problematic norms and we often don’t realize what we’re doing/saying impacts oppressed people.

          That said, if you want practical advice (and it might help the race conversation if you clearly try to integrate the feedback first, since then they can’t accuse you of trying to get away with your “crazy hair” by playing the race card) – I’ve found it helpful to braid my hair while it’s damp, with a little curl cream in it. It avoids the bush effect of a ponytail and generally reads as very conservative.

          1. Specialk9*

            A good real world example would be how the US military had to change its female hair regulations because they were racist. There was a concerted campaign and it finally worked. I’ll post a link below.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                Thank you!

                And in reaction to what you posted earlier about “jewish hair” on white people, which is so often “eastern european hair”, thank you for that too. (Family history: My mother’s family were Russian jews, and she and I have big soft curls that make for wavy hair. She got the orangey-red hair and big freckles as well – I just got fair-ish skin and regular freckles – and she has told me how as a child living in NYC, she often wished she had the super-curly hair of everyone she was surrounded by. Ah, the joys of not fitting in with the group that doesn’t fit in. And now I use henna on my hair and love the unnatural copper color of it.)

        4. George*

          I absolutely agree with you and everyone else on the thread that the boss’s thinking is rooted in racist norms, and it does my heart good to see that a few people share this line of thinking…but I’m not sure if the average person is quite there yet. If I tried to make this argument with just about any boss I’d ever had, they would have thought I was insane. A depressing number of people are still in the “nothing short of burning a cross on someone’s lawn can be racist” place, and I daresay that an overwhelming majority of people would not think that a white boss hassling a white employee for having a stereotypically “othered” trait is in any way a racial issue.

          1. Specialk9*

            It’s true that most of us white people hear ‘this thing you’re doing is kinda racist’ as ‘you’re an awful terrible evil person’ when realistically it’d be weird to be steeped in a culture that was literally engineered around slavery, and not have absorbed racist beliefs. So you’re right that it requires treading carefully.

            But maybe not ‘hey, not sure if you’re aware, but companies and the government have been sued and lost over acting like curly hair is abnormal, because it harms people of color. I’m worried that this policy could get us in trouble down the road.’

            I guess one thought is, OP, if you take it on, you’re not making some future someone of color fight this fight, along with all the other fights they deal with their whole life. But not everyone likes to tilt at windmills, and we all have to make our own best call.

        5. Umvue*


          OP, I have hair that tends to curl and/or frizz in humid weather, and when that happens, sometimes I put it half-up in a braid. For my hair, the tension/friction of the braid helps keep most of the flyaway bits in place without needing bobby pins – just a hair band at the end. Not sure if this makes sense with your particular hair type.

          But to be clear I don’t really think you should have to worry that much about this; I agree with other commenters who think this request is unreasonable and is rooted in racist beliefs about beauty.

          1. VioletCrumble*

            OP, I’m like Umvue, I have really thick hair that tends to frizz and I just grab it – separate it and stick it in a very loose braid when it’s frizzing – using a small fabric scrunchie type tie.. I hate having my hair in my face so this keeps it somewhat corralled.

            However, comments on your hair, any personal comments like that are totally out of line when it’s based on an inherited physical characteristic.

        6. theletter*

          ++ this – I’m also white with heavy, frizzy curls, from a very privileged background.

          If the hair is clean and not obscuring your face, it shouldn’t be an issue, and anyone who is saying otherwise is running into a racist territory.

          1. Salamander*

            Yes. A person’s natural hair is their natural hair – nothing unprofessional about it!

        7. Kindling*

          Agreed. I have very curly hair. When I was younger, I had kids bully me for being Jewish… which I am not. (Black or brown people absolutely get this a lot worse.) It’s rooted in some gross stuff.

        8. Plague of frogs*

          The boss’s reference to “normal” hair gave me a moment of absolute blind rage.

          I have limp, fine, straight hair. If “normal” hair was voluminous, curly hair, and my boss said I had to have it, how would I even go about getting it? How??? The other side of the equation has got to be just as difficult.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Perms. It was all the rage back in the 1970’s for white people to get their hair permed. Example: Mr Brady and Greg Brady suddenly had curly hair one season!

      2. designbot*

        Agreed. My hair is more like Notorious MCG’s, and I keep a small tube of Fekkai Brilliant Glossing creme in my bag for occasions when the frizz has come on unexpectedly. A couple other things I’ve tried over the years:
        * Wearing medium or long hair in twists or braids. They take a long time when you’re figuring it out but eventually just become part of your routine and take like five minutes.
        * Right now I wear bangs, and straighten just the bangs every day. I find when the pieces closest to my face are tamed, the rest of it can do mostly what it wants without anybody giving me weird looks.

      3. Former Hoosier*

        I agree. And this is true even if someone is not of an ethnicity where curly hair is common. That is so weird. If your hair is clean and tidy most of the time that is sufficient.

        I have way too many other things to worry about than to worry about how curly the hair of someone on my staff is. And honestly, if a customer came to me (regardless of their wealth and importance) and told me one of my staff’s hair was unprofessional I would really have an issue with that.

        1. tangerineRose*

          It’s so weird for me that people are complaining because her hair is curly. Some people have curly hair; there’s nothing wrong with that!

    2. Q*

      I also have curls on curls on curls. It’s just not really possible for natural curls to always look polished. I take good care of mine, but sometimes the curls are limper than other days or it just decided to define the curl spirals differently than they did when my stylist cut it.

      No one has ever complained this looks unprofessional—and honestly, I think a ponytail would look worse, especially if it’s just a ponytail of frizz.

      If people are really going to complain about it, I would recommend a large alligator clip. I know OP said those aren’t a great option for an extended period of time, but it’s possible to simply replace it if and when it starts slipping. It would look better, I think.

      1. K*

        Curly-hair here– the half-up style is one of my go-tos for work, especially on those days I’m heading to work and I can feel it start to frizz up more than I was counting on. It helps me feel more polished just because it’s all out of my face and the frizz is tamed more or less in a mass at the back of my head. But I’ve never had anyone say anything to me- it’s just a style that I’ve found to be comfortable and to help me not worry about my hair on those days when I’m self-conscious about my frizz.

        1. tangerineRose*

          If I didn’t work from home, I’d keep some hair gel at work so that if I got frizzy, I could apply some gel and calm the frizz a bit. Gel really works well for me.

      2. Specialk9*

        Good Hair Days sells flexible thick silicone pins called Magic Grip Hair Pins. They’re pretty awesome for thicker hair.

        Another thing I like and that might work for you is a bun maker that has 2 hair combs and a flexible net between. I doubt you’d be about to make a bun out of your hair, but you could do a twist with curls up top and secure the base with the bun maker. On Amazon, the brand that matches what I mean is Hairzing Pretzel Comb.

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh and a nice scarf can be both headband and ponytail holder. Carla in Scrubs always rocked this style. Wrap around your head, knot once under your hair at your nape, wrap around the mass of hair into a low pony, double knot the scarf above or below your hair.

          (But let’s be real, the people who think curly isn’t natural are also going to think they a scarf in the hair is too “ethnic”, because this complaint is racist at the core.)

        2. Breda*

          Similarly, Goody sells spiral pins that worked BEAUTIFULLY to hold a bun when my hair was long. I only needed two, and it’d stay up all day.

          1. Flor*

            Another vote for Goody spin pins! My hair is relatively straight, but it’s long and thick. Even those magic grip hair pins just get bent out of shape in my hair. But two spin pins will even hold a bun overnight.

            Another suggestion to the OP would be to look into hair sticks/hair forks. They’re usually made from wood or acrylic (I’ve seen metal, too, but my hair’s far too slippery for that), around 5″ long, and you basically weave them through a bun to hold it into place. I can throw my hair in a bun with a fork and it’ll stay up comfortably all day.

        3. Triumphant Fox*

          I would also say braiding your hair first can help tame really unmanageable hair and put it up. It’s easier to bobby pin sections of a braid into a spiral than it is a mass of heavy hair.

          1. TardyTardis*

            I braid my hair into two braids and pin it up when it’s really hot. Yes, I look like a pioneer woman, but they weren’t stupid and also hated hot weather.

      3. CanuckCat*

        In lieu of an alligator clip, I might also suggest something like this for the half-up, half-down look:

        The stick portion lays flat against the head but it’s also super easy to adjust.

        *Testimonial from a long time user of similar hair doodads. I might not have curly hair but I have insanely thick and wavy hair that similarly often has a mind of its own.*

      4. Typhon Worker Bee*

        Yup, curly hair in a rainy climate here. It never looks the same two days in a row. I second the alligator clip suggestion – my hair looks pretty stupid in a normal ponytail, but the clip is an easy way to improve things.

        My sister has much curlier hair than I do, and it actually holds the spirals for days at a time, in all weather, even when it’s long. Mine needs to be washed every day without fail, and letting it grow any longer than shoulder length pulls all the curl out of it. Sigh…

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Ha! I never understood people who said their curly hair was best the day after they washed it. Mine is a bird’s nest the day after I wash it. It has to be washed, or at least wet down, daily.

      5. Matilda the Hun*

        I use heavy-duty alligator clips every day to keep my semi-curly hair in a bun- it’s quite a bit past my shoulders and very heavy (enough to pull the curls into wavy). I use DryBar’s Hold Me hair clips (or the Sally’s version which are slightly cheaper, or whatever brightly colored ones I can find in Ross that are even cheaper- I just want to color coordinate my outfits). Twist into a bun, two clips to hold the tail in place, and it stays up all day without ANY pain (my heavy-hair sisters out there know what I’m talking about!)

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      At the risk of sounding hair-splainy, OP, have you read Our Curls, Ourselves? (I think it may now be called Curly Girl.) I don’t think voluminous, curly hair is unprofessional, and I’m irked that people have been complaining to your boss about it. But I also think there are some styles other than a ponytail that may work well for you (and help subvert frizz) on those days when the humidity goes kaboom.

      1. Gala apple*

        Have you tried braiding it, or French braids? I have thick curly hair as well and for interviews I do two fishtail braids.

        1. Loopy*

          I was also going to suggest braiding it. I hate that OP has to even deal with this but if she chooses to try and accommodate this request, a single braid can be done quickly and looks neat. Then I just tame any frizzies up front.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I am also a frequent user of the single braid. I also used to be a fan of those claw clips, but it’s been a few years since I saw one big enough.

            1. JennyAnn*

              You can get some fairly sizable octopus clips, which are great because the prongs curl in flat against the back of your head rather than jabbing into it. My hair is admittedly not that thick, but it is long enough to sit on, and I can put my hair up in a knot and clip one of them over it with room to spare.

        2. Breda*

          I wore my hair in twin French braids for like two straight years in high school, so that look will always feel 14 to me. :/ But others probably don’t have my baggage!

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I really like wearing my hair in two braids (not French) but I too feel like more than one braid looks unprofessionally young. I do it occasionally though. I love the look of French braids but it doesn’t look good with my head shape and ears!

            1. An Underemployed Millennial*

              Yes, I already am short and have a round face and am often assumed to be a decade younger than my real age, no way will I wear any hairstyle that accentuates that.

      2. London Bookworm*

        Yes, OP2, those are worth checking out if you haven’t already (I realise there’s a good chance you have). There’s also Unruly Curls, by Michael Price.

        But honestly, a big part about both those philosophies is challenging the way we conceive of stylish and professional hair.

      3. NicoleT*

        OP2: First, no, curly hair is NOT unprofessional. Clean hair (styled in a manner that does not interfere with your ability to do your job, e.g., hair net if lunch lady, pulled back if a science lab worker, etc.) is professional, and it sounds like you are there. Part of why I like my wavy/curly hair is that I can get a couple days out of one wash, depending on the weather.

        Second, re: style issues:
        As for mid-day frizz: I have wavy to loose curls (shoulder length, which gets BIG in the summer) and also hit this wall. My midday go-to is to braid a small section from the top front, lay it down over the rest as I pull it back into a ponytail. I feel more polished with the braid vs just a ponytail. (Another option: low side pony)

        Try different styles and products (or try using a larger amount of one or more than one of them) – I have found success with mixing things together or layering them on my hair. I also have found that sometimes I have really been not using enough product to actually control whatever issue I’m having (frizz).

        Try a different cut. – My stylist has wavy/curly hair so she “gets” my issues. If you have a good cut, then your curls may cooperate with you more easily.

        1. The Rat-Catcher*

          Seconding the low side pony! It looks cute and doesn’t take a ton of effort. I have really curly hair that never gets too long because it is so curly. My hair looks terrible in a standard pony because my curls go to the root.

          Also, if you’re on a budget, my miracle working product on the cheap is Marc Anthony Strictly Curls curl defining lotion – I get mine from Walgreen’s, it’s a $6 yellow bottle. It can come out a little bit crunchy, but if you’re willing to make that trade-off, my curls look impeccable and hold all day.

      4. Guitar Hero*

        There’s also a whole subreddit dedicated to this topic. People post before/after pics along with lists of products/techniques they use.

      5. boo bot*

        So, this may also be hair-splainy, but my mother has corkscrew-curly hair and she will give this advice to strangers at any and every opportunity, and I feel like I owe it to her to jump in uninvited here:

        1. Comb your hair in the shower, while it’s wet and has conditioner in it, and then don’t brush or comb it once it’s dry.

        2. Only get haircuts from people who themselves have curly hair. I don’t know what part of the world you’re in, but there are some salons around these parts that cater specifically to curly hair, so that’s nice if it’s available.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          I went through sooooo many hair stylists as a kid. My mom once took me to a Supercuts, and the poor girl just stared at me helplessly.

          When I set out on my own, the main reason I chose my current stylist is because someone wrote in a Facebook review that she understood curly hair. I have not been disappointed.

          1. Linzava*

            I found my stylist by calling every salon and stylist in my area that claimed to work with curly hair on their website. I described my hair’s personality and told them I was looking to get it layerd. Everytime they responded with, “I can definitely do that.” I told them I’d call back later. Finally, a stylist said, “You really don’t want to layer it, it will bunch up and look frizzy.” I made an appointment with her that day and 7 years later, she’s still my stylist.

          1. only acting normal*

            I love her hair! I can’t grow mine that long any more and I’m jealous. :D
            I was really worried that the straight asymmetric style she had as Captain Tilly was her real hair, because that would have been a very bad cut for those curls!

            1. only acting normal*

              And I just connected that Tilly has to straighten her hair in the incredibly xenophobic universe… I wonder if that was deliberate by the hair&make-up designers?

        2. tangerineRose*

          And only get haircuts when your hair is dry. Curly hair curls differently when it’s wet.

          I use a hair pick to come my curly hair, and I comb it when it’s wet – makes a big difference.

      6. Coleen*

        THIS. I got the book as a gift. And it changed my life. I went from blow drying and straightening my hair every day to rocking my natural curls. Since switching to the Deva products, I don’t have the frizz or uncontrolled hair. Just pretty silky curls. Definitely recommend to OP. I came here to post this very thing.

      7. k.k*

        In addition the the Curly Girl book, I’m throwing out a recommendation for Lots of style and product articles, a really helpful forum (I’ve learned of game changing products there), and overall there is just a very curl-positive vibe. I’ve read several things there about how to rock curls professionally, and how to deal with jerks who think your hair is weird.

        1. Chalupa Batman*

          You read my mind, I love that site. I’ve slowly transitioned away from 20+ years of relaxing (WOC here), and Naturally Curly has been invaluable, both with figuring out how to get the look I want and reinforcing that my natural texture is not abnormal. It seems so bizarre now how tied I was to the idea that my hair could only look polished if I regularly paid someone $80 to slather it in chemicals that literally burned my scalp, then followed it up by applying heat until all moisture was steamed out. Then, after all that, I always wore it up anyway because frizz. I think I look much more professional now with a very curly, nonconventional but intentional hairstyle than I did with my “I give up” bun.

          My mom (white) seems to have a similar hair type to yours, OP, which my daughter inherited. Mom combs it dry and goes, which drives me nuts-but she isn’t really into hair or makeup and the frizz doesn’t bother her. My daughter is a teenager, therefore she cares, and her hair is stunning. I discourage blow drying and flatirons. She still uses them occasionally, but usually her hair is untouched, washed weekly with an inexpensive argan oil infused conditioner (no shampoo). She uses a boar’s bristle brush when it’s dry, wide tooth comb if it’s wet. Air dry if you can, and sleep in a satin bonnet or with a satin pillowcase. Cotton and blends sop up the moisture in your hair, so it tries to pull it from the air as soon as you walk outside. We both use Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie.

    4. Susan Sto Helit*

      I have thick curly hair that used to frizz a lot, now pretty much doesn’t, so I’ll use this as a place to share…

      1. I always use sulfate and silicone free shampoo and conditioner (or as close as I can get it). It took a long time for my hair to make the transition to a less harsh shampoo, but it was definitely worth it. (I’m currently using Shea Moisture Curl & Shine Shampoo, then whatever silicon-free conditioner I can get in TK Maxx).
      2. No highlights, no hair dye. My hair quality improved massively once I grew everything out.
      3. Maui Moisture Curl Milk.

      I shower, put my parting where I want it, run a decent amount of curl milk through my hair, and head out the door. It takes a little while for my hair to dry naturally but when it does – presto! Curls.

      And for days when it isn’t working out, or I haven’t freshly washed it, a side-braid or a top-knot is my friend.

      1. Rachel01*

        I had gotten a curly perm a few months before I decided to move to Florida. My hair was long, and frizz like crazy. I had to use hair serum. Other days if dressed really nice I would go old school and use a hair accessory that was a bag with a wooden stick ran through it. Do not recall what it was called.

          1. JessaB*

            You want nice snoods cheap, go to a site that specialises in modest clothing for Jewish women. All the women in shul when I was younger rocked the snoods as their hair coverings.

            1. Salamander*

              Thanks for the tip! I have a snood that I adore, but I want to get more. I will definitely check this out.

      2. Specialk9*

        Henna is a hair dye you can use that doesn’t hurt the hair. It comes in red, dark brown, and black. But it’s hard to dye over and doesn’t really fade, so it’s a commitment.

        1. Oranges*

          It also can come out interesting shades if you don’t get the quality stuff. One of my roommates had this muddy turquoise for awhile.

        2. henna expert*

          Nitpick, but true henna comes in one color: red. Brown or black “henna” contains either chemical additives or indigo or walnut dyes.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Thank you!

            And anyone who is travelling in the region of India and wants to get a henna skin painting (aka mehndi) – do *not* get the black “henna”. It isn’t henna, it’s toxic and will give you blisters. Stick to the stuff that leaves a reddish/brownish color instead.

            And two henna hair tips, from someone who’s been using it off-and-on for 3 decades now: use coffee instead of water for a richer color, and mix in a tsp of cinnamon to offset the “woody/earthy” odor. (And no, you won’t smell like cinnamon. At least, I don’t. Nor coffee.)

      3. C Average*

        Another vote for Shea Moisture products. (And yeah, I know they got some serious blowback from women of color for expressly cross-marketing to white women. I have mixed feelings about that, because I am exactly that white girl with big, curly hair, and Shea Moisture has been a godsend. The leave-in conditioner in particular really defines and tames my curls. And I live in Portland, Oregon, where rain can wreak havoc on curly hair.)

        Something about this whole conversation makes me think of the Helen Burns scene in Jane Eyre, where the evil jerk headmaster gives Helen a hard time about her curly hair.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Eh, they didn’t really get blowback for cross-marketing. It was the way it was done that caused the (in my opinion, deserved) reactions.

        2. Thursday Next*

          And meanwhile, his own daughters are fashionably ringletted! He was affronted that a destitute orphan should have curls; that was too decadent for her station.

          1. Kelly L.*

            And I think for some people, what’s important is artifice. Curly? Better go straight. Straight? Better go curly.

            1. tangerineRose*

              I know a lot of people who either have straight hair and wish it was naturally curly or have curly and wish it was straight. I guess the grass looks greener…

      4. A Non E. Mouse*

        It took a long time for my hair to make the transition to a less harsh shampoo, but it was definitely worth it.

        Thread-jack: can you tell me what you mean about the transition time? I tried to switch to silicone-free and my hair did NOT take it well. I thought it was just my hair, didn’t realize there was a transition phase!

        1. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

          Just my two cents – if you are switching to sulfate or silicone free shampoo be sure you are switching your other products as well. I use the co-wash/no-poo method and if you don’t watch what is in your styling products you end up with build-up because the shampoo you are using isn’t strong enough to clean out what you are putting in.

          There’s a lot of trial in effort but the overall health of my hair is sooo much better this way.

          1. Media Monkey*

            i do curly girl too and you need to follow the advice to do a last wash with sulphate but no silicone shampoo to clean out the silicone before you quit.

        2. Talvi*

          In my experience, it’ll probably take a couple of months for your hair to get used to using SLS and silicone-free products. If I recall correctly, this is because the SLS’s strip all the natural oils from your hair and scalp, and the silicones “seal” the hair, so your scalp starts producing an increased amount of oil to compensate. Thus, the transition period where your hair seems super greasy all the time, while your scalp figures out it doesn’t need to produce so much oil anymore.

          But it also bears noting that not every SLS and silicone-free shampoo will work for you. I tried changing my shampoo a couple of times (from one SLS and silicone-free shampoo to another, because my usual one is harder to come by in stores) – big mistake, every time. Even accounting for the transition period, you may need to try a few different products/brands to find one that works well for your hair.

          1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            …Well, this explains a lot.

            I got a Deva cut for the first time a few months ago, and was totally sold on the idea of using the sulfate-free shampoo. Until I actually tried it — I thought I must have missed a spot (or several) every time I washed, because my hair felt incredibly gross all the time. I figured that I just sucked at washing my hair and needed an ordinary foamy shampoo because I was too incompetent to use the sulfate-free stuff. I switched back to a “light and gentle” (though besulfated) shampoo, combining it with the Deva conditioner. But maybe there is hope for me after all.

            1. Susan Sto Helit*

              Yes, you can totally try again! It just takes patience (and a few weeks employing whatever your normal technique for hiding greasy hair is a bit more frequently than usual).

        3. Susan Sto Helit*

          Coming back to this very late, but as someone else said below, it takes a while for your hair to stop overproducing oil. It’s not a fun time (assume you’ll have to do around 3 rounds of shampoo to get your hair feeling properly clean), but for me at least it was worth it in the long run.

    5. LBG*

      I have long, thick, naturally curly hair. Some spirals, but some generic curls too. I used to fight it by trying to blow it out, but that generally results in more frizz than polish, especially in the humidity of DC. I’ve worn my hair natural, with a headband to pull it off my face, since law school. The length helps it curl a bit better (fuzzier when it is shorter). I can’t say anyone has ever told me directly that it is unprofessional, but I work for a Government agency, so being polished isn’t as big a deal. As long as you appear groomed, your hair shouldn’t be an issue, really.
      At the risk of turning into beauty advice, I would say keep looking for a product that works to help tame the frizz – it took me a while to realize that I need to avoid all products with alcohol as the base instead of water – it just fries my hair.

      1. Say what, now?*

        Frizz-ease used to make a product I loved, maybe it’s still around. It was a tiny bottle of some gel-like product and just a little bit combed through the ends made a word of difference. I don’t have curly hair, just straight hair that floofs out with humidity so I can’t speak to the efficacy for truly poofed out hair but it might be worth a look.

        1. Sevenrider*

          Frizz Ease is the best and very affordable. I have straight hair but it frizzes like crazy in humidity and can look extremely unprofessional. I use a couple of the Frizz Ease products and they work very well.

        2. Imposter Syndrome Graphic Designer*

          I was coming on here to recommend Frizz-Ease Secret Weapon for smoothing frizz on dry hair. Also, I’m hella cheap, and Tresemme moisturizing shampoo & conditioner work really well for my moisture-sucking white girl curls–I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a good shampoo that won’t triple your product budget.

          That being said, I’d really encourage ANYONE who gets told that their natural hair is “unprofessional” to push back in whatever way possible, because this is absolutely a holdover from gross racist ethnography and life is too damn short to worry about whether your hair is Too Much.

      2. Breda*

        It’s so funny that yours is a better texture when long – mine is the opposite! Long hair weighs my curls down into frizzy waves, but cutting it to just-past-chin-length defined the curls like magic. The last time I went in for a cut, the stylist was like, “Yeah, the last inch here is getting weird, if we just take that off the whole thing will look better,” and she was right. Totally agreed on the straightening, though: it goes to fluff within six hours, which looks much more of a mess than my own curls ever do.

        Also, my miracle product is DevaCurl gel, put in while my hair is still sopping wet from the shower, and then going straight to bed. (This last step probably doesn’t work for people with longer hair.)

    6. Elf*

      *Caveat, I have hair that is long enough to make people question if it is professional (knee-length). It is not curly. I do have lots of experience with other people’s (significant others’) curly hair.

      Make sure you are using a deep enough conditioner (you probably are if frizz is only occasionally a problem, but switching to the deepest conditioning option you can find could make a big difference)

      I highly recommend the bun instead of the ponytail as an emergency option. Gather it like you would a ponytail, then twist, and keep twisting as you wind it around. Tuck the end under. You can secure with alligator clips (they don’t have to be big ones, you’re just trying to secure the edges of the bun to your head), regular hairpins (NOT bobby pins), or chopsticks. Pencils will work in a pinch. It takes practice, but it will eventually take about the same amount of time as a ponytail, and looks very professional. YMMV, with the curls, but if its really frizzy you can go to the ladies room and wet your hands a bit as you put it in the bun, it may contain it much better and is worth the experiment.

      1. Observer*

        I was going to say the same thing about the bun. Talking from personal experience, it tends to look much better than a pony.

        Other things that may work reasonably well are Half-pony, especially if you can get a large flat clip rather than a rubber band, french braid, or a regular braid. The fishtail braids idea that someone mentioned sounds like a really good idea as well.

        On the other hand you sound like you work with some really touchy people.

      2. I'm A Little TeaPot*

        yeah, my sister has VERY curly hair, and when it’s long she’ll just twist it up into a bun and stick a pencil into it. Looks great, stays very well.

        1. Kaitlyn*

          I can second the “stick a pencil in it” method of bun-making. I have waist-length curly/wavy hair that frizzes easily, and naps if it’s not combed (I’m also white, by the way). The truth is I rarely look super professional, but I also work at home so IDGAF most days.

          LW: find a roster of hairdos that you can live with. Buns, single or double French or Dutch braids, braid crowns, chignons, Leia buns (which look more professional if they’re styled closer to the nape of your neck than your ears, but you can figure out what looks best on you), half-up, braided bun, etc etc etc. And this has zero to do with your professional presentation and is more of a hair quality-of-life advice, but I’ve found that since switching to an oil-based shampoo, washing my hair only one to two times per week, and finding a very good leave-in conditioner, my frizz has decreased dramatically. I’m 34 years old and I just figured out what my hair looks best with last year.

          1. Amy*

            I have fine, curly hair (lots of it) that is just past my shoulders. I second the suggestion of a leave-in condish if you aren’t already using one. The one I like is by Intelligent Nutrients, which I believe is the parent company of Aveda. They have a curl serum that I enjoy as well. But those people who made comments to you are jerks and truly need to find other things to worry about. Sending you lots of curly solidarity!

          2. JessaB*

            My favourite hair sticks are the cheap chopsticks you get with Chinese food takeaway. If you actually eat with em wash em, if not just chuck em in a drawer. Cheap and you don’t care if they break or get lost. I have a handful in my pencil cup on my desk right now. Hair not curly, but is crazy long. So sticking it up is a plus. And they’re free, and usually have a tapered end so they don’t catch your hair and pull.

            Also you can in a Chinese or Japanese market get cheap ones that have lacquer designs on em. Also kids pick up sticks.

            1. Julia*

              As someone married to a Japanese man, white people using chopsticks as hair accessories feels wrong. They’re eating tools for people here.

              1. JessaB*

                I take your point, on the other hand I’ve seen accessories and jewellery made out of western eating utensils, so I’m not sure…obviously … I have to think about this. Thank you for bringing it up. I mean what is the difference between a lacquered tapered stick and a chopstick if you never put it near a plate of food? But obviously you have a valid point from an appropriation stance and some cultures have major things about what you put near food vs what you put on your person. Eh. I’m waffling.

      3. Amber T*

        To add to Elf’s recommendation on the bun emergency – if your hair is really thick, it might be hard to do this in one twist, but you can still do it two. Put your hair in a regular ponytail, then separate that ponytail into two sections and twist twist twist. They’ll start twisting around each other. You can also secure the ends with another hair tie.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Fun fact: this is how spinning works, with the “twisting around each other” bit. (I’m talking yarn here, not exercise bikes.)

      4. Mona Lisa*

        I was also going to suggest larger hairpins or watching a couple of bobby pin tutorials on YouTube. I have hair like the OP describes, and after learning the proper way to insert the pins, I can actually hold all of my curls up with 4 regular pins because of the great grip/hold I get from the curly texture.

      5. k.k*

        My curls and I also recommend buns instead of ponytails. My hair is on the shorter side, but I can still pull off a bun if enough pins are involved. There are these spiral shaped hair pins that I find very useful (fair warning, they hold well but are tricky to get back out your hair at the end of the day. Sometimes I lose one in there for a while). Just regular bobby pins can also work well as long as you’re cool using a but load of them.

      6. Ophelia*

        I also do a bun with my (long, rather thick) curls – but instead of twisting it around, I pull it most of the way through the second-pull of a hair elastic, and then let the curls pop out a bit – it gives a an updo vibe, but still lets my curls show themselves a bit. It’s a good option when the top/middle is frizzy, but the ends are still behaving nicely.

    7. Goosela*

      I think I am like you. I have curly hair, but not “curly enough”. My mop top is a random mess of curlys, spirals, waves, and some patches of straight hair. If I go without straightening my hair, people will ask me “Why didn’t you brush your hair today?”….l.o.l. As if a regular hairbrush is enough to straighten my frankenstein do. Straightening isn’t too much of an inconvenience, takes me maybe a half hour. One of my friends, on the other hand (who is also a pale white girl from the south….your names not Kaitlyn, right OP??), has HUGE natural, beautiful, curly hair. She wakes up and looks dynamite. Yeah, it’s fizzy at times, but it’s definitely normal…I would be tempted to fight anyone who said it wasn’t. I am so jealous of her hair. Down, up, half up, braided….that volume is to die for! Her go-to look is just a giant bun (no sock needed….seriously the volume is ridiculous!)…I think it makes her look like a badass former ballerina who is about to take over the business world. I have no idea what product she uses, but I know she has something fancy to tame the frizz, even in the humid south, so all focus is on her curls….it also takes her over 2 hours to straighten…so, in my 10 years of friendship with her, I’ve only seen her with straight hair, maybe ten times.

      OP, your hair is normal…and sounds awesome!

      1. Kelly L.*

        I thought my siblings and I were the only people with that type of hair! From the back, I look like the curlier version of Cousin Itt.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          My hair had that too – I posted a long comment about my hair saga before. I had elbow to waist length hair until age 20 or so and discovered after I cut it that if I had it short enough it would just go in random directions from my head. No spirals, too curly to be wavy, straight on the first couple inches from my scalp so I didn’t have overall volume (flat on top). It is the worst. I didn’t want to spend literally hours and $$$ trying to find the perfect style so I straightened it every day and called it good.

    8. Queen of Cans & Jars*

      Another curly girl here! Like the others, I think the “normal” hair comment was wayyy off-base, but I can’t resist making a product recommendation. Coconut oil has been my savior. (Didn’t you know, coconut oil is the solution to ALL your problems! ;)) I have chin length hair & use about a dime sized amount, so you’d want to adjust based on your hair length, but I have zero trouble with frizz any more. Keeping my hair trimmed also helps, and I usually pin it back on either side to keep it corralled.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I love coconut oil SO MUCH. Now that my hair changed to straight, I don’t really need it for hair but you are so correct that it’s basically the solution to all problems. I even do the disgusting oil pulling thing once in a while with it.

    9. RabbitRabbit*

      I thought I was doomed to a lifetime of frizz, but I have to say that the It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In spray has been a godsend for my wavy, thick, frizzy hair. It’s a little pricey, so buy a small bottle first and see if your hair likes it. I do a touchup on dry hair in the morning and it usually keeps me set all day, but I have a small bottle stashed in my desk just in case.

      Now I just have to see how it copes with humid summers!

      1. GRA*

        It’s A 10 is the most magical hair product ever. I buy the economy size bottle for my house, and my daughters and I all use it. We have curly, wavy and straight hair between us, and it’s AMAZING for everyone!

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Any tips about using it for straight or wavy hair and what effect it has? I use their conditioner but have never tried any of the other products. I’d like my hair to be just better looking in general. Is it more for frizz or help with styling also?

    10. Meredith*

      Pale, white girl with (crazy) red curls here! Think Mereda in ‘Brave’. I too, straighten my hair on a regular basis, and because I wear it like that so often, when I go with my “normal” look (curls) it feels totally foreign to me. I always worried that I looked younger with the curls, but people love them!!!! I find that if I put it in a loose bun on the crown of my head, with some curls loose, it looks great. Away from my face, and still stylish. I also find that if I wash the night before, put in a serum or leave-in conditioner, and wear in a “pineapple” (a pony tail on the very top of my head) while it’s still damp, the frizz is non-existent in the am. Just hit it with a blow dryer to finish drying and you’re good to go. You can even define a few curls with a curling iron if you want.

      For what’s its worth, I work in wealth management, and am face-to-face with people all day. The woman and your boss are in the minority – people WISH they had hair like ours :)

      1. Also Curly Girly*

        What ^Meredith said!
        People *wish* they had your hair. I am so miffed by what was said to you, no matter how ‘nicely’ it was put. I could only understand if it was written into company policy that, for instance, no ‘mohawks’ or ‘unnatural dyes/colors’, but your case is not anything like that. I find it extremely offensive that someone criticized you for it, ‘in the name of professionalism’. The irony (not the flat iron, though). I would not speak to anyone again to get ‘permission’ about your hairdo, because my concern is if your boss needs an excuse, he can say he’s ‘spoken to you about your appearance before’ and that you are not compliant. This just burns me.

        I also have big-curly-red-hair in the humid Coastal Southeast, like a spiral perm. Fortunately, for the first time ever in 30 yrs of being in the working world, all of my female co-workers also have naturally curly hair. So, there’s none of that criticism & unsolicited critical or catty advice about hair here. We all have long hair, with two of us keeping it a good deal past shoulder-length. Two 2 ladies like to straighten theirs: chemically and with flat irons. My hair was HUGE, but I did lose a lot of it when I had my son. It’s still thick compared to many, but 12 yrs later, it’s just not as wild or thick.

        Personally, I think two different styles look more professional for me: I wear a fabric headband (wraps all the way around top/underneath hair) that keeps it back and off my face, most often. I have it pulled back in a low pony tail less often. I also just wear it down or pull just the top (bangs) back with a small claw at the top/back of my head.

        #1 never brush your hair. It rips/breaks it, adding to the volume and frizz
        #2 gently comb out/pick out knots when you have conditioner in your hair
        #3 you can trial & error products at Ulta Beauty…figure out what works best for your texture
        #4 let your hair air dry if you can! But if they’re complaining about something as petty as volume, they’re not going to like wet or damp hair at work. I do this every day, but it’s no problem here. I pull all the bangs back with a small claw and clip at the back-top of my head. I just let it dry that way, take claw out when it’s done and leave it alone. It dries faster if you can sit in the sun, or with winter heat..but it never dries indoor with AC on.
        #5 the more you touch curly hair, the more it frizzes. ^^ why I leave it alone as much as possible.

        I have a few products that I love:
        Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Deep Conditioning (every other day)
        Ouidad Advanced Climate Control (I use both shampoo & gel)
        I wash every other day.
        I use John Frieda Frizz Ease Secret Weapon on ‘no wash days’ to smooth it out.

        I do hope you can just be at ease and enjoy having curly hair! It’s taken me a long time to appreciate mine.

      2. Brittasaurus Rex*

        It’s true! I have mildly wavy hair, but some of my relatives have lovely curly locks thanks to Scots-Irish ancestry. I envy you your auburn tresses.

    11. No Mas Pantalones*

      She can also check out the Puff Cuff. It helps tame the curls without damage and comes in enough sizes that ultra thick hair can be restrained.

    12. Mona Lisa*

      I also want to encourage the OP to push back against this. Your hair is your hair, and if you’re maintaining it, your body is not inherently unprofessional.

      I have curly hair, too, and have found that my level of frizz really depends on the weather and stars aligning perfectly. I can do things to mitigate it (using a lot of hydrating conditioner, cutting out sulfates, putting in gel, switching to microfiber towels), but there will always be a little. Explain to your boss that you do what you can to maintain a professional appearance, but you won’t damage yourself to conform to some ridiculous standard. (And frankly, I’m surprised she’s not shutting down those comments from outsiders if you’re as under control as you’re saying. Even if you were to get a blowout every week, your hair would still end up frizzing from humidity because that’s the type of hair you have.)

      1. NoNameNoGame*

        Totally agree with you Mona. As long as it’s kept clean and tangle free, which is enough work in itself with curls, it’s professional enough.

    13. Jady*

      My hair is quite wavy, sometimes curling when it wants to. I used to have a LOT of problems with frizz.

      Using a leave-in conditioner that is silicone-free, with a normal conditioner that’s silicone-free. I also rarely use shampoo, maybe once every two weeks typically.

      Those things just flat out solved the frizz issue for my hair. It can be humid, it can get wet, I can comb it, and no problems.

      There are a lot of different hair types though. What works for 1 isn’t going to work for all. It’s worth experimenting with different products.

      But remember too, hair needs time to adjust to transitions and new products. Anything you try, give it at least a week before determining how well it works.

    14. Turquoisecow*

      As a woman with super curly, frizzy hair who has no time to spend styling it every morning (I’m the type that gets up and runs out the door at the last possible minute; I don’t wear makeup), I sympathize so much with this OP.

      Honestly, I rarely wear my hair down. I got teased about having a ‘fro so much as a kid (I’m white, if that matters) that I am now super super sensitive about my hair. I pull it into a ponytail/bun type thing and hardly anyone even knows I have curly, long hair.

      On the rare occasions it’s worn down, it’s still half up – I put the upper layer in a miniature ponytail (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this) and it seems to curb the volume a little. And even then, that’s when I’ve used a massive amount of gel or mousse or both. I hate the texture of both on my hands and feel like I can never get my hands clean afterward, or I’d just more, but hairspray does nothing.

    15. Legal Seagull*

      OP #2, I, too, have voluminous, wavy hair AND live in a part of the USA where 90 percent humidity is common through much of the year. And, like you, I have struggled with whether my hair is “professional.” I’m a courtroom lawyer and I’ve concluded that as long as said hair is cut well and brushed, then it’s professional and if anyone has a problem with that, it’s their problem. Like you, I have tried relaxing, Japanese straightening, and Brazilian keratin treatments in an effort to control my hair, but at the cost of damage to my hair. So, now, when it’s hot and humid and my hair takes on a life of it’s own, I put my hair up (usually in a French twist) with these wonderful spherical hair pins I got on They don’t shoot out of my hairdo like regular bobby pins and they keep my do up. I hope that helps.

    16. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

      In addition to Flexi Clips, Lilla Rose has some hairsticks that are very good for thick hair (they have products that are good for pretty much every hair type, since they have a wide range of sizes and materials). I don’t have curly hair (fine but very dense/thick, so fine hair products won’t accommodate what is on my head, but thick hair products tend to slide right out), but know many curly girls who swear by the LR product lines. My email address is linked to my handle if anyone wants to know, since I don’t want to link to any product pages for fear of violating a solicitation rule.

      1. BeautifulVoid*

        I was just coming here to recommend Lilla Rose. I have the flexi clips in three different sizes and some of the sticks/bands, and I LOVE them. My hair is very thick and ranges from wavy to curly, and I’m amazed at how they stay in place all day without extra product or pins. Plus, I get a lot of compliments on them!

    17. Media Monkey*

      i have had similar and a colleague who was recently job hunting (and has curly hair) was told by a recruiter that they were annoyed that she didn’t straighten her hair for an interview as they had told her to look groomed.

      can I suggest the curly girl method if you don’t know about it already? certainly helps me avoid the frizzies as much!

    18. Not Rebee*

      I never have a problem, but I’m pretty lucky with mine. The only thing that’s maybe unprofessional is that if I blow dry my hair bad things happen to it (and my head in general since I’m inept) so my hair is typically still air drying when I arrive at work. It’s dry by 10 (I start at 9) even on cold days, and I’ve never had anyone say anything about it.

      OP, might be a more viable option to braid if your hair is long enough? When I ponytail I’ve noticed the tail part usually gets extra messy from all the swishing around it does as I move. This effect would vary on hair type and length (mine is armpit length and my hair is easily distracted out of it’s designated ringlet, at which point each strand forms it’s own ringlet and chaos ensues), but I think a nice braid can look just as nice as a pony, is not more effort, and might force the frizz to conform enough so you don’t get the “bush growing out of your head” effect.

    19. Curly Grrl*

      Hi OP#2…another curly top here. Personally I love Deva Curl – their cut and their products (wash, condition, gel, go) – but that is not why I am commenting…I just want to say I am so mad that “people” have something to say about it! Curly hair gets frizz, it’s a fact of life, and as Alison says, as long as it’s not a rat nest (which from your post I would assume it’s not), it is not unprofessional. It does not impact your ability to do your job, and these “people” clearly have too much time on their hands.

  2. nutella fitzgerald*

    OP #2: I would ask your boss what exactly he means by “more normal”. He is most likely to end up realizing there is no sensible answer to that question, but the minute chance you could finagle company-funded hairstyling is too good to ignore!

    (I also work in education in a wealthy (but not conservative) area, and many of the moms I meet with come in with flowy Drybar blowouts I just don’t have the upper body strength to recreate at home. They are forced to look at my sloppy bun, and they’ve learned to deal with it.)

    1. Rosie*

      Absolutely this! OP, you could go to your boss and say ‘I’ve been thinking about how you said I should make my hair look more normal. This is normal for my hair and for lots of people. Can you give me more specific guidance on how it should be different?’ If your boss is absolutely committed to this you may at least get some useful info, but hopefully they will realise this is ridiculous.

      1. Jesca*

        I absolutely hate the whole curly hair thing being unprofessional. Aside from the whole bigoted undertones to those of POC, it is people’s hair! I have fine but thick curly hair that turns into something between Einstein and something similar to a blond afro with any moisture at all (I cannot “get” it into a pony tail). I spend over $250 every summer for a Brazilian/keratin blow out. But that is a personal choice I do for myself because I literally cannot fight that kind of frizz. The whole thing drives me nuts though when people have amazing natural curls and people throw fits about it. Straight hair is NOT a standard of professionalism. Proper grooming is, and nothing more.

      2. Specialk9*

        It’s such a flipping racist thing to say. It doesn’t matter if the curly haired person is white. Curly isn’t “normal” my arse.

      3. myswtghst*

        Really like this suggested phrasing. If you can keep the tone in the realm of honestly curious (and not snarky), I think it’s a good way to make the boss really think about what they’re asking for.

    2. Rachel01*

      I think the boss should drop it. How to handle fussy customers ? He’ll have to come up with a proper response.

    3. Little bean*

      I do not have curly hair but i do work at a university and I am baffled by this. I simply cannot imagine a parent complaining about the look of an office staff member, especially about something as petty as frizzy hair. What’s even more amazing is that your boss took their complaints seriously enough to pass them on to you. I’m pretty sure every boss I’ve ever had would laugh in their face (or at least want to). Maybe it’s cultural – I’m at a public university on the west coast.

      1. Snark*

        I think it could be cultural. The South can….define boundaries differently than we do in the West or Midwest. The things people make their routine business east of Houston would make people think they were lunatics in California.

        1. Pants Required but That's About It*

          I can’t even imagine that in my large, southern university. Some departments have dress codes, but outside of sorority rush week (eeeeeewwwww), hair wouldn’t attract the first bit of notice. Those of us with curly hair joke that we have a new hairstyle every day, due to the nearly always present In my own department, I could probably show up in a wetsuit, swim fins and dripping water and nobody would bat an eye.

            1. Pants Required but That's About It*

              Yup… I came from a, not so much more ‘formal’ job, but just more stupidly nitpicky about arbitrary dress code BS and this place is a breath of fresh air in that regard. It’s a welcome combination of “You’re a professional, wear what you want” and “You’re not customer facing so it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you don’t stink and private parts are covered.” I do stick to business casual and kick it up a notch if I have to be out and about on campus, but am relieved to stress out about my shirt coming untucked or some other such nonsense.

              1. JessaB*

                yeh we used to call that “neat, clean and not obscene,” where I worked. I used to hate the idea that back room, never customer facing workers, had to wear something way above business casual.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  I had a temp job once where we had to be dressed formally and were only working in the back room. Frustrating, especially since I didn’t have much money at the time, and business formal is expensive.

          1. Snark*

            It doesn’t always happen in the South, and of course not everybody does it, but I feel like if someone’s going to complain about someone’s hair to their boss….it doesn’t surprise me if it’s in the South.

            Fun fact: my wife was in the Atlanta airport and a Tammy type with a giant blonde ‘do marched up to her and said, “Ah cain’t figure out if yer Arab or Mexican.”

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              To be fair, how else was the woman going to know if she was supposed to be afraid of being on an airplane with your wife?

            2. Specialk9*

              Oh FFS. Seriously?!

              My Israeli friend spent 15 minutes trying to explain to a Texan (in Switzerland so a world traveler!) what Israel was. He finally had to pull out his phone, show him a map, and say “in the Middle East but we’re Jewish”. He believed he was not being punked, but that this guy was for real.

              1. Snark*

                Mrs. Snark is a lot drier than I am; she just nailed Tammy with a long, cool stare, and replied, “It’s a mystery for the ages.”

            3. anon for location*

              Southerner from a majority white area here (most of the women in my family have very curly hair). This is not normal. This is not any more normal than most of the other things bosses do on here.

            4. Plague of frogs*

              This ties in really well with the conversation above about whether Jews are considered white.

          2. Specialk9*

            “In my own department, I could probably show up in a wetsuit, swim fins and dripping water and nobody would bat an eye.”

            I love this mental image. I’ve been giggling as I imagine this in way too much detail. You dripping and flap-flapping your way down the hall in those foot fins, pouring your coffee and adding sugar and milk, then casually pouring it down your snorkel as you chat with Bob in Accounting about the game. It gets better and better with each iteration.

            1. Snark*

              It’s a good mental image, but the coffee-down-the-snorkel bit takes it into legendary territory.

        2. Kittymommy*

          I think this is cultural but not like that. While the letter writer may be white, I do think there’s implied ethnocenterism in the boss’s statement.She may be white, but her hair doesn’t fit the accepted “whute hair” definition, thus it’s not normal.
          And we also don’t know if this university is in the south. The LW is from the south, not necessary where she is now.

          1. Lora*

            This. I have long hair with enough weight to pull the curls into waves, but when it was shoulder-length it was a white lady ‘fro. Curly with approximately a zillion cowlicks in all different directions all over my head. There was absolutely nothing to be done about it, it cackled its scorn at numerous hair salons. Heated rollers, irons of any kind, hot-set, gel, you name it – nothing worked. It did its thing. I swear, it wasn’t having split ends, that was just my hair flipping the bird to anyone who tried to tame it.

            LW, the only thing that worked for me consistently was hair sticks or a large metal hair fork (must be metal, my hair chews up plastic or wood accessories and spits them out, then laughs at me) pulling it into a sloppy bun. When I’m being fancy, a dollop of aloe gel, the regular clear kind you get for sunburns, mixed with four drops of jojoba oil mixed together in my hands and smoothed over the ends to keep it minimally frizzy helps. If you’re feeling fancy you can get rose or jasmine scented jojoba oil at Wegmans in the fancy hippie soap aisle to make it smell nice, but this is optional.

            This hairstyle takes all of 30 seconds in the morning and has been acceptable to a great many very conservative people who were unhappy if the suit I was wearing cost less than $300, so I hope it will bring you as much additional morning coffee time as it has brought me.

            1. Marthooh*

              “…it cackled its scorn at numerous hair salons.”

              Oh, hello! [My hair gives your hair the secret sorority handshake.]

              1. Risha*

                I’ve explained to numerous hairdressers that my straight-oh-maybe-somewhat-wavy-and-a-little-frizzy at first glance hair is actually super wavy and a complicated haircut or hairstyle is useless because it’ll free itself in a matter of minutes, even from strong pins and heavy product. They nod politely and don’t believe me until they discover that it’s already completely tangled itself again before they get halfway through the trim. It only looks straight because every hair curls off in a different direction and average themselves out when looked at as a whole.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I have college and high school age children, and cannot imagine feeling an emotion about the hair of one of their admins or teachers. You could probably get to the extent of facial piercings where I would feel some emotions even if I didn’t say anything (I have a needle phobia), but hair? These are some weird parents.

      3. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        I can see this happening at the smaller, more conservative private university I worked at before coming to my big liberal heathen state school (which I love). The dress code was “business casual,” but that basically meant you could take off your suit jacket if it got hot, but you damn well better wear a suit or dress most days. The administration wasn’t so much concerned about parents as they were about donors, and they wanted us to all look like Stepford residents, lest the donors be offended if they saw one of us walking around on campus looking less than “professional”.

        At my state school I have shown up with curly/frizzy air-dried green hair, wearing my favorite biker boots, and no one bats at eye.

      4. blackcat*

        I used to teach at a private (not that conservative) high school in the south. A parent once complained to my boss that I always wore pants and thus was setting a bad example for the young women I taught.

        Sometimes parents complain about really weird things, particularly when it comes to women.

        (For the record, my boss apparently thought the parent was joking and laughed really hard. And then that parent became one of “those parents” and the story became legend. Female faculty would joke at each other for wearing pants for a good few months.)

        1. Amber T*

          Regardless of where you are, there’s always going to be that one loon. When I was in elementary school (in my northern, fairly liberal, multi-cultural area), one parent demanded all of the Harry Potter books be banned and burned from our school library because it taught us witch craft.

          Glad your boss (and everyone else) was on your side! I just hope that OP pushes back a bit on her boss and Boss realizes they’re commenting on something that reeeeeally doesn’t need commenting on.

      5. Humble Schoolmarm*

        The university part shocked me too (also have thick, curly hair). When was in university, there was some low level resentment between the on and off campus students because we off campusers couldn’t show up to morning lecture in pjs, robes and fuzzy slippers. Now, the university staff did dress in actual clothes, but in a place where pjs were common, I can’t imagine making a fuss over curls.

        My tip is getting a good hair dresser who knows how to handle curls. My hair still gets frizzy, but ever since I switched to my current stylist, I’ve mostly avoided the dreaded triangle hair. I also have gotten good results out of pantene’s curl products.

    4. Irene Adler*

      Yes! And ask what suggestions he has for making the hair “more normal”. I’m thinking that boss won’t have any suggestions that are worth pursuing (shaving one’s head?). Or, boss will realize the ignorance of his request. Or, if boss has suggestions, like straightening, OP can explain how onerous this is.

      I’m sorry, I cannot imagine anyone having the gall to complain about an employee’s hair. And I’m mortified that the OP needs to even deal with this. Boss needs to stand up for OP when “complaints” about her hair are brought up.

    5. Triplestep*

      I tend to agree with this. The boss and parents here apparently don’t realize that some hair would take extra time and – more importantly – *funds* to coax into something they would deem “professional”. Reminds me of a former workplace that subjected call center employees to new business casual dress code, and prohibited them from wearing jeans even though no clients ever saw them. Really? Are you going to give each of them a stipend for a new wardrobe, too?

      1. Observer*

        They may realize – but they don’t CARE. That’s all part of “taking proper care” of yourself, having “respect for the job” and whatever other buzzwords you want to think of.

        1. LadyL*

          One of my previous bosses called it “paying your dues.”
          As in, “You need nicer looking clothing, you should be shopping at JCrew or Ann Taylor Loft.”
          “Uh, I can’t afford that.”
          “Well it’s called ‘paying your dues’ hon, it’s what happens when you’re first starting out.”
          “What? I literally have no money, how do you expect me to buy expensive clothes??”
          “Paying your dues. You need to learn it, we all started there”.
          I still to this day have no idea what she meant by that, but it sounded illicit as hell.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Unless your former boss was going to make you produce a receipt, you can find a lot of really nice clothes at thrift stores/clearance sales (not the point, I know, but it would have been my internal response to that).

            I once talked a manager down from telling an employee she had to “dress better.” A) we never ever saw customers or clients. B) the employee had just returned from having a baby and was wearing sweat pants/maternity pants because they fit. And C) given what we were paid, it’s unlikely the employee would have the funds to buy dressier clothes to wear temporarily during the post-baby phase. I only used reason B when talking to the manager (A shoulda been obvious and C wasn’t my or manager’s business), but seriously?

            1. LadyL*

              That was actually kinda her issue. I liked to add vintage elements and thrift store finds to my outfits (all business appropriate) and she wanted a more modern/sleek/uniform look. Ironically the job was at a historical center, so you’d think the interest in retro fashions would have been encouraged.

          2. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

            That sounds an awful lot like “you need to be crushed under the financial, psychological, and physical weight of corporate’s ridiculous, arbitrary, rotating standards so that you can be molded into a good cog.”

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            What does this even mean? My first job, all my work clothes came from Goodwill (since the family income was $0.00 for a family of 4 at the time I found the job). My second job, they all came from Fashion Bug. No one ever said anything. Although at the second job, my boss made a weird comment one day about how “your car is too old, you need to replace it, everyone else in my department has a new car and you are making us look bad”. Oh, the 90s, when our employers could have just about anything fall out of their mouths and go on about their day without a care in the world. I cannot imagine anyone saying this in a work setting now.

            1. LadyL*

              Being told to replace your car sounds like a great starting point to negotiate a raise.

              Just kidding, we all know that bosses who say this stuff don’t see the wage they pay you as related to why you make the choices you do. They are like that rich girl in Derry Girls, mildly perplexed as to why you haven’t considered dipping into your trust fund.

            2. Ali*

              I’m twenty years into my career and I still buy from Goodwill because I find tons of gorgeous clothes there for bargain prices. I got a silk dress I know for a fact retailed for $500 for $8. I might spend money on a few key pieces I know I’ll keep for years, and I always buy the best quality shoes I can afford, but I get tons of compliments on my outfits, so I assume if people are being negative about someones clothes, it’s less the price they paid for them and how they’re putting their outfits together. And that’s STILL not a reason to be rude about it! Unless your job is a stylist or a model, it’s irrelevant!

          4. Oxford Coma*

            Very illicit. This person was either telling you to shoplift or start streetwalking. Possibly both.

          5. only acting normal*

            She kept using that phrase, I do not think it means what she thinks it means.

    6. Allison*

      Maybe the boss thinks it’s too “big,” and it makes her look like a country music star, or some 1980’s teenager, maybe boss thinks she curls, teases, and sprays it into position to look glamorous or something.

  3. Someone else*

    I read OP1 as meaning they treated FormerBoss like crap while he was still working there and then fired him suddenly, not that the crappy treatment was specifically related to the firing?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I don’t know. Hopefully the OP will clarify, but based on the question she’s asking (which seems to about whether sudden firings/layoffs are normal), I think it was in reference to that. I’m also being influenced by the fact that her original paragraph structure was what’s below (before I made it all one paragraph), and somehow that really makes it read to me as all being about the firing, although that might be me reading way too much into paragraph breaks:

      The latest axe to fall is that my beloved boss was fired last week. He was literally here at 10 a.m. and gone by 10:15. I’m gutted.

      This man was the best boss I have ever worked for, and the company treated him like crap. I’ve heard rumors that the reason for this firing is so our VP can bring in someone she worked with at her previous company. This would be the third time she has done that.

      1. LW #1*

        Letter Writer #1 here.

        I guess I more meant that they treated him poorly during the firing, but it’s part of a larger pattern of bad treatment over a few months (excluding him from work and important meetings, for example). The other people who have been let go had been given 4 weeks’ notice and severance, and he got neither.

        I fully admit that I wrote the letter from an emotional place and I am having an unusually hard time dealing with this. I greatly admire my now-former boss and want to be like him, minus the getting fired part. I also was questioning if I have the fortitude for this industry (financial services) rather than the non-profits I am used to.

        I guess my letter was really a request for help understanding how others cope with these big shake-ups. I’m upset and anxious all the time, and wondering why it has to be this way. (And it could well be that “get professional help” is the only answer anyone can give me. I can live with that).

        Thanks, everyone.

        1. MLB*

          Laying off someone without notice is not uncommon. It’s usually done for security reasons – if they have a lot of access to company systems, they could do a lot of damage if they aren’t escorted out after being told. In fact, there’s generally someone in an IT department removing their access while they’re being given the boot. It’s definitely upsetting, but not necessarily about treating one different from another.

        2. Amber T*

          Hey LW1,

          There still could be a lot that you don’t know. What I will say is keep your eyes open and take everything as a sign, because there are going to be a lot of changes coming. They may not be bad, but they may not be good. Once the dust starts settling, see how new management responds to you and your peers. How do you get a long with your new boss? Are you more overworked? Have your responsibilities shifted drastically? How’s the morale overall with your coworkers, with your department, with your office?

          Keep your communications with your former boss open. Write him an note (email/LinkedIn message/whatever) saying how much you appreciated working with him, what he taught you, etc. Wish him the best of luck on his job search.

          Just in case – update your resume. It doesn’t hurt to have it ready, in case there are any opportunities. You don’t need to actively start job searching *yet* if you don’t want to, but have it ready.

          We’ve discussed here on AAM a few times how non-profit employees are very dedicated to their job, sometimes overly so (I just read one of the recent podcast transcripts – from last week? The week before?). This all seems very personal, but it really isn’t. If it’s true that someone wanted to bring in someone that she worked with the manage the department, then that sucks. There are good and bad reasons for that to happen. About getting professional help – listen, I think everyone could always benefit from therapy or counseling. Would getting professional help help you take a step back and help you realize this isn’t personal and make you more comfortable with this situation OR help you realize this isn’t the right fit for you? Quite possibly. Can you figure that out on your own too? Also quite possibly.

          This too shall pass. You’ll get through this. Your former boss will be okay. You’ll be okay too.

        3. The Other Dawn*

          “excluding him from work and important meetings, for example”: That’s not unusual at all when a company is planning to terminate someone. I wouldn’t necessary say it’s bad treatment. Sounds like he was probably on a PIP and not doing well. He may have seen the writing on the wall when he was excluded from meetings. In other words, he probably saw the termination coming. The ones who got notice and severance were likely the people that were maybe close to retirement, highly paid, or maybe their jobs became obsolete. They were probably people who were performing just fine, but the company decided they weren’t needed anymore.

          “I also was questioning if I have the fortitude for this industry (financial services)”: These things can happen in any industry. They may be handled differently, but it doesn’t sound like anything particularly unusual happened here.

          If you feel like professional help would benefit you, then you should do it. It might help to talk it through with someone who isn’t close to the situation.

        4. ThatGirl*

          Unfortunately, dealing with layoffs and shakeups can be a very normal part of corporate life, especially in certain industries. The last company I worked for seemingly had re-orgs and shakeups every year, and after 9 years, it finally caught up to me.

          If you find yourself constantly anxious, I would definitely recommend talking to someone (EAP maybe?), especially if that anxiety is present in other parts of your life too.

        5. Natalie*

          It’s obviously hard to say from the outside, but it sounds like he was terminated for cause (fired) rather than his position being eliminated (laid off). It explains basically all of the differences you’re outlining.

          If that’s the case, all I can say is that it’s pretty hard to know what someone’s problems as an employee might be unless you are fairly high up yourself. So I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the firing was unjustified unless you have pretty clear evidence (more than just the fact that you liked him and didn’t think he was underperforming).

          1. Jesmlet*

            Yes, you can be a great and supportive boss and a crappy employee at the same time. There’s so much you potentially don’t know. If everyone else got 4 weeks notice and severance and he didn’t, there’s probably a reason and it’s possible that it’s justified. It’s not an ordinary reaction to be literally depressed because your boss left – your happiness and satisfaction at work should never rest solely on one person or thing. OP, keep it up with the applications and hopefully you’ll land somewhere that checks most if not all the boxes.

        6. Bow Ties Are Cool*

          LW, I’ve worked in various kinds of financial companies for over 20 years, and I want to let you know that like many other broad industries, there are good companies and bad companies, good departments and bad departments. But the nice thing about finance is, you can work in (for example) an investments firm and take a lot of those skills over to a new job at the corporate level of a bank, or to a mortgage firm, or a wealth management firm.

          Based on my own personal experiences and decades of coworker stories, I would venture that anything tied fairly closely to the stock market (investments, “wealth management”, etc) is a crucible, no matter how progressive a company wants to be, but if you can grit your teeth and suffer through the first decade or so you can make a ton of money, which is why people do it. Consumer & business lending (mortgage firms, credit cards, personal/business loans, etc) is a fairly even mix of good and bad–company culture matters a lot there, but departmental culture can be wildly out of sync with corporate culture if you’re in a lending department within, say, one of the mega-banks. You can get some long hours in peak seasons in lending, but you get some nice easy times too. Banking at the corporate level is, in my experience, more good than bad, though the caveat about corporate culture and out-of-sync departments does apply. The hours tend to be pretty consistent and the pay is middle to upper-middle class, depending on what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.

          And then there are the finance jobs no one tells you about. There aren’t a ton of them, but if you enjoyed working in non-profits they might be a fit for you. They’re the internal watchdog jobs. There are a ton of regulations around how financial institutions of all sorts have to treat their customers, and those institutions have internal departments dedicated to making sure they’re following them, and fixing any problems before the regulators find them. So there are people inside all these companies whose job is to make sure the company doesn’t cheat the customer. It’s pretty satisfying work, I’ve been doing it for the last 5 years myself.

          So. You may not like *this branch* of finance, but there are others. And there are jobs within your current branch (and others) you may find more satisfying. Going back to nonprofits is not your only other option. By all means, do so if it’s what you really want! But if you like the corporate pay and benefits, you can translate the experience you have into a better job within the larger industry.

        7. CM*

          I think it’s normal to feel shaky when your work life is unstable. It will pass…
          …unless your workplace is always like that. Do you have friends who work at other companies in your industry? Any sense of whether this is industry-normal or just how things work at your company? I wouldn’t extrapolate a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty about this to being unable to hack it in the financial services industry in general. Give yourself some time and permission to be upset by this and then see how you can get back to a more stable place.

        8. Snark*

          You are, I think, overly personalizing your professional relationships. And that speaks well of you as an empathetic person who connects deeply with people, so don’t take that as cricitism! But I think there’s a useful distinction you need to draw between professional respect, regard, and admiration, and personal respect, fondness, and dedication. Someone you have a professional relationship with needs to be at enough emotional distance, even if you like and respect them, that if they resign or move on or get fired, you’re not heartbroken and mourning.

        9. Luna*

          Hi LW, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with all this, those types of restructuring are always tough. It can happen in any industry though- my OldJob went through something very similar and we were in academia.

          There might have been other things going on that you aren’t privy to, but you know what the dynamic is really like better than us, so it’s okay to trust your instincts. This might have been a problem with one particular employee (your boss), or it might be a sign of how these people will treat employees in general. It wouldn’t be wrong to start thinking about applying to other jobs if you think that is what’s best for you.

        10. Legal Beagle*

          I feel for you, LW! A former boss of mine was abruptly fired, and I felt it was handled poorly. It really colored my feelings about the organization and left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the time I worked there. There were internal politics I wasn’t privy to that led to the firing (which may also be true in your case), but in my view, that doesn’t excuse a company from doing it right.In terms of the industry, my bad experience occurred at a non-profit. I think this is the type of thing that can truly happen anywhere, in any workplace, in any industry. I wouldn’t take it as a sign that you’re unfit for the work. It’s normal to take this hard, especially if you are early in your career or new to the industry/company.

          Professional help could give you a confidential space to process your feelings, and hopefully help you to feel comfortable at work again. Even talking to a close friend would probably go a long way towards lifting this weight off your shoulders. I don’t think taking a boss’s sudden firing hard is a sign that you are maladjusted or oversensitive or anything like that – this is a major, unpleasant upheaval of your professional life, and it’s ok to need time to adjust to the new reality.

        11. Jaguar*

          The best thing you can do when you’re in an unstable environment that makes you feel like you are at the capricious whims of forces outside your control is to take steps to control your situation. I would suggest looking for other jobs. You don’t have to take them, but building up the skill of searching for work, negotiating with potential employers, etc will give you more confidence and control of your employment. And if you find something with what seems like a more stable company, hey, you have an attractive option to consider.

          Depending on the work you do or talents you have and how open your current company is to it, you could also consider freelancing on the side, which would give more stability beyond your current job.

        12. Specialk9*

          I’m where you are, trying to sort through emotions about massive layoffs. My company has a habit of laying off the best, brightest, most positive, and hardest working. This layoff round was no exception.

          So what has been helping me:
          1 – Stay in touch with the laid off. Write LinkedIn recommendations (use present tense – it’s easier to get a job with a job, than without). Set a calendar reminder to text or email them.

          2 – This really is a business decision at heart. The not being included in meetings thing can just be fore knowledge of the impending layoff. Before I was laid off, my long approved conference was suddenly not possible due to ‘the budget’, but really because I was going to be laid off. That may have been what was happening to your boss.

          3 – Start looking and networking. Knowing you have options can help a lot.

          4. Choose positivity. You really do have that choice for how you conduct yourself daily, even if your logical approach says it’s time to move on. You choose your demeanor. I make a point of having a small smile and standing tall whenever away from my desk. It says Boss Lady but Approachable.

          5. Get exercise. Even if it’s a 5 minute walk or whatever you can do, it makes life more manageable.

          It’s totally normal to be struggling. But it’s also a normal job experience. Your boss will likely be ok (awesome people and workers usually are) and may end up better off.

        13. theletter*

          There is no harm and no shame in taking some of sessions of grief counselling. Whether you schedule time with a professional or just set a coffee date with a trusted confidante, it will give you something to look forward too. You have, in a way, lost someone who was valuable to you, and you are allowed time to process that.

        14. Someone else*

          I don’t know that this is necessarily the case in your situation, but an angle I think maybe worth considering: the thing that stuck out most to me about your letter was that it’s your first boss. I adored my first boss, we got on great, I thought they were a great boss. I still think they were a pretty good boss, but as I went on in my career I learned that things they were supposed to have been an expert about, they were not. They were just good at winging it.They were adequate, sure, but the more expert I became the more flaws I saw. And from working other places and with other people and reading this blog, the more things I learned about professional norms that made me realize, while this person certainly wasn’t a terrible boss, I was wide eyed and new and took their word as gospel way too frequently, and even picked up some bad habits.
          I have no way of knowing if you’ll eventually come to feel similarly about this boss, but given that there is good reason you aren’t privvy to lots of the context around this boss’ departure, it may be helpful to your emotional state to really consider hard that you don’t know what you don’t know. And there may be very good reasons, many hypothesized in the comments, why what happened with this boss may have been a totally normal Thing That Happens in Business, or he may have gotten a raw deal, or possibly something in between. It’s reasonable to be upset or sad if you really enjoyed working with him, as well as if there is now uncertainty around your role due to the changes, but it won’t necessarily be terrible.Plus the good news is, if it is terrible moving forward, it was just your first major job and you can leave and find another if you feel like you need to.

        15. Observer*

          I’m going to agree with the people who say that there is a good chance that the firing was for cause. If this is what they do to everyone, they are just not very nice (or worse.) But, you say that he was the only one who didn’t get severance. Which indicates that they must have felt like they were on very safe ground to just cut him off this way.

    2. FTW*

      I think the advice still holds, though. You are rarely privvy to all the dynamics that your boss was involved in, e.g., he may have been asked to commit to following a new strategy and he declined.

      Change is hard though. That’s especially true with a boss or coworkers who you were close to and really respected. I found it helpful to keep an open mind, you never know if the new person coming in might be the best boss ever.

      1. Triplestep*

        I agree. I read it that he was treated like crap during his tenure at the company, but I think Alison’s advice still holds.

      2. Specialk9*

        Yes. My own recent shakeup (laid off, rehired, new boss and new job) was really tough. But I was convinced I couldn’t get another boss as good as my last one, and I was wrong. My new boss is pretty great, and I get to work from home full time if I want. That opens up a lot of possibilities.

  4. Stephistication*

    Reg #3. I have long, thick dreadlocs and work at a F50 company as a senior manager in IT. I’m so thankful that my leadership doesn’t care about my hair anymore than anyone else’s. I second the advise to lean heavy on the fact that your curly hair is normal.

    Trying so hard not to go on a rant but I remember growing up as a kid and hearing adults tell me that “I need a relaxer” to straighten my hair. I always felt inferior because of that. OP, please don’t let anyone and their ignorance dictate how you wear your hair.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I would join you in that rant. I, like the OP, am white with big curly hair. Growing up, my mother– who has stick straight hair– always tried to straighten it or get it straightened. When I got blow-outs, I got those weird compliments that were like, “You should do that all the time! Why don’t you straighten your hair every day?” and I was often told my hair was “so big” and “wild”, and not in a nice way. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized there is absolutely nothing wrong with my hair. Once I embraced the curl, big and wild as it can be, I felt so much better about my life, and the compliments I got changed.

      1. Shandon*

        That is so sad to me. My hair is kind of curly, but not in that big wild way I’ve always desperately wanted. I often find myself complimenting strangers with crazy curls because I think they’re so fantastic.

        1. shep*

          Same! I work with several people who have AMAZING, beautiful curls, and sometimes I think I compliment them too much.

          My hair was straight when I was little, but started cultivating these strange irregular waves at the back and underneath when I hit teenagerhood, and it became super bushy. I hated it and used to straighten my hair EVERY DAY as a teenager.

          I still don’t really love my hair’s proclivity for growing in this half-straight, half-irregularly waving way, but I DID find that when I started dyeing it, I killed the more wild of the waves out of it. It’s not stick-straight (unless I straighten it, of course), but I have volume without bushiness now, and slightly less irregularity in my waves.

          In short, it looks more “beach wavy” now than bushy and weird. (I know it’s absolutely not great to dye one’s hair if the idea is to cultivate the most healthy hair possible, but a little chemical damage has done wonders for my hair routine!)

        1. Nikki T*

          Me too! I have a really tight curl pattern, right now I have a shortish curly fro. I cannot WAIT for it to grow longer (and heavier, years and years from now). When it’s big and fluffy, I’m gonna give it to the people…

          1. Mona Lisa*

            I *just* cut my hair off from long to short, curly fro-ish, and I am so in love. My MO has been to grow my hair out for 18-24 months and donate it to Beautiful Lengths. By the time I get to the new length (short or long), I’m usually so excited and ready for the next one.

        2. Turquoisecow*


          My mom has curly hair, but it’s not quite as wild as mine, and it lost a lot of its curl after my little brother was born. So she didn’t quite comprehend the amount of work it would take to get a kid’s hair in line, and how much I really really didn’t (don’t) want to do that work, so as soon as she realized straightening is a thing, she started pushing for that. (Or for really really short hair, which I oppose).

          When my hair is straight I get soooo many compliments. The first time I got it done, in high school, suddenly boys who barely looked my way were trying to flirt with me. I was ignorable with curly hair, suddenly, because my hair looked like every other girl in school, I was tolerable? Random coworkers also compliment me.

          Granted, I don’t put a lot of effort into my curly hair, but even when I do, it seems like no one compliments it. My husband likes my hair both ways, and wants us to have a kid with curly hair. I almost hope we don’t, because I don’t want her to go through the hassles I did.

        3. stephistication*

          Me too! The stories I could tell about people and their obsession with hair texture normalities.

      2. NW Mossy*

        Once I finally found a hair stylist who really understands how to cut my hair, I was able to embrace big-and-wild with my natural curls and it’s been a ton of fun. There’s a certain part of me that likes to cut against the grain of whatever the dominant trend is, and being a curly in a sea of meticulous straightening suits that desire perfectly.

      3. Eye of Sauron*

        Luckily I grew up with my ‘big hair’ in the right era… go 80’s and early 90’s. So I never had the ‘wrong hair’ for my era.

        The only problem I had growing up was my mom didn’t understand my thick curly hair (hers was straight and super thin). She kept trying to use a fine tooth comb on mine and would get mad when it would get stuck! She finally cut it short until I was old enough to take care of it myself, I think that was the best solution for both of us in the long run.

        1. Marie*

          Oh, lord, the little fine-toothed black combs. SO many years of tearing through my hair/breaking combs, and thinking my only options were to do that or not brush my hair at all. Ethnocentrism is a HUGE part of that! It’s the only reason people *kept* handing me those little black combs (and then made perpetual comments about my “snarly” hair when they didn’t work — it’s not snarly, it’s the wrong kind of comb!).

          Once as an adult I finally found a stylist who billed themselves as knowing how to style curly hair. When I got there, I realized what they thought of as “curly” I thought of as “a slight wave.” Halfway through my cut, they said, “Your hair is so thick and beautiful… where are you from?” and we did the whole “here” “no but originally” “still here” dance and I didn’t go to a salon for five years after that.

          The ethnocentrism isn’t always that visible, but it’s just constantly apparent in the amount of work I have to put in to both find somebody who bills themselves as knowing how to do my hair, and then assessing if that’s *actually* true. It shouldn’t be that hard! If hair is your *literal job*, I expect you to either know how to style mine, or know that you *can’t* style mine because there are skills that you haven’t learned. In which case, I expect a referral, not to pay $80 while you square-peg-round-hole my head. I don’t have time (or money!) for stylists who think they have broad skills and don’t realize they actually specialize.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I don’t have time (or money!) for stylists who think they have broad skills and don’t realize they actually specialize.

            What I finally learned, after years of calling salons and asking for someone who was good at cutting curly hair: if they say “oh, we’re ALL good at ALL types of hair,” it means none of them know anything about curly hair. If they say “oh, you’ll want Shannon,” then Shannon probably has curly hair herself and thus is the only one who knows how to cut it.

        2. Kate 2*

          Holy cow, this is familiar. My hair didn’t turn curly until puberty, so my mom never had to comb it, but I had to comb it in (with a wide tooth comb) *in front of her* to show her that combing curly hair doesn’t magically make it straight. She has very fine straight hair too. To her credit, after that she really got it and became very supportive.

          Also, please tell me I am not the only one here who has broken a comb trying to comb their hair? Please? I had already combed it once, so it wasn’t tangled at all, it was just that thick and I tried to pull the comb through too fast. It snapped right in half in my hands.

          1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

            I’ve done it, and I have absolutely straight, super fine hair (just a lot of it). Hair is heavy and strong!

            1. only acting normal*

              Oh wow, flashback! I’ve had short hair for years; I’d forgotten the breaking brush handles. :)

          2. Xay*

            Before I locced my hair, I broke combs and brushes. I even occasionally lost pieces in my hair.

          3. pandop*

            Snapped the teeth out of wide-toothed combs, broken the handle from my hairbush – several times each. I have a lot of hair, I wear it long, so it’s wavy, if it were shorter, it would be curlier. It’s fine hair, but there is a huge amount of it.

          4. TardyTardis*

            My hair was straight as string (I did perm it a few times) till I was 40, and then magically turned curly/wavy (depends on how long it is) as soon as perimenopause hit–most of the white hairs came in curly. (I have mixed hair types–thin red, thick black, and both straight and curly white hair. The back of my neck needs to be cleared by hand about every other day because it tangles so much).

        3. Millennial Lawyer*

          I’m jealous. I was a kid in the ’90s-’00s when if you did not have perfectly “japanese straightened” stick straight hair you were a loser. Plus, my mom insisted I brush it, which was completely wrong as my current style and this thread confirms!

        4. only acting normal*

          My mum has curlier hair than mine and as a kid she’d *still* try to attack me with a brush as I was leaving the house – over my dead body, I’d look like a haystack if she did that!

      4. Minerva McGonagall*

        “When I got blow-outs, I got those weird compliments that were like, “You should do that all the time! Why don’t you straighten your hair every day?””

        This is one of those things that has always confused me, ranking up there with why any adult would think it was OK to touch another adult’s hair or a pregnant woman’s belly. My reaction, without fail, is bewilderment at why someone with such gorgeous curls, that they tell me can be styled in five minutes, would take an hour out of their day every morning to eliminate those curls. I mean, it’s your hair, do what makes you happy. I’m just bewildered.

        Sadly, reading this thread, I’m starting to understand the bias that would lead to that choice.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          I guess I’m naive because I would attribute those compliments to the same sort of compliments I get if I spend an hour on my (straight won’t hold a curl for any reason) hair. I would take it as “Wow, you look really different than normal and that’s a great style” (in other words, recognizing the difference and appreciating the effort of creating the style).

          I can absolutely imagine telling someone with curly hair that they look great with straight hair, but I can also imagine telling someone with straight hair that they look great with curls. I think the effusive “you should do that every day” is more hyperbolic than an actual suggestion.

          1. Mona Lisa*

            It’s difficult to hear that when you’ve spent a good chunk of your life being told by people that your hair is unruly or unprofessional or isn’t conforming to whatever societal beauty standard is on-trend at the moment. I straighten my hair once every couple of years when the right combination of weather, free time, and boredom strike, and it’s difficult not to take the “Oh, your hair looks so good like that!! You should do that more often/all of the time!” comments as being a backhanded compliment that my natural hair isn’t good enough.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            There is a difference between “wow, you look really great, and part of my enthusiasm is because this is so different than normal” and “wow, you look great, and you should do this all the time.” Adding that “you should do this all the time” isn’t really the kind of hyperbole you’re talking about. Or if it’s meant that way, it’s phrased really poorly, because it translates to “your hair looks good now, and it didn’t before” instead of “oooh, cool, something new!”

            1. LBK*

              There is some weird thing about someone inherently being more attractive when you see them in a way you’re not used to seeing them. It’s like how someone you only know from work usually looks better in casual clothes than the suit you’re accustomed to, but someone you know from your personal life usually looks better dressed up in a suit.

              1. The New Wanderer*

                The entire sexy librarian trope is built on this phenomenon. Remove the glasses + bun and instant hottie! Also, any girl from any movie that finally shows up in a prom dress.

                1. only acting normal*

                  …shows up in a *hideous* prom dress (and looked better in any one of her old t-shirt and jeans combos).

          3. Kate 2*

            Ha, yeah no. Trust me when you spend your whole life with people telling you to “Comb your hair!” and other such insults “Boy your hair is frizzy” “Why don’t you straighten your hair?”, don’t get ANY compliments when you style your curly hair differently, and ONLY get compliments when your hair is straightened, it is easy to know for a *fact* that your curly hair is looked down upon.

            This isn’t one person’s experience either, this is African American women, Jewish women, white women, all women with curly hair in a straight hair environment. Curly hair in the US is a minority, the vast majority of people have straight hair. Not only that but as others have said curly hair is associated with not-white people, POC. Therefore most people subconsciously think of it as Bad.

            Even my own mother tends to forget that my hair always looks like this, it is the best I can do without expensive straightening treatments. I have to remind her that combing my hair makes it into a frizzy triangular upside down afro of frizz. But not an attractive afro like a lot of people have.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I’ve actually had the opposite experience. When I had long curly hair, strangers would tell me how pretty it was. No one does that now that I straighten it.

              (Therefore, empirical evidence suggests my hair looks better curly. I don’t care. I straighten my hair for me, not for anyone else.)

          4. a1*

            I hear ya. I have naturally “poker” straight hair. It’s been this way all my life, but it takes curls well. On the rare occasions I curl my hair, or it ends up curly (e.g. after taking it out of a french braid) everyone, and I mean everyone, tells me how great I look and how great it looks and I should curl my hair all the time. Why don’t you get perms or something? Use hot rollers every day? and so on. Seriously. I actually did get a perm once, in my youth, and when I decided not to again people were disappointed I wanted my hair straight again. It’s crazy. This was even when my hair was super thick, so it’s not like i needed extra volume to frame my face better or anything. Anyway, carry on.

          5. oranges & lemons*

            Yeah, unfortunately I would read those “compliments” as being in the same vein as the ones I got after dropping a lot of weight as a teenager (not in a healthy way). Everyone was falling all over themselves to say how much better I looked, or even just straight up telling me I looked awful before.

      5. Mona Lisa*

        Same here! I am so glad I reached this point by the end of high school/early college. I was straightening my thick, curly, white-girl hair every 1-2 days, and it took a solid 45-60 minutes each time. Once I started letting my hair do whatever it wanted, I felt so much freer–I wasn’t living in constant fear of humidity or a sudden rain. My life started to open up to new experiences when I wasn’t concerned all the time about what would happen to my hair.

      6. virago*

        “You should do that all the time! Why don’t you straighten it every day?”

        I just had a flashback to my high school graduation in 1983, for which occasion my parents (meaning: my mother) finally let me get my very thick, fine curls straightened. I was thrilled. Finally, I thought, I’d have a Farrah Fawcett-Majors-esque coif, just like all the cool girls did. And my white-bread northern New England high school classmates — who’d relentlessly ragged on me over the texture of my hair — LOOOOOOVED it.

        That should have been a clue that I’d made the wrong decision. I realize now that the straightening process made my hair looked awful! It was fried (that’s why it slurps up moisture now). It didn’t suit the shape of my head. I couldn’t do anything with it. And to maintain it, I’d’ve had to blow dry it every day (I’m way too lazy to do that) or endure recurring salon touch-ups (I’m way too cheap for that).

        Granted, people who want to straighten their hair today have less-destructive options than I did back in the day, when the straightening of my curls involved the use of the corrosive chemical lye. And I won’t judge anyone who wants to avail themselves of those options.

        But I’m happy with my curls now. Why? How?
        * I work in a business-casual environment where my curls have not kept me from advancing in my profession.
        * I’ve lucked into a gifted stylist (shout-out to Julie Washington, who works her magic at Estuary Salon and Spa in South Portland, Maine, and b.Luxe in Medway, Mass.).
        * I’ve found the right products: Alaffia Coconut Reishi Cleansing Condition and Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner as my co-wash; Controlled Chaos Hair Moisturizer as my leave-in, and Mizani True Textures Twist and Coil Jelly for curl definition and frizz control.
        * I’ve learned the hard way to avoid brushes altogether (I finger comb my hair in the shower); to add my leave-in and styling products to wet hair, blotted just a little to stop the dripping; and to keep my hands off it as it dries.

        tl;dr: Curls are not inherently unprofessional, and the right stylist, products and routine can make a world of difference.

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh lord, I only brush my curly haired kid’s hair once a month, and even that is only in the bath, with conditioner, and using a wide mouthed comb. I found a curly haired master hair stylist, and pumped her for how to do curly hair.

    2. Teal*

      I’m wondering if OP’s hair is such a texture and volume that people are assuming it’s a perm/treatment.

      When I worked abroad in an Asian country, some comments were made about my curly hair. It took me a while to realize that only natural hair was allowed, and everyone assumed my curls were a perm, so thus I was “breaking the rules.”

      OP might just have to clarify.

  5. HannahS*

    OP2, your boss is a tool, and why one Earth would anyone think to complain about your hair to him?! Who’s even doing it, students? Other profs? It’s such an odd situation.
    In my opinion, any hair that appears to have been recently cleaned and groomed in a way that’s appropriate for its texture and for the physical/safety demands of the job is professional. I might find it mildly weird if someone wore a bridal up-do or spiked frosted tips to work, but I have a hard time coming up with a style that I think is truly unprofessional. I guess gelled-up, eleven-inch spikes would be pretty incongruous in most settings, but it’s not like it would offend me, and even if it did, I wouldn’t dream of complaining to a person’s boss.

      1. Penny Lane*

        Please don’t nitpick words. You know what she means. While the OP isn’t black, we all know that black hair has different texture and thus is styled differently. “Appropriate for texture” is just that – if you are black and that’s how your hair texture naturally is, so be it – you have no need to straighten it to something that isn’t your natural hair texture just to please others.

      2. HannahS*

        What I mean is, there isn’t one correct method of haircare. If your hair is straight, you should probably brush or comb it. If it’s curly or kinky, brushing it probably isn’t going to be comfortable or good for it. I don’t use anything other than my fingers for detangling and styling my hair, and it looks perfectly neat. But if my hair was thin, fine, and straight, finger combing in the shower plus some floofing with my fingertips probably wouldn’t work. Does that clear things up?

        1. HannahS*

          Like, we can all write in with recommendations of what professional hair looks like and what products and tools it takes, but I think all that matters is that it looks clean and cared for, and that’s not one specific look, because that’s different based on hair type. Locs are perfectly professional on a Black person and questionable on a white person (because they’re mats in that case, to say the least of cultural appropriation), and someone with thin hair is going to have to wash their hair more than someone with thick hair.

          1. Mookie*

            You were perfectly clear the first time.

            And I agree. I’ve got ridiculously fine hair, and unless I powder it to within an inch of its life after washing and air-drying, I literally look wet-headed, like I just stepped out of the shower or got caught in a freak rainstorm. For its length, that would be distracting and weird, and many people would interpret it as a hygiene issue, totally distinct from the arbitrary white Eurocentric ideals pushed onto people of color that, as you say, are hidden in disingenuous complaints about cleanliness and “professionalism.”

            1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

              Don’t mean to go too off-topic. Just showing solidarity (and chiming in to agree with HannahS’s point – that different textures might have different requirements to remain “clean/cared for”). I have super fine hair, but a LOT of it and I’m just a really, really, really oily person. By 48 hrs after washing (unless I use hair powder – my life changed after discovering dry shampoo) if I were to wear it down it would be greasy to the point of being extremely noticeable and appearing to be a hygiene issue.

              1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                I have the same kind of hair (Minus the oily) and it’s totally the opposite: If my hair gets greasy, I HAVE to leave it DOWN, because pulling it up makes the hair lying on my head look super stringy and gross.

              2. Anxa*

                Same. It’s embarrassing, but my hair also pretty thin and fine. I actually love it wavy an more unkempt because it gives it lift and volume. Unfortunateley, it’s also frizzy and wispy around the face and dirty blonde. There isn’t a serum, mousse, or gel I’ve tried that didn’t make it look limp, wet, unwashed, or like I dyed my hair darker.

                Yet I can’t wash it everyday or blow dry it either.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I have fine, pin-straight hair, and finger-combing in the shower plus floofing would…. not be remotely effective.

          1. Observer*

            Which kind of makes the point – you need to do what works for your hair not what someone else thinks you “should” be doing.

    1. anonagain*

      I agree, HannahS. I don’t want your hair in my food or my surgical incisions. I hope you won’t get caught in machinery or anything. Other than that, I couldn’t possibly care less.

      I also can’t imagine having the time and energy to complain about someone’s chosen hairstyle, even if I did care. I think it’s regrettable that the boss even entertained the complaints.

    2. BadPlanning*

      I wonder if it’s really only the boss who has a hair problem and took general comments to be complaints. Like, “Wow, she had some hair!”

  6. Mb13*

    LW 2 I’m sorry this happened. I want you to know they are wrong…butttt sadly it doesn’t matter because if it’s something your boss is complaining about it might be worth looking into ways to make it look more “professional” (I have long curly hair that I love deeply, I hate when people say their bad oppions about it).

    I found putting it in a twist bun with some well placed loose locks up front works great. The curly hair subreddit has a huge master list. I tie it with an 80’s style wide scrunchy and then use a million hair pins. Alternatively I use a long Japanese hair pin and its supports my hair for most of the day (and its supper easy to re style if it sags).

    If you want to take a slightly more drastic approach you can schedule an appointment with a stylist who specializes in curly hair and see if they have any suggestion for more professional looking short haircuts. And worst comes to worst there are always wigs.

    1. Mookie*

      Would a wig accommodate hair that looks, as the LW describes it, like a bush on her head?

      Unless she’s actively interested in a new style or cut and wants to use this situation as an impetus for change, I don’t think she needs to cut her hair because these weirdos are complaining. They’re the ones who are aberrant here.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        Julianna Margulies wore a wig on The Good Wife rather than dealing with the styling required to have the look she wore on the show (she felt her natural curls didn’t suit the character). It’s amazing what can be done with wigs.

        (I’m pretty sure I learned this fun fact on AAM.)

      2. Observer*

        Yes, it would. But I can’t believe that mB13 was serious about that. That’s a pretty drastic response to the issue.

    2. Mike C.*

      No, just because they are a boss or manager or supervisor or lead or whatever does not mean they get to control every aspect of your appearance on a whim. They aren’t feudal lords whose rings must be kissed and permission sought before marriage.

      1. Penny Lane*

        There are, however, white people with frizzy hair that does indeed look like a rat’s nest. I work with someone like that. I’d never say anything but it really does look uncombed/un-cared-for. If she embraced her curls and went big, I’d say more power to her.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          She’s probably using a brush and doesn’t know how to care for her curls. It’s really difficult as someone with curly hair in a straight-haired world to locate reliable resources and learn how to work with it instead of against. If she grew up with straight-haired people, she’s probably resigned herself to having “difficult” hair and is using what she was taught as hair management without discriminating if there’s a way that might be better for her hair type.

          1. medium of ballpoint*

            Seconding this. If the OP is interested, looking into a Ouidad or Deva cut can help retain the shape of her curls while getting rid of some of the frizziness. (And if you’re interested, OP, the Ouidad website has a salon locator. Not sure about the Deva site.) Those cuts are expensive, though, and she has every right for her hair to do what it does without complaint from others. Quite frankly, if that’s how her hair grows, the people around her can learn to deal with it like grownups. She shouldn’t have to resort to wigs or expensive haircuts because of someone else’s screwy norms around professionalism.

        2. Kate 2*

          Oh gosh, I am having flashbacks to before I read the Curly Girl book. My parents both have straight hair, no one I knew had curly hair. I brushed my hair (cringing at the memory) and didn’t know to use heavy duty conditioner. In all my photos then you can see a giant dried out bushy triangle hanging from my scalp. Now my hair has moisture and is finger combed it looks so much better. It is much healthier and less “sticking out, haystack” volume, more “healthy, springy” volume.

          1. tangerineRose*

            I’m in Gen X and live in the western coast of the US, and I’ve generally had positive comments on my curly hair. Not sure if it has to do with curly hair being “in style” for a while or what, but I’ve been surprised by how many people have had negative comments on it.

  7. Thulcandran*

    I’m gonna guess that OP2 is not white; that’s the most common reason people are told their hair is unprofessional or abnormal. Whether true or not, there has been a lot of pushback on forcing people to straighten naturally curly/kinky/frizzy hair, as it’s essentially saying white appearances are more professional than black appearances. You might have room to push back on that count – especially if you work at a university! If they try to make a bigger deal out of it.

    1. Artemesia*

      She says she is ‘a pale white girl from the southern US.’ I worked in the south and had white colleagues from time to time with big curly mops that looked great. It is hard to react without seeing a picture of the hair; does it really look like a rats nest on those days? (I have moments in certain weather where I leave the house with my hair in a clip/bun and in the wind and weather look like something from a horror film when I get where I am going). There is a wide range of ‘professional hair looks’ but there is also hair that looks frizzy, sloppy, out of control and ungroomed. It seems weird so many people would be commenting on hair that is just ‘big’ and ‘curly’ as that is such a popular look for people who have the hair to pull it off.

      1. BRR*

        I had a coworker who had hair similar to Sara Gilbert (but much Curlier; she also looked and sounded like Sara Gilbert so I’m not sure that I wasn’t actually working with her) and that’s where my mind went. Obviously I’m impacted by my experience with that picture in my head. She wore it shorter (might have been around 7 or 8 inches long) and used some styling cream for curly hair and I thought it looked great.

    2. TL -*

      She explicitly says she’s white.
      I do wonder if it’s worse than she thinks it is – if it’s close to Anne Hathaway’s “before” hair in the Princess Diaries than OP, you might want to look into different styling options, even if it’s just hairspray and a ponytail on humid days.

      1. Yada Yada Yada*

        Classic movie reference! My natural hair is wild, but not with true curls like OP, which are style-able and beautiful! Without heat styling, my hair looks like Hermione Granger in the first HP movie. Not much to work with. Luckily it’s not too thick and doesn’t take too long to straighten or straighten/curl

        1. TL -*

          My hair is long and wavy (bordering on curly if it’s not brushed but that quickly turns to matted) and I can get some impressive frizz going on in high humidity. An inch and a half of halo fuzz with a few curls sticking straight up or out beyond that.
          That’s why I ask – I know my hair can go into the unprofessionally frizzy zone even though most days it’s fine.

        2. Specialk9*

          But even with Harry Potter, it was hard not to roll the eyes at Hermione being portrayed as homely when she was gorgeous but with frizzy hair and glasses. Ooh frizzy hair, glasses, who could possibly notice the gorgeous elfen creature below?

          1. Yada Yada Yada*

            Valid, she is gorgeous! But the hair was out of this world-literally- and personally I did think it roughed her up a bit

    3. HerbalThree*

      My younger brother has bright red hair that he finds very difficult to manage when it is longer, and it doesn’t hold a curl very well. Please don’t make assumptions.

    4. Espeon*

      Jeepers, above commenters, Thulcandran missed one line at the bottom of the question – which was only there in the first place because the natural assumption for many would be that there may be a specific ethnicity component here – and you’re all just piling-on like they’ve said something awful! WHY? Ffs.

      1. MK*

        When you miss one line of a sort paragraph and this allows you to inappropriately cry racism, it’s not an honest mistake. The commenter glanced at “curly hair” and “unprofessional”, didn’t bother to read the letter and immediately assumed the worst.

        In any case, misreading the letter happens; but the appropriate response is “sorry, I missed that”, not gstring snarky, as if p who point out the mistake are being unreasonable.

        1. martine*

          +1000. Thulcandran missed an important and relevant part of the letter and made a comment which was no help and not relevant to the letter writer at all. The boss in question is a jerk for sure but there’s no evidence he’s a racist and he shouldn’t be implied to be one.

          1. Triplestep*

            I disagree that the comment was of “no help” even though it missed the OP’s ethnicity. Plenty of people read this blog and see themselves in the letters and in the commentor’s responses. Or they see their own unconscious bias pointed out. I guarantee you *someone* learned *something* from this comment. Probably lots of someones did.

            Secondly, there’s another conversation thread here going on about curly-haired cultures like Greek or Jewish, many of which are majority White. While Thulcandran makes a valid point about Non-white people being told their hair is unprofessional, there are plenty of organizations and people who consider themselves progressive enough that they would never make a comment like this to a Non-white woman, but somehow find it OK to to tell a White woman to tame HER ethnic hair texture. Perhaps this is where the OP finds herself, and she can feel empowered to own her ethnic hair texture as a White woman, too.

            Signed, a Jewish White woman whose curly hair got wirey in middle age and now wears it short and spiky.)

        2. Mookie*

          inappropriately cry racism

          Please let’s not be hyperbolic or create splash damage here.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think anyone’s crying racism. But I do think that a prolonged discussion on the politics of hair and racial performance could be derailing in light of OP’s note that she’s not coming from the same context that many women with curly hair experience.

        4. Yellow Bird Blue*

          Clearly Thulcandran made a wrong assumption, but it’s not at all a far-fetched one. Black folks have to deal with the assumption that curly hair is unprofessional a LOT more than white folks.

      2. hbc*

        I’m guessing no one meant to pile on–most of the comments could have been from not refreshing the screen to see that there were already responses. And if someone failed to read that other people had commented first, it’s a pretty bizarre thing for you to complain about in this context–they missed reading the entirety of the context, same as Thulcandran.

      3. Penny Lane*

        Thulcandran: “Oops, sorry, my bad! I must have missed the line about being white. Carry on!”

        That’s the appropriate response.

        1. Natalie*

          I wouldn’t take silence as indicative of anything; people don’t get notified if they get a reply.

      4. soon 2be former fed*

        Reading is fundamental. Folks are too quick to comment without reading the entire post they are responding to. It’s annoying.

      5. Kate 2*

        Agree with MK, also it’s a very weird, very ethnocentric and ignorant thing to think (or imply) that only African American people have curly hair. People of all races, including Asian people and Native Americans have naturally curly hair. As do Caucasian people.

        1. Specialk9*

          Right, but it’s pretty ignorant to pretend that Western beauty ideals aren’t steeped in racism. Especially in the US, where many of our cultural norms were deliberately created to buttress and support slavery.

          Just because she’s white doesn’t mean the idea that ‘white person hair is professional and brown person hair is unprofessional’ is not racist.

    5. CityMouse*

      While OP is white, there is an aspect of racial coding in normalizing straight hair. Does it change OP’s path here? No. But if you are in a position to set dress codes or set standards, it is something you should consider.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Exactly this.

        Referring to curly hair as “not normal” is rooted in racism.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        Yes, there’s definitely a view of straight hair as “normal” and curly hair as “other.” I’m white, so I wouldn’t call it racism (in my own particular case) so much as…ethnocentrism, maybe? But as a Jewish woman with curly hair, I would be hugely uncomfortable with a boss telling me that my regular hair is inappropriate for the office.

      3. Delphine*

        Right? If curly hair was known as “white people hair” this wouldn’t be an issue. There is racism behind what makes people think curly hair is unprofessional, whether the target is a white person with curls or not.

    6. Thulcandran*

      So . . . I don’t know why it’s not showing up, but maybe 40 minutes after this reply, I did leave a comment that said “I missed that! Sorry, guess it’s past bedtime for me,” or something to that effect. Because . . . I missed that line. You know. As people do occasionally. Without meaning to.

      I promise it was not some nefarious attempt to “cry racism,” or stir up drama, but a misreading of the letter.

      1. Yada Yada Yada*

        Some people seem to stay up all night commenting and expect others to respond to everything in 12 minutes or less. Or at least it seems that way, I often see 5 a.m. comments. Overseas maybe? Idk but I can barely keep up with it myself, a girl’s gotta sleep!

  8. Middle Name Jane*

    To LW #4: I implore you not to use the word “broken” about Sansa. It’s a damaging word. I was sexually assaulted in 2011 and have regularly cried in my therapist’s office that I’m broken and no man will want me. I haven’t tried to date since the assault out of a fear of rejection. It’s one thing for me to call myself broken, but I can’t tell you how devastating it would be to hear someone else refer to me that way.

    1. MerciMe*

      I’m sorry you are experiencing that. I hope everything turns out amazing for you in the long run. I know how hard it is to feel awful about yourself and I’m glad you have someone in your life who can help you work through it. Good wishes for your healing journey.

    2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Hi, OP#4 here:

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I use the word “broken” in terms of broken spirit – Sansa was extremely timid, glancing almost fearfully around her when she was being shown around and literally flinching/cringing when we shook hands. I’m not so obtuse as to even refer to her condition within earshot of her, but I appreciate the reminder to be more careful in that sense.

      While we’re at it, what would be a more acceptable word to use? As you can see, I’m not trained in these things.

      1. LS*

        “Traumatised” is one, but that still refers to her internal feelings which you don’t actually know. “Nervous”, “fearful” and “timid” are all good descriptors of her behaviour without sounding diagnostic. If your manager is happy with volunteering being therapy for Sansa, the manager should also be willing to support the employees working with her, and asking ahead of time if you are unsure is both a smart and kind thing to do.

        1. Clara Rose*

          I think basically what the courteous young man has absolutely done here is to check his privilege and attempt to create a situation for Sansa to be comfortable and that’s awesome. I wish more people were that thoughtful. But it’s not cool to be sharing her personal details around because trauma is a medical issue and it would definitely help LW4 to see Sansa’s trauma in that light and like other medical issues, not to presume that they know what’s best for Sansa because they are not her, her therapist or her doctor. Be guided by Sansa and as someone with ptsd and having survived some pretty harrowing stuff, the last thing we are, to be volunteering as therapy is broken. It takes a lot of strength to reach out after you’ve been victimised and Sansa’s doing it in a very healthy way.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah I applaud OP for working so hard to do the right thing for this woman. I am seriously casting shade on the people who shared her incredibly personal stuff to strangers.

            1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

              Hi Specialk9, I was also pretty startled, but in my colleague’s defense, the text simply said, “[Sansa] had a traumatic experience while overseas and is undergoing psychiatric help now. [She] will be coming in tomorrow at 11am to assist us regularly. She is a writer and has worked for [a publisher] before. Her helping out here is a form of therapy for her. We will see how we can help each other. Appreciate your patience, gentleness and understanding when talking to her.”

              Maybe it’s just me, but I kind of see it as a heads-up to everyone rather than someone being rude.

      2. TL -*

        I don’t think you need a word to describe her supposed mental state – you’re not her friend, her therapist or her family.
        All you really need to know is that she’s someone you need to be consistently gentle, patient, and good-natured with. Some people are just a little extra sensitive like that. Anything else doesn’t need to be part of your working knowledge of her.

      3. Red Reader*

        Step one: use words that describe people, not pottery. “Broken” makes her sound like some delicate vase or something. I dunno, I feel like a pretty good word to describe nervous behavior is, maybe, “nervous.”

      4. Washi*

        The way you just explained it is fine! Something I learned in social work school about keeping language nonjudgmental is to focus on facts/behaviors, not opinions. When I write my case notes, instead of “client was confused” I say “client could not remember why he made his doctor’s appointment” etc. You can’t really know that Sansa’s spirit is “broken,” but you can note that she flinched away from shaking hands with you or jumped at small noises or whatever. I realize this may all sound like nitpicking, but your question was about how to work with Sansa, and I think sticking to neutral language when talking and thinking about her is actually a good place to start!

      5. boo bot*

        “Words that describe people, not pottery” is a good rule of thumb :)

        “Broken” is a term that’s really common when talking about people with past trauma, and I find it horrific. It sounds complete, and final: this object is broken, it is unusable– throw it away and get a new one. The trauma has subsumed the person, and she (always she) is now so completely defined by the damage it caused that all her other qualities no longer count.

        It’s also massively presumptuous, particularly when you’re describing how you saw her *before* anyone told you anything about her history. I’m trying to answer the question, not condemn you, but I want to express why people react so strongly.

        “Broken” is a defining term; I’m searching for an equivalent but all I can come up with is, “I met him only briefly, but even in those few hours I could tell that he would live and die without hope, without love, and without joy, knowing only the cold embrace of professional and personal failure until the end of his days. Which would probably be on a Thursday.”

        Say she looked frightened, that she was on edge, that she seemed extremely anxious and flinched when anyone touched her. Say she seemed traumatized, if you have to, but neutral descriptors are your friend here.

        1. boo bot*

          Also, broken in spirit isn’t any better. I mean, it’s a step up from pottery, but it’s still a thing movie villains say about horses.

        2. Specialk9*

          This is such a good post, thank you. I really needed to hear this whole message.

          Also, you’re brilliant:
          “I met him only briefly, but even in those few hours I could tell that he would live and die without hope, without love, and without joy, knowing only the cold embrace of professional and personal failure until the end of his days. Which would probably be on a Thursday.”

      6. Annabelle*

        A lot of people, probably even some you interact with on a daily basis, are processing trauma or have some sort of trauma-based condition. Some just hide it more effectively than others.

        Trauma isn’t about having a broken spirit, and it’s super unhelpful to talk about really any neurodivergent people that way. You don’t have to describe her mental state. As others have said, you can mention behaviors — being timid or shy, struggling with eye contact, not wanting to be touched — without doing that.

      7. Middle Name Jane*

        Elan Morin Tedronai–you seem like a kind, empathetic person. I hope it doesn’t seem like we’re piling on you for using the word “broken.” Be kind to Sansa, be patient, follow her lead. I would suggest treating her normally but also taking cues from her behavior as to how you should be around her. We don’t know what happened to her, but I would suggest trying not to startle her in any way (you know how sometimes people can inadvertently startle someone if they don’t realize the other person is there). But at the same time, don’t treat her like a china doll. Probably being yourself and acting as naturally as possible around her and not showing a reaction if she behaves in a way outside the “norm” are your best bets. Good luck.

        1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

          Hi Middle Name Jane,
          It’s fine. You, SomePTSDChick and mintypins downthread have given me a lot of advice and pointers which I can use and/or keep in mind, so I appreciate the help.
          And I have a pretty “zen” personality, so not much ruffles my feathers. :)

    3. martine*

      I thought there was a rule here about nitpicking the words of letter writers and other commentators?

      It’s an unkind thing to do and doesn’t answer the question or help the letter writer at all.

      1. Marvel*

        I’ve always thought that rule is more about nitpicking wording that has little to do with the content of the letter. “You say it was ‘unfortunate’ rather than ‘terrible,’ does that mean you really think it was MERELY unfortunate?” and so on.

        This particular criticism seems more about, “I think the way you describe this person is indicative of an attitude that may be a problem going forward.” Which seems entirely fair. Words are the only medium we have to communicate in here, so it makes sense that we are sometimes going to call attention to wording.

        1. Marvel*

          For the sake of comparison, I’d have a similar problem (as a trans person) if someone was speaking of a trans colleague and described their gender transition as, for instance, “trendy.” Yes, technically I’m talking about wording, but what I’m really talking about is the attitude behind the word–the idea that someone going through a “gender transition” is just following the crowd. It’s not about the word; it’s about the context.

          1. Marvel*

            Er, those quotes were supposed to be around “following the crowd,” not around “gender transition.” This is what I get for commenting when I should be sleeping!

        2. Mad Baggins*

          I thought Middle Name Jane brought up an important point about a charged word. “Broken” has strong connotations about a person’s value and wholeness, and I think the suggestions of “timid” etc are more accurate and helpful as they describe Sansa’s behavior, not her personhood. In the same vein I would rather describe someone’s behavior as lazy, selfish, etc. than call them a “bad person.” Since OP wants to help Sansa, I think it’s good to point out words to avoid that might echo the mean voice in her head.

          1. Mookie*

            Yep. Elan Morin Tedronai seems eager to learn, and it does need saying that language like “broken” can be stigmatizing.

          1. Nitty McPickerson*

            It always steams my goat when someone uses fail as a noun. The word you’re looking for is failure.

      2. Reba*

        It does relate to the question, since the question is how to work with a person and the language is likely indicative of the OP’s attitude toward said person.

        Elan Morin Tedronai, you sound like a sympathetic person. I don’t have any clear suggestions but will just chime in that though it might be minor, “broken” stood out to me, too. (For me it has moralizing tones bc I used to hear it during my religious upbringing, where it really chafed… but that’s just me.) Agree with others that you can think about what you *know* and observe about Sansa, which at this point is really not a lot.

        Like Alison, I also find it weird that your colleague effectively introduced this person to you by leading with their mental health/personal history… but hopefully Sansa wanted them to do so, and hopefully it turns out it’s for the best? Like, presumably you would all be kind to a new volunteer regardless of their tragic backstory. If I were in Sansa’s shoes I know I would be frustrated feeling that people were treating me with kid gloves because I was “fragile,” or again, “broken,” when I’d prefer just to be treated like a normal coworker….but again can only speak for myself. (Honestly, I’d wonder what my bosses would tell others about me that I considered private.)

        I guess my point is, proceed as you normally would, maybe with a dash of extra patience.

      3. Annabelle*

        The term “broken” is really, really commonly used to describe people (especially women) who have experienced trauma as damaged. I can totally see how someone who doesn’t know that would think it’s a value neutral descriptor, but it’s almost a bit like a dog whistle. And really, I think it’s a kindness to tell otherwise well-meaning people when they inadvertently use harmful language.

    4. Yellow Bird Blue*

      I really dislike using broken in contexts like these. I’m not a native speaker and I always cringe when people are described like that – sounds like permanently damaged or devalued to me. Which is an issue in itself when it comes to sexual assault and the connotations around it.

      Anyway, I’m sure the letter writer didn’t mean any harm by it, but please try to reconceptualize that word for yourself. Sansa might be traumatized but she’s not broken. Good luck!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I haven’t read all the way down and someone else might have already, but I’d like to point out that since nobody knows what Sansa’s trauma is, the OP being male could have nothing to do with it. If she were overseas, it could have been something conflict-related.

        It doesn’t matter, anyway–OP should just treat her as if she’s any other volunteer. Focusing on her emotional state and whatever the incident was is a job for her therapist, not her volunteer coordinator. Give her a chance to be in a normal situation.

    5. bohtie*

      came here to say this. Seriously, as someone with PTSD, we think that about ourselves constantly, and we really don’t need any help.

  9. Emily Spinach*

    Alison in #5’s situation what about in a follow up email, not the cover letter?

    For example, “Hi again Fyodor, thanks again for the great conversation at the Appendix & Indexes Conference. I’ve thought more about the job you mentioned and wanted to let you know I’m planning to apply. I also saw on LinkedIn that you’re looking for recommendations for early 2000s dance movies and wondered if you’ve seen Center Stage. If not, you really should! Thanks, Julie”

    Is that type of thing more appropriate?

    1. Penny Lane*

      I could see a movie rec if, in your discussions, you had engaged in small talk and he had mentioned liking a certain genre of movies – and you positioned it as an add-on to your main discussion about the job (“by the way…”). But noting it from a LinkedIn profile feels a little creepy.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh. It’s fine. It’s just unnecessary, and it’s not likely to help the OP’s chances. And since she seems to be looking at it as a way to do that, I’d skip it.

      1. Catabodua*

        Just an interesting item (perhaps) for you – we have a very well know local recruiter who includes this sort of “quiz” in emails they send out about postings.

        So you’ll get an email for them trying to fill an assistant controller’s position and at the end in the requirements section it will say “Must have MBA, 10+ years experience, blah blah. Also must be able to give the name of the actor who has played some obscure character in movies no one has ever heard of more than 3 times.”

        I’m positive that if you are a strong candidate, even if you don’t know the answer, you still get passed along but coworkers are all over the place on how they feel about it. Some think it’s fun and challenging to try to answer the question, others think it’s stupid and unprofessional.

      2. FloralsForever*

        There is a very slight chance it might help her stand out, depending on the culture of the area and/or industry. But I think that if movie preference really matters while evaluating candidates, it falls under a guise of “culture fit,” which in the area around me, means “people like me,” and has shown to be another form of discrimination in many cases. I personally don’t want to be evaluated on if I prefer DC or Marvel, and honestly should not be. In the end, it is a weird and I’d stay away from it because it’s distracting from actual qualifications.

        1. linkedin limbo*

          OP5 here, I actually know exactly the type of movie that the recruiter is looking for and that’s why I would recommend it. It’s a very specific genre that I’m quite familiar with.

          So from a culture fit type of question, would this give me an advantage to be sharing this with recruiter? Or how much does culture fit really factor into making a candidate more promising?

    3. Blossom*

      I think just reply to it on LinkedIn, or not at all. It’s weird to take a trivial post from LinkedIn and make a thing of replying to it via another channel. Why not just connect with him on LinkedIn, and reply there?

      1. Ainomiaka*

        That’s what I was thinking. The conversation was started on LinkedIn. Have it there.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, I think on Linked In it lands as neutral, with a can’t-hurt chance that it provides a bit of good karma.

          1. Legal Beagle*

            Since the recruiter put it out there, I agree that it can’t hurt to respond. It’s not like OP is randomly popping up to say “Have you seen Center Stage? Also, I really want this job.” The recruiter is asking his general LinkedIn audience for recommendations, so it would be ok to send a brief, friendly message responding to that specific request.

            To me, this is a perfect opportunity to stand out from the crowd in a non-gumption-y way. It’s interesting that Alison disagrees, though!

            1. linkedin limbo*

              OP5 here. I spoke to a career advisor about it and she seemed to think it was a good way to stand out, kinda quirky. Particularly when the recruiter seemed also kinda on the quirky side. I was just unsure about the fact that I found out about the movie recommendation request from his LinkedIn and not in our conversation.

      2. Anion*

        Yes, why not just do that? Leave a friendly movie rec comment, don’t mention the job at all.

        1. DogG*

          Totally agreed. Where it started is where it belongs.
          I do outreach work for my church and therefore people who are interested in similar work will frequent either my LinkedIn or my Twitter (not to hard to find). One day after a particularly aggressive baby-riding-pit bull-picture spree I got a LinkedIn message from an interested candidate mentioning her work with violent dogs. Totally out of left field IMO even though I eventually put the pieces together.
          People have their posts categorized in their brains so what seems natural to you might be a bit jarring. Best to not risk it.

      3. linkedin limbo*

        I never thought of this and this seems to be a great way way to establish more than one form of contact with the recruiter, and serves to separate the movie recommendation from the more serious goal of establishing my qualifications.

        Should I be concerned, though, about coming off as too pushy/stalky by emailing my coverletter and inMailing a LinkedIn movie recommendation response?

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Unfortunately, I think it’s kind of odd (and not likely to be helpful) to play the movie recommendation angle in any part of the initial job hunt. In addition to not really adding anything useful about the applicant’s skills, it can also come off as sycophantic. :(

    5. Stan*

      My fear would be that rather than helping my candidacy, engaging in the discussion would hurt it. What if they’ve seen the movie and thought it was terrible? Or they watch it and they’re offended by the this, that, or the other scene?

      A one-off movie recommendation shouldn’t really sway a hiring manager either way, but when they only have a couple of data points about your judgment, I think it could take on more weight than it should.

  10. FrontRangeOy*

    OP#2, from another caucasian woman with ridiculously curly hair, greetings.

    For your own peace of mind, you might appreciate The Curly Girl Method, which helps hair look its best even when naturally very thick and various types of wavy/curly/coil-y

    In your shoes, I’d be highly tempted to buy a few scarves and start wearing a head wrap. If your natural hair is “unprofessional,” then perhaps tucking it completely out of sight would be better.

    You could also learn how to do a simple bun; more attractive than a bushy ponytail (ask me how I know) but harder on your curls in the long run. If your boss pushes back and insists that curly hair looks unprofessional, it might be time to look for a new position, possibly in a more laid back or creative environment. I work in a creative field where my hair is either out, curly, and rambunctious, or else tucked under a chef’s cap. Either way, I’m happy, and nobody gives me grief about a natural look.

    1. CurlyGirl5000*

      Yes, Curly Girl method!!

      OP 2, I’ve found the Curly Girl method (there’s a Facebook group or just Google it) has helped me better care for and maintain my hair, and it’s a bit more predictable in its curl/frizz pattern which I tell myself makes it seem more professional because it looks like I know what I’m doing and hey, at least it’s consistent.

      I hope you find a way to feel like your hair looks more professional without sacrificing your curls, and the complainers are probably just jealous that they’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to get curls that look like yours :)

    2. The Foreign Octopus*

      I’m really interested in this and I don’t want to derail the conversation. Head wraps for white people – cultural appropriation, yay or nay? I really want to wear them but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate because I don’t actually recall seeing white British people wear them. Also, would they be considered professional in the LW’s context?

      (Alison, tell me to wait until Friday if this is too off topic.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m not Alison, but this seems better suited for the Friday open thread, as responses would not help OP with her particular situation.

      2. Penny Lane*

        Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair with head wraps. Amish women cover their hair. Religious Catholic women cover their hair. Covering a woman’s hair is something that has existed across many cultures over time. No one culture “owns” the concept.

        1. Emi.*

          *White* Catholic women don’t generally wear things that you’d call “headwraps.” At least in the US, Tridentine-Mass-attending and traditional-style women tend to wear lace mantillas or loose scarves in church and nothing outside of it.

        2. NaoNao*

          While they cover their hair, it’s for religious reasons, and done in a very different style (for example, Catholic Church goers wear a symbolic small black lace mantilla or a hat).
          Head wraps are a distinct look that is for fashion and function, not religious respect. They’re usually done in a very particular way, often with native-to-Africa cloth that is immediately recognizable as such.
          Covering hair is not a head wrap.

          1. Observer*

            I can’t talk to anything but Orthodox Jewish women, but there it’s a WIDE variety of styles – and often with a wide variety of cultural influences. Orthodox Jewish women come from a LOT of different places, and there tends to be a lot borrowing in that way.

          2. Specialk9*

            I think that covering one’s hair in Catholic Church ended with Vatican II (60s). I have seen much older women wear the little black doilies, but usually they also insist on going to the Latin Mass (also a Vatican II change), so it’s not seen much. (US)

            1. bonkerballs*

              I think it’s not nearly as popular as it once was, but I live in Seattle and know several Catholic women close to my age (late 20s/early 30s) who wear veils (not doilies) to church. So it’s certainly not a dead and forgotten practice.

      3. A.M.*

        My two cents: many white European cultures have worn head scarves since long before any contact with other ethnicities, in particular in Eastern Europe. Don’t worry so much.

        1. curly sue*

          Pedantic reply: there has never been a time ‘before any contact’ in Europe – small groups have occasionally isolated themselves for periods of time, but there’s been mixing, mingling, travel and style crossovers and influence pan-Europe and Asia since Neanderthal days.

          On the subject of head scarves, I agree that there’s no problem or appropriation involved at all, unless OP goes for something obviously traditionally Nigerian, for example. Basic scarves might get you blinked at in my area as being vaguely hipster, but that’s about it.

      4. London Bookworm*

        I think this is a perfectly reasonable question and relevant to the suggestion for OP.

        As other commenters have said, head scarves are not uncommon in a number of European cultures (I’m Northern European by ancestry, and both my grandmothers wore them growing up)! That said, there are some styles and prints that are clearly African in origin (such as ankara prints, or headwraps with a big front knot) and would likely bring up issues of cultural appropriation, so it would be wise for OP to be sensitive to that.

        1. Mobuy*

          If she likes them, she can wear them. Just like Black people can play the violin, Chinese people can wear tennis shoes, and Native Americans can play soccer.

      5. CityMouse*

        A close friend wore a head scarf when she was struggling with trichotillomania. It didn’t look unprofessional.

      6. Thlayli*

        You can still see lots of little old white ladies in the British Isles with headscarves (shawls I believe they are called). As far as I can see the only difference between a hijab and a shawl is that a hijab is pinned to cover all the hair and neck closely. But I have seen Muslim women wearing shawls in exactly the same way that old British and Irish women wear them – looser than the pinned hijab with a little hair showing at the front and neck visible. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in type of material or anything like that. A hijab and a shawl are basically the same thing as far as I can tell, other than the way they are worn.

        1. Annabelle*

          A hijab has actual religious significance. The actual garments themselves may be similar, but a non-Muslim woman wearing a shawl or headscarf for fashion or sun protection purposes is not wearing hijab, regardless of how it’s pinned or styled.

          1. Specialk9*

            I think that understanding was a given in Thayli’s comment. I’m pretty sure if they know the name for a hijab, they know it’s a religious article associated with the Muslim faith, and was commenting on the outward appearance in their specific location.

            1. Annabelle*

              She said “a hijab and shawl are basically the same thing as far as I can tell, other than the way they’re worn.” That’s not exactly true of any religious covering. I’m not personally religious, but a lot of women in my family wear hijab and the notion that it’s “just a shawl” or some similar garment can be a harmful and frustrating misconception.

      7. ainomiaka*

        If this conversation needs to go please delete-
        I think it’s important that wrap pattern, size, style and placement will be different. As a white woman, model your head wrap/scarf more after Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn than Beth Pearson (I was looking for a tv example of a black woman wearing one and this was the non sale one I could find in the time I had) or hijab and I think it’s not cultural appropriation.

        1. Penny Lane*

          Cultural appropriations assumes everyone has 1) one single “parent culture” and 2) that they were raised with the trappings of said culture (food, music, clothing, etc.). Plenty of us are mutts and are mixtures of many, many different cultures/ethnicities/backgrounds. Are there limitations on what we can eat/listen to/wear etc? I get I’m not wearing kente cloth, but I’m also not wearing any clothing “of my ancestors” either.

          1. NaoNao*

            Well…I think cultural appropriation is not about nitpicking what cultures are “okay” to respectfully, thoughtfully take inspiration from.
            It’s about carelessly and with entitlement taking sacred, heritage, religious, or deeply symbolic garments or jewelry (or other things like Dream Catchers) and using them for mere decoration or worse, a costume.
            I feel like a lot of people misunderstand what cultural appropriation actually IS. It’s not wearing Japanese kimono inspired blazers or wearing two tight french braids down your back aka “boxer braids”.

            It’s about flippantly or self centered-ly using something that has deep cultural meaning to a cultural you really can’t claim any legit connections to for your own ya-ya’s. Or even worse, benefit (cough cough Kylie Jenner!)

            1. Ainomiaka*

              I mean, I targeted my advice based on the information the LW put in their letter. Sure, it’s going to be slightly different based on different connections to actual cultures and different racial power dynamics. But Naonao is right about the point not being “x is always okay y is always not.”

          2. Annabelle*

            Religious headwear isn’t just fabric, though. So a white, secular woman donning a headscarf and proclaiming it a hijab would be kind of insensitive. Idk if I would call it appropriation, because despite being raciliazed, Islam is a religion and not a race, but it would definitely be tone deaf.

          3. Ainomiaka*

            I mean, I targeted my advice based on the information the LW put in their letter. Sure, it’s going to be slightly different based on different connections to actual cultures and different racial power dynamics. But Naonao is right about the point not being “x is always okay y is always not.”

      8. Emi.*

        Headwraps that look like they were copied from African-American or African culture look unprofessional on white people, in my opinion, because it’s such a “I hopped on this urban trend” look, like coming back from a cruise in the Bahamas with braids. Regardless of whether it’s cultural appropriation, I recommend against it for work.

      9. FrontRangeOy*

        I’m also Jewish (many religious women cover their hair after marriage and some younger women are beginning to embrace wraps/tichel for cultural identity), if that makes a difference in a discussion of cultural appropriation. I didn’t mention that part last night because so many women wear headscarves for so many reasons that it wasn’t on my radar at the time.

        1. Specialk9*

          Many *Orthodox* religious Jewish women cover their hair. The only religious Jewish women I see covering their hair in my temples are the female rabbis or cantors, wearing a kippeh while up on the bimah.

          We’re all religious Jewish women. (And in the US, non-Orthodox make up 90% of Jews, and non-Orthodox but religious make up 60% of Jews.) Your perspective is useful and valid, but is only one way of being Jewish.

    3. Lynca*

      I want to second the bun. My sister has thick, curly hair. And really all the complaints have mostly been not understanding natural curly hair needs a lot of work to look like you came from a photo shoot 24/7. Frizz happens.

      Her professional wear is always a bun. It keeps things simple and she doesn’t like her curls so that it’s harder on them doesn’t bother her. It has kept the comments about her hair to pretty much zero since she started doing that in college.

      I stick to a ponytail because I don’t have curly hair. Just thick hair with some body. A ponytail never looks good on my sister- even on a good hair day.

      1. London Bookworm*

        I have quite wavy hair that’s quite difficult to straighten. Today I have it up in a bun with a Rosie Riveter-style headband keeping the smaller tendrils from falling over my face.

      2. Leela*

        One thing about the bun, if your hair is thick enough you’re going to get headaches! I have very thick curly hair that’s not too far past my shoulders but there’s so much of it I always get a massive headache by 2 if I show up in a bun, I always had to take them out.

        1. Lynca*

          That’s about the length my sister keeps her hair. I think it’s just one of those things where YMMV.

    4. double spicy*

      As another commenter with curly hair, I agree with all the recommendations for the Curly Girl book by Lorraine Massey, and also suggest that you might like and (she used to have another site at, but it’s no longer live and I can’t tell whether it’s archived by the Internet archive).

      Really though, the problem is your boss, not your hair. Your hair sounds great and what you’re describing sounds appropriate for the workplace. Good luck!

    5. Blue*

      One of my friends at work is also a caucasian woman with very curly hair, and a couple of years ago she started following this method and found a stylist who specialized in curly hair. I never thought her hair looked messy or unprofessional before, but the change undoubtedly cut down on frizz, gave her more consistency day-to-day, and made styling her hair infinitely easier. She gave up on straightening her hair at that point, in part because she finally felt like she had some control over the curls. It takes so much less effort on her part, it consistently looks great, and she happily evangelizes to other curly-haired folks!

    6. Shelby Drink the Juice*

      I have curly hair and follow this method. I use the DevaCurl products. Also going to a hair stylist that specializes in curly hair is a big plus.

    7. tangerineRose*

      In some STEM fields, people also don’t care about your hair, as long as it’s reasonably clean.

  11. Mad Baggins*

    I am absolutely incensed at the thought that anyone would consider naturally curly hair “abnormal” “unprofessional” or anything of that sort.

    Even among (what is now usually considered) white people, certain groups get flak for having curly hair. Think about stereotypes of Jews, Greeks, etc… I’m thinking of that scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where she’s a little girl with dark curls and surrounded by classmates with silky blonde hair. So even if OP is not black, bias against curly hair can still be very problematic.

    I have a former colleague (also white) who has very tight natural curls and wears her hair down or in a bun (I’ve never seen it straight). She is a public servant and representative of her city and home country. Her hair is perfectly professional and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      I wanted to clarify that I’m saying that I think criticism of curly hair means they think straight hair is “normal”, and we must question “for whom” and “why do you think that?”

      1. Katherine*

        Yeah, regardless of OP’s actual ethnicity, this is some anti-semitic nonsense. (I haven’t brushed my blonde, wavy hair in actual years, and no one in any professional setting has ever commented on it. Tricked everyone, I’m part Jewish!) OP#2, don’t start doing anything different to your hair if you don’t feel like it – if your boss hassles you about it, ask him “what is normal hair?”

        1. JamieS*

          How can you go years without brushing your hair? Don’t you get tangles? As someone who’s hair tangles just thinking about tangles I’m insatiably curious about this.

          Considering OP’s workplace sounds like a place with more rigid ideas of professional appearance and is a place “customers” complain about hair I don’t know that it’s worth it for OP to take any sort of stand unless this is the hill she’s willing to die on. Which if it truly is a case of religious bigotry she might be but the impression I got from the letter is there’s no bigotry at play and the issue is simply OP’s frizzy hair (seemed like the issue was more the frizz than the curliness). Without a picture I have no idea if frizzy means well maintained with some slight frizz or a full blown rats nest but either way I’d start with some anti-frizz serum and go from there.

          1. Mad Baggins*

            It might be that it’s the frizz and not the curls, but even if OP isn’t Jewish (or any other stereotypically curly-haired people) the question “is curly hair unprofessional” still stems from the base assumption that straight hair is “default/good” and curly hair is “other/bad.” And why would someone have that assumption? Because in their “group” straight hair is common and “outsiders” have curly hair? It’s like asking if red hair is unprofessional. Or being bald. If your hair is not an active bird’s nest and dyed bright blue, why are customers and bosses focusing on this?

            1. Mookie*

              I’m stumped by the hostility towards her hair, as well. Multiple people have complained about this? Good lord.

          2. Goldensummer*

            Curls in general don’t like brushes. They can create frizz and loosen or pull out natural curl just like if you’d put your hair in rollers and brushed it out to a wave. I have fine thick curls (a weird combo that caused me no end of problems until I found the right stylist and shampoo) and I only wash my hair maybe 1 or 2 times a week and NEVER brush it. I’ll use my fingers, a pick or comb if needed. Speaking generally finger combing is sufficient for curls because the hair is trained in certain directions and rarely knots itself.

            On the OPs question if your hair is neat and appears clean use your capital on pushing back on this. It won’t stop when you’re public facing and its good to know that you can. I worked retail for 12 years and every time I changed companies I’d be forced at some point to give someone my best blank stare and say ‘This is my normal hair I’m not willing to alter it with chemical or heat treatments. Will that be a problem?” If your hair is uber thick I highly recommend practicing with your sticks they tend to hold thick curls really well and take about 15 seconds to put back up if anything escapes. And in case of hair emergency you can always use a pen (my hairs long enough that a standard bic pen completely vanishes)

            1. Q*

              My curls knot and knot and knot, but running a pick through it while it’s wet after a shower and/or washing it keeps the knots out without causing frizz

          3. London Bookworm*

            Brushing certain curly types can actually backfire and you get more tangles, more frizz and look far less polished. If that’s the case, people tend to “brush” their hair and work out tangles in the shower.

          4. Katherine*

            Huh, I had never thought about it really, but I’d guess it’s the pretty ridiculous amount of conditioner I use when I wash my hair!

            Bigotry is at play here even if she’s just regular ol’ white. Saying that curly hair isn’t normal is racist, even when it’s being said to a white person.

          5. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

            I think I am on 40 years without brushing my hair. :D (super curly, when young super super long and curly)

            Fingers, ftw. You can use a comb to get a nice part if your style needs it, but other than that, hair implements damage.

            (erg, wait. Once in a blue moon I get a blow out, and the stylist uses a brush for that. PERSONALLY I have not brushed my hair since I figured out how to care for curly hair in my teens)

            For the overall topic, I think my hair looks more professional if I do not have the curls around my face. I always pull it back away from my face and use a smoother or shiny smoother on anything around my face. Usually then, I let my freak curls fly in the back. I love it and anybody else can bite me. :)

          6. Leela*

            It’s probably been years since my hair was brushed. When your hair is curly a brush is very difficult to get through, it usually somehow doubles your volume, it takes out all the curls but leaves all the frizz.

            I worked at a beauty supply store when I was younger and parents came in asking what kind of brush to use for their curly-haired daughter. I’d say none, and try and help them find s good product but they’d act like I was insane or lying and walk away from me, the only curly-haired employee, to talk to a straight-haired employee, every time.

          7. Temperance*

            I have wavy hair, and I only comb out the tangles when it’s wet. Brushing creates frizz and volume.

          8. The Other Dawn*

            I have thick, naturally curly hair. It’s been probably 20 years since I’ve brushed my hair. When I finally stopped blow drying my hair and fighting the curls (that was so liberating!!), I found out very quickly that a brush is the enemy of curly hair. It tends to make it way more frizzy. Basically I just put some gel in my wet hair (and I always use conditioner when I wash it), run my fingers through it, give my head a few tosses and I’m done. I let it dry naturally. My hair is much healthier these days. And I never have any tangles.

          9. Rusty Shackelford*

            How can you go years without brushing your hair? Don’t you get tangles? As someone who’s hair tangles just thinking about tangles I’m insatiably curious about this.

            When I wore my hair curly, I never brushed it. And generally, experts recommend you don’t use a brush on curly hair at all. Comb it or finger-comb it when it’s wet, and then leave it alone.

          10. Mona Lisa*

            I just brushed my hair for the first time in two years because I straightened my hair to donate it. If I were to use it on my dry curls, my hair looks like book Hermione’s. (Which is exactly what I do if I’m cosplaying.) To get rid of tangles, I use my fingers or a wide-toothed comb in the shower.

            And it sounds like the LW is maintaining her hair appropriately, but it’s responding to external forces the same way that straight hair might go limp in the heat. She’s doing what she can, and insisting that she figure out some way to make it more “professional” is asking her to invest a lot of time or money that she’s honestly probably not making as a higher ed receptionist.

          11. tangerineRose*

            I use a hair pick instead of a brush. Brushes do not work well with my curly hair.

        2. CityMouse*

          My dad had thick curly black hair and people would ask him if he was Jewish all the time (less after he went completely gray). It was odd people would base so much just around his hair.

        3. Pollygrammer*

          Antisemitism is serious, terrifying stuff. Throwing the term at something ridiculous like thinking curly hair needs to be tidier is just minimizing the reality of it.

          OP says she is a white Southern girl, the odds of her being Jewish are not particularly high.

          1. Washi*

            I don’t think the OP’s boss is being racist to her, but the general idea that curly hair is less professional than straight hair is definitely racist. OP’s boss might not have all of the history of discrimination against groups of people who tend to have curly hair in mind, but this idea didn’t just float to him out of nowhere, it’s a real thing with very racist origins.

            1. Pollygrammer*

              Outside of actual associations with particular ethnicities, how is judging curly hair as untidy racist? I’m really not trying to be rude, I hope I’m not coming across that way, but it’s a perspective I’ve never come across.

              (And I don’t think curly hair is untidy. It actually comes in and out of fashion–look at the 80s and the national obsession with perms.)

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Outside of actual associations with particular ethnicities, how is judging curly hair as untidy racist?

                If curly hair is considered untidy, it’s because straight hair is considered neat. If the “norm” is to have straight, smooth hair, and anything that isn’t straight and smooth is considered “other,” then think about the types of people are are more likely to have that “other” hair.

                (Although, given that Native Americans and people from Asian countries are likely to have straight smooth hair, I think considering prejudice against curly hair to be racist is hardly bulletproof.)

                1. Natalie*

                  (Although, given that Native Americans and people from Asian countries are likely to have straight smooth hair, I think considering prejudice against curly hair to be racist is hardly bulletproof.)

                  I’m not an expert on the history of curly hair or anything, but as a general comment racism doesn’t break down that simply. Different groups get saddled with different things. White Americans have a long history of a sort of juvenile romanticism of American Indians, loving them conceptually, adopting all kind of “Indian” things as their own, claiming that great-great-great grandmother Cherokee princess, and so forth, but preferring actual American Indian people be dead or at least far far away. That’s still racist even though it plays out differently than anti-black racism, which would presumably be the source of prejudice against curly hair.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Yeah, I don’t think I explained myself very well. I’m not saying people aren’t racist against Native Americans. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

                3. Natalie*

                  No, sorry, that’s not what I was trying to say. It’s just that the fact that some people of color tend to have straight hair doesn’t mean anything in the context of prejudice against curly hair, because racism works against different groups differently. All things associated with people of color aren’t categorized as bad in the same way or for the same reasons. So antiblack racism operates in society and one small part of it is a prejudice against curly hair. And at the same time anti-Asian racism is operating in society and one small part of it is about epicanthic folds.

                4. ThatGirl*

                  Although those are the stereotypes of Native American and Asian hair, I have a friend who’s native Korean (adopted by white Americans) and her hair is curly as all get out. So.

                5. Specialk9*

                  It’s also important to remember that the dog whistles are different by minority population. In the US, after the Trail of Tears, Native Indians were ‘far away’ for many people, but black people were everywhere. Our national culture has evolved norms based (explicitly and deliberately, at first) in racism against black people — to justify and normalize slavery, and post-legal-slavery to keep black people away from power. Professional norms precluding curls and ‘matted’ or ‘nappy’ hair are firmly rooted in that crap.

                  But as soon as you go west, suddenly there are shockingly racist cultural norms against native Indians. (I had to keep googling – I could tell people were being racist but didn’t get the references.) So they’re not commenting on hair (unless it’s about men in long braids), but there are plenty of dog whistles going around.

                6. Mad Baggins*

                  Yes, precisely to your first paragraph, ? to your second.

                  It’s not that prejudice against curly hair=racist against everyone in the monolithic group to which all non-white people belong (because as you pointed out some people there have straight hair as well). It’s that hating on curly hair is often a dog-whistle for/rooted in anti-Semitic/anti-black/anti-other-people-we-now-consider-white bias.

                  The comment itself indicates problematic assumptions: “You don’t look white/Christian enough. And even though that is a problem with the categories in my head, I’m going to make it your job to fix.”

              2. Pollygrammer*

                I do get what you’re saying.

                I didn’t actually mean ‘considering all curly hair untidy’ but ‘considering a particular incarnation of curly hair untidy’ which as far as we know is LW’s boss’ issue. A complete prejudice against all curly hair is at least a prejudice of some sort, I’ll agree with that.

          2. Observer*

            I’m not sure I agree with you. Considering a certain type of hair “untidy” because of its association with Blacks, Jews etc. is a manifestation of a serious problem. It’s probably not the thing I would go to war over, but as someone with “difficult” hair, it’s also worth noting that this kind of thing is not always as inconsequential as it can seem.

            I don’t know how serious an issue this is for the OP – Is is a matter of the occasional of the wall comment or something that could endanger her job or something in between. But, the idea that this sheer stupidity COULD have real repercussions on someone’s employment because of a preference rooted in **ism, shows just how toxic these kinds of prejudices are.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      -holds up hand- Yep, my friends have jokingly called me “Jew-ish” because of my Mediterranean hair.

      The hair routine that works for me at this point is: condition it in the shower every morning, but do not shampoo, ever (haven’t shampooed for about 5 years now). If I decide to wear it loose, then I let the hair set in a soft towel for a while before I leave the house. I’ll bring a little hair band or some small barettes to pin the hair out of my face as the day goes on. If I decide to wear it “controlled,” then I gently comb it out and plaster it to my head with a braid and little clips, often with a side part. Every couple of weeks, I camp out in front of Netflix and put some shea butter on it, then wrap it up in a nylon scarf and a knit cap for overnight. Every night in any event, I wear a nylon scarf to protect against breakage and split ends.

      At the risk of repeating everybody, naturally curly hair is not unprofessional. It is just curly. That said, I’ll gently suggest that you look at your routine. Make sure you keep your split ends neatly trimmed away, and try to keep your curls smooth and contained during the day. (I’m speaking as someone whose own curly-haired mom didn’t teach her how to take care of her hair; sometimes we don’t get this information until we research it ourselves.) Good luck with your boss and the terrible people who come in and chide you about your beautiful hair!

    3. Eye of Sauron*

      I have curly hair, and I will be the first to admit that some days it does look unprofessional. Typically unprofessional=unpolished. There are days that my hair moves into rats nest territory depending on how contrary it’s being or how much I’ve fussed with it during the day.

      Mine’s short enough that pulling it back is not an option.

      I can imagine where a frizzy mass of hair pulled back or not could be considered messy (just as easily as I could see stick straight hair that is sticking up in all directions could look messy) and not necessarily rooted in any sort of ethnic bias.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        I have straight-ish hair that also frequently looks unprofessional, on account of getting limp and greasy looking the moment I sweat a bit. On warm humid days it can quickly get to the point that it looks like I haven’t showered in a few days. I keep dry shampoo in my desk, and I have to put it up mid-day in the summer. I can easily imagine that the parent who complained about LW would probably complain about me too. :)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Mine is wavy and thick and in humid air or on rainy days, it poofs up like that humidity rabbit meme. I like to wear it down (it’s also quite long). It got pretty messy after I went blonde, before I figured out how to care for it properly, but now I condition the hell out of it, only wash it twice a week (I don’t even get it wet most of the time), and sleep on a satin pillowcase. I keep clips and hair bands in my purse to corral it in case of sudden wet weather.

          Whether long hair is professional or not is a whole other conversation. But nobody seems to complain about long hair the way they do about curly hair.

  12. Casuan*

    OP2: If [when] your boss mentions your hair again, tell him that this is your “normal” hair. If he replies with anything other than some version of “We’ll, okay then” then ask him for suggestions on what he considers appropriate. If warranted, you can then inform him of the time & costs involved &or ask if the company will reimburse you for the business expense of the salons or a qu’alors wig.
    *Admittedly, the above is somewhat tongue-in-cheek yet also serious. The script assumes a good rapport with your boss, especially because you don’t want to sound snarky or entitled.

    Am I alone in wanting to suggest that OP2 pull a Michelle, if only for her coiffure?

      1. Sled dog mama*

        A reference to a previous letter. An employee, who the LW called Michelle, made dramatic changes to her appearance during lunch breaks and in the update quit rather dramatically over it.

        1. Annie Moose*

          And by “quit rather dramatically”, you mean “FLASHED HER MANAGER AND THEN WALKED OUT OF THE BUILDING”.

      2. Myrin*

        It’s a reference to an AAM letter from last year about an employee who changed her whole look (outfit, makeup, hairstyle) in the middle of the workday. Here is the update, which starts with a link to the original letter.

    1. Temperance*

      Yes, because curly hair takes for-ev-er to grow, and gets damaged super easily, so a neon blue pixie cut would be a hot mess disaster.

      Also, short hair doesn’t work for most curly folks.

      1. Observer*

        That’s a fairly broad generalization.

        For me, going short was a life saver. I cut it short, and kept it short, and it looked fine. My daughter with wild hair did well with short hair, too, although her hair was quite different than mine.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        My mum’s hair is super thick and curly. It looks quite nice when long (I can only remember her wearing it that way once in my life), but she prefers to keep it short, always. It looks fine.

      3. bonkerballs*

        I have super curly hair and don’t seem to have either of those problems. My hair grows very fast and it takes a LOT to damage it.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      If the OP wanted to have some fun with it, I’d love to see her wear a different wig every day, and change them out at lunchtime. Go from short blonde to butt-length brunette. “I don’t understand. You wanted my hair to look more normal. Didn’t you mean straight? And it’s straight now, so…”

      (Yes, curlyheads can wear wigs. My daughter has a head full of gorgeous spiral curls and she doesn’t have any problem getting it all controlled under a wig cap when she does cosplay.)

  13. in a fog*

    OP #2: GIRL, I have BEEN THERE. When I first started working at this one company years ago, my naturally curly hair was chin-length and required a lot of work with smoothing balm and finger-curling after each wash. After a while at that place, I started getting lazy and my hair was long enough, so I started putting it in a low ponytail or bun every day. Only then did I start getting compliments about how my look was more professional, even though it took a tiny fraction of the time the previous hairdo did. And this was in a fairly casual office in a creative industry!

    After a certain point, your hair is your hair and there’s nothing you (or your boss) can do about it. For your own piece of mind, I’d recommend — if you haven’t already — finding a stylist who specializes in curly hair. I didn’t find one who really knew what she was doing until I was in my mid-20s, and between the cut and the right product (Joico Moisture Recovery Treatment Balm, in my case), I found a happy place with hair that makes me happy and looks polished.

    And if that doesn’t do it, push back at your boss!

    1. Beanie*

      Recovering straightener here! It took a hurricane to change my daily pattern of wash-brush-dry-brush-curl-spray. Since the power was out for a few weeks, my morning routine was minimal (hard to get ready by Coleman lantern) Once I stopped straightening and just let my natural curls AIR dry I got way more compliments. I now spend maybe 10% as much effort on my hair and it holds through the day better. OP: maybe play around on the weekends with different products or see a stylist for a new look but by all means do not feel you need to make drastic changes to your appearance. If the quality of your work is overshadowed by the frizz in your hair that’s not a job you want to put up with for much longer.

  14. Casuan*

    OP3: Sometimes companies discourage telecommuting until one has a certain tenure. As Alison suggested, ask around so you have an idea of how telecommuting is handled. Try to have answers as to how you could reliably accomplish your tasks from home. Ideally this won’t be necessary although in practicality it might be.
    Good luck!

    1. Safetykats*

      The thing is, a medical need to work from home is an accommodation. So when OP says they “don’t need” an accomodation, that’s not really the case. It might not look as much like an accommodation in a company where telecommuting is the norm, but it sure would in a company where it’s not, or where telecommuting is expected to be done on a regular schedule, rather than as a spur of the moment decision. In my office, working from home requires approval from the director level, which you absolutely can’t get same-day, so if OP wanted to work from home rather than calling in sick it absolutely would need to be requested as an accommodation. And that’s okay – the ADA exists for a reason, and OP should just explain her issue, and the accommodation she’s requesting. If her boss wants to deal with it as unplanned telecommuting because that’s relatively normal in this company, that’s fine too. But it would be better to get it on the books as an actual accommodation, in case policies on telecommuting change in the future. The company can take away your allowance to telecommute at any time; not so for your accommodation.

      1. Casuan*

        Good point & good suggestion about getting this listed as an accommodation. My assumption was that OP3 doesn’t want to disclose her condition unless she really had to. Wrong on my part

      2. Worker Bee (Germany)*

        This! Safetykats put in words way better then I could have. I was surprised to read from Alison, that she would recommend to ask around. Normally (when it isn’t for an accommodation) she recommends people to wait, to prove their good work ethic and then ask for telecommuting.

      3. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Yes, I would consider a work from home arrangement early in your career due to your chronic illness to be an accommodation, since you would ideally be training in the office and learning to do your job. You may not need to use it at all, but it’s worth approaching as such anyway. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for an accommodation!

        For my first three or so years in my job, I exclusively worked in the office except for “snow days” when everyone worked from home. Now that I’m more established, I can work from home occasionally due to my health or other extenuating circumstances (appointments, work being done in the house, travel, etc) as long as I let my boss know ahead of time and get all my work done as if I was in the office. Your job may be different and you can work from home much sooner than that, but until you know how flexible your office is I would assume you need to get that accommodation to work from home.

        1. Pollygrammer*

          A request that OP take a sick day and not telework would still be an accommodation, as long as she wasn’t punished in any way for the sick days. Less likely, but still not discriminatory.

          1. Specialk9*

            I would be out of sick days in only 2 flare-ups. If she can work remotely she shouldn’t have to take a sick day.

      4. Snowstorm11*

        Thank you, I hadn’t even thought of this as being an accommodation, but you’re right. I should have mentioned in my OP that when I was hired, I was told that most employees telecommute at least 1 day per week and it’s up to us to decide which day we’d like to be out of the office, but the big caveat is that for my first 6 months of work they would like me to be in the office every day. While I totally understand and agree with the 6 month rule, I’m just worried that my illness will flare up within that timeframe, and I don’t want it to look like I’m not respecting their guidelines by asking to work from home sooner than I’m allowed.

        1. Chronie Accountant*

          Hey OP,

          Same issue here – although telecommuting is not done as often in my job but is possible and several people have arrangements. I let HR know in the beginning that this may come up and they put a note in my file. I didn’t use it as much in the beginning but it was good to have there, especially when I began to flare-up. I was worried about the perception but I was lucky enough that a very senior employee (a VP) at my job had Crohn’s Disease as well so everyone was relatively familiar with it and it was no issue at all. Best of luck to you! I’m sure if you explain it just how you said, there will be no problem. :)

  15. Elizabeth H.*

    I agree with the advice for OP #2. I think anyone who complains about a receptionist’s hair is ridiculous.

    However if OP#2 genuinely *wants* ideas for doing something else with her hair I could suggest foam rollers? I just got into them and I think they’re so great. I have these: You can get a ton of different styles with either curly or straight hair. They’re really easy to use and (in my opinion) you can sleep in them comfortably! I love the scarf or head wrap idea too.

    1. Fundraiser*

      France Luxe also makes really thick barrettes for curly hair – check them out on amazon!

  16. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    Op 2, that parent and your boss suck. I mean talk about busy bodies …

    Anyway, I have super thick hair and it can get very frizzy too. I’ve found nice styles on YouTube and also if the bushy ponytail bugs you maybe a braid would work?

    Alternatively I recommend you start styling your hair in very fun 80s styles cribbed from movies featuring like power hungry business women with insane hairdos. Because you can point to the inspiration and be like well it’s PROFESSIONAL.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Working Girl, either the before or after “professional haircut” would do!

      (The other day I showed my daughter my high school senior year pic and told her that at the time, I thought my 2″ lifted bangs were too minimal, which compared to other girls, they were)

  17. The Supreme Troll*

    For OP#1, I hope that she doesn’t continue to feel this bad for too much longer. For all of what Alison said…in addition, her just-terminated boss might have failed to meet several criteria that his manager had expected of him (and that stuff would probably be well above OP#1’s pay grade), and was given many chances to improve himself, but simply lacked the skills to do so. I don’t really know, but the OP shouldn’t take this too hard or be afraid of interacting with the top executives at her company. There is no evidence, yet, that they would treat the OP unfairly. While I would like to hope not, changes like this can happen with prolonged warning or very little of it.

  18. Isabel*

    I have curly hair… And worked in really conservative environments… now that being said as long as your hair is neatly groomed there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for consumers or your boss to comment / complain about your hair…. It shows narrow mindness and ignorance on their part….there is nothing abnormal unprofessional about you… Next time ask your boss to define whats normal… Before you do be sure to look at the employee handbook regarding dresscode / appearance. They are treading thin water as its actually a physical trait they are maligning you for…

    Here is a site that can point you in right direction regards to haircare for curlies

    Curly hair is gorgeous

    Don’t let small minded people make you doubt yourself.

    1. Temperance*

      What does “neatly groomed” mean, though, in a context where frizz is a factor? I think there are people who don’t consider curly hair to be “neat” unless it’s absolutely free of any frizz or puff.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        For my mess of curly hair, when I’m wearing it loose and the curls are no longer holding together, I do an up-do. I’ll try to keep a couple of appropriate big clips and handfuls of bobby pins in my desk, then hop to the ladies’ room. Think Dr. Corday on the “ER” TV series (Alex Kingston before “Dr. Who”). The key to manage frizz into a neatly groomed state is to (1) get it off my face, and (2) contain the rest into as small a volume as possible without giving me a headache.

  19. Oilpress*

    OP2 – Commenting on a woman’s appearance is commonplace in the business world. Men get a bit of it, too, but nowhere near as much as women…and it’s often from women themselves. It’s not fair. I have women on my team who I know are judged (both good and bad) based on their appearance. The men on my team…well they’re generally just judged on their actual work. It’s 2018, but we are still doing this.

    I don’t have a magical suggestion. The problem is that people care about this type of stuff, and they will hold you to an unfair standard. Your curly hair is indeed normal, but that’s not what some people see.

    1. Mildred*

      So true. I’ve had many ‘hair conversations’ in which the other person assumed I don’t like my curly hair. They say something like, “everybody wants what they don’t have. People with straight hair want curls and vice versa.” They are surprised when I say that I really like my curls and don’t wish my hair was straight.

    2. Pollygrammer*

      I think you’re right; the one male equivalent I can think of is shaving. Beards are looked askance upon in a lot of industries, and stubble is pretty unacceptable.

      Partly I just want to share my fun fact, which is that the last US president to have a beard in office was actually Benjamin Harrison more than a century ago.

      1. bonkerballs*

        Another fun facial hair fact: Walt Disney would not have been allowed to work at Disneyland because by having a mustache he violated their no facial hair policy.

  20. MP*

    OP2 – This sucks, and I’m sorry it’s happened to you. A similar thing happened to me – I was told I needed to ‘get my hair out of my face’ and make it look more professional. All it was was out and curly.

    I copy hairstyles by this blogger: She has youtube videos and e-books I’ve found useful, because a lot are pretty simple. I’m only doing the most basic, uncomplicated ones, but pulling my hair back makes it look conspicuously ‘done’, which seems to appease people who think curly hair is messy, full stop.

  21. Marvel*

    2 – Honestly, if it were me, and assuming your hair style is not egregiously unprofessional (and it sounds like it’s not)… I might start job hunting. This is a bizarre thing for your boss to focus on. There are places where the culture is, to put it mildly, deeply intolerant of anything that might be perceived as “different” from whatever ideal of The Modern American Woman they have in their heads. The fact that your boss used the word “normal” makes me think this is one of those places.

    Best of luck whatever you decide to do.

    4 – Whoa. OP, start by never describing another human being (and a stranger to you!) as “broken.” That’s a horrible label to put on someone else. I’m also very worried that you say you identified her as such so quickly–was her behavior truly so unusual? Your description is a red flag to me that you might be over-investing yourself in this situation, and assuming you know more about her than you do.

    Also… it sounds like you’re assuming she was raped? And that’s a bit of an odd assumption to make. That is, unless it’s related to the details of what your organization does, which would explain why working there specifically might be therapeutic for her… but even then, I don’t think you can know for sure. There are a wide variety of traumatic experiences that might happen to someone while overseas. No reason to jump to that one, or assume that even if it is the case, it would make her uncomfortable around all young men. Not all rapists are, after all, young men.

    It sounds like your heart is in the right place, but I would really, really rethink how you’re framing this. As a trauma victim myself, your use of the word “broken” and the way you spoke about the situation overall gave me the heebie jeebies.

    1. Observer*

      Upthread, the OP #4 describes her behavior – and it does sound pretty extreme. It sounds like the girl is in a lot of pain or fear.

      1. Marvel*

        Yes, that posted while I was writing this. So, strike the sentence about the unusual behavior. While that changes things slightly, I still stand by most of my original comment, I think.

        1. Observer*

          The joys of the refresh…

          I tend to agree with the rest of your comment. SOO many things could cause that kind of reaction. Which is sad, when you think about it.

        2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

          Interesting how word choice tends to haunt you… Like I said, Marvel, I’m using the word “broken” in the sense that Sansa has had her spirit broken by what happened to her – like I described – and am using it also for lack of a better word. I asked upthread about other possible words to use and would also welcome your advice on terminology and how to handle the situation, since you’ve been in Sansa’s shoes.

          Nothing malicious intended, I’m just bumbling my way along.

          1. Marvel*

            After reading the rest of your responses here, frankly, I think I just read the tone of your original letter incorrectly. So many people get Weird about trauma that it gets my hackles up easily–it’s nice to be wrong! I think others have already given the same advice that I would.

  22. Kewlmom*

    Man, I would be so tempted to show up for work in a hijab. Also “normal,” also judged.

      1. AK*

        Not a guarantee in the US South, I’d bet she’d get twice as many complaints and they’d be more outright racism included

      2. Annabelle*

        That’s definitely not true in most of the US. If someone is low key racist enough to complain about textured hair, they’re almost certainly Islamophobic as well.

  23. Tacos are Tasty*

    OP 2 . My radar is twitching ‘sexism’ on this. Ooh you don’t meet the standards of conservative patriarchal values. As long as its tidy and clean thats all that matters

  24. Ask her*

    OP 4 – When managing new staff I have a chat with them about how they like to be managed, whether there is anything that managers have done before that doesn’t work for them or gets on their nerves, and what things have gotten the best out of them. We can then talk about what I will do (and won’t do – there may be things they say they dislike but I need do and that’s my chance to explain why) to adapt my style. I’ve found it get us on the same page about a lot of things up front.

    I also leave the channel open so they can bring stuff up later that is/isn’t working for them with out manager/employee relationship.

    In check-ins early on, I will ask how it’s going and what changes they’d like us to try if something isn’t working for them.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I like this approach for anyone, but I think it would be especially helpful for this volunteer.

      Take your cues from her about how she prefers to interact and what boundaries she sets, but don’t treat her with “kid gloves”. If this is supposed to help her through her traumatic experience, then please treat her the same as any other person.

  25. Prof plum*

    I’m curious what kind of university LW1 works for. Academics and students are not known for sartorial formality and surely delusional helicopter parents are laughed at not indulged.

    1. Mary*

      There are some areas of universities that will try and project a corporate image: business schools, law schools, conferences and events etc.

      1. tangerineRose*

        How is curly hair non-corporate? At least if it’s clean and well groomed and healthy?

    2. LS*

      This happened to a friend of mine, a white woman with very curly red hair. However, she was teaching at a US army base, and other curly-haired women who were in the Army mentioned that they’d been told the same thing and were surprised only in that she was actually a civilian.

    3. Squeeble*

      At the university I worked for, parents were definitely indulged, even in ridiculous circumstances like these. It was definitely frustrating.

  26. Cat H (UK)*

    OP 2 – I’m black and I have just start wearing my natural hair after years of braids and wigs.
    I really struggled with the idea of wearing my hair naturally being the only black person in an office of about 80 but I pushed through because, what could they say?

    Anyway, I wear my hair in two flat twists. Kind of like this but I tuck the ends in at the back Maybe something like this work for you?

    Also, my hair is relatively short (chin length) so if I wore it out naturally it would be an afro.

  27. About Question #2*

    Unless you’re outside USA or in a non-“at-will” US state, you can be terminated from employment without prior warning at any time for any non-“illegal” reason, or even an untold reason or no reason at all. It’s not “illegal” to fire an employee because they don’t like your hairstyle and/or hair type (unless they also explicitly and specifically say because of your hair reflects a specific ethnicity, religion, country of origin, disability / medical condition, pregnancy or whatever “Protected Class” reason). And telling them in response that “This is my natural hair type” / “That’s just how my hair is” won’t all of a sudden turn it into a “Protected Class” reason, or at least not one that would win a “Wrongful Termination” lawsuit

    1. Thlayli*

      Good point. I don’t get the impression that OP wants this to be her hill to die on. Personally I would probably just put it in a ponytail every day and leave it at that.

      One thing that occurs to me about the legalities though – a couple of people above have suggested a hijab or similar head covering. If OP were to wear a hijab or similar, and were fired for that, would she then have a case for wrongful termination?

      Given that a Muslim woman cannot he fired for wearing a hijab, surely it should be illegal to fire any women for wearing a hijab or similar head covering? Otherwise it’s discrimination against non-Muslims?

      1. About Question #2*

        From what I understand it’s a “Hijab” only if a Muslim female is wearing it (Same goes for all other mandatory “Religious Headgears” from other religions, and only if worn for “religious purposes” pertaining specifically to those particular religions) otherwise it’s just a “Headscarf” if worn by someone non-Muslim and/or for non-medical reasons. And it’s “illegal” to terminate a Muslim female explicitly and specifically because “I / We don’t like your ‘Hijab’ ” but not “illegal” to terminate a non-Muslim person explicitly and specifically because “I / We don’t like your ‘Headscarf’ ” (unless the “Headscarf” is being worn for legitimate medical reasons, of course)

      2. LBK*

        That’s not how the law works – exempting someone from a rule because of a legally protected religious accommodation is not considered preferential treatment of that religion over others. Otherwise it would be circular logic and any kind of religious accommodation would invalidate the rule you were requesting an accommodation for.

        1. About Question #2*

          A non-Sikh person who wears a turban for admittedly no other reason other than “just for fashion / fun” is not a “Protected Class”. A Sikh man who actually HAS to wear one for religious reasons is a “Protected Class”. If both were terminated solely because of them wearing turbans to work and no other reason, then only the termination of the Sikh man would be “illegal” due to him wearing a turban for religious reasons and therefore being a “Protected Class”. The termination of the non-Sikh person would not be “illegal” due to admittedly wearing a turban for no other reason than “just fashion / fun” and therefore not being a “Protected Class”

          1. LBK*

            Yes? I don’t see how that contradicts what I said, unless you’re just trying to give an example.

    2. Natalie*

      unless they also explicitly and specifically say because of your hair reflects a specific ethnicity, religion, country of origin, disability / medical condition, pregnancy or whatever “Protected Class” reason

      Not really. Findings of discrimination rarely hinge on some manager explicitly saying “this is because you’re [X]”. Its far more common to demonstrate either a pattern of negative outcomes for [X] employees or a disparate impact against [X] employees.

      1. About Question #2*

        It’s not “illegal” if no proof of “pattern of negative outcomes for [X] employees” and “disparate impact against [X] employees”. Plus it’s not “illegal” assuming all employees with “unpresentable-looking” hairstyles and/or hair types are equally mistreated solely because of their hair and have equal chance of being terminated solely because of their hair…as opposed to, for example, singling out only employees of one specific gender and/or ethnicity instead of other gender(s) and/or ethnicities, only employees age 40 and over, and other “Protected Classes” etc

        1. LBK*

          You’re correct, it’s not illegal unless it singles out employees based on a protected class. But it doesn’t have to be “explicitly or specifically” based on a protected class, which is what your original comment said. If they force all black women to change their hair but not anyone else, they don’t have to specifically say “we require all black women to change their hair” in order for it to be illegal discrimination; the pattern speaks for itself as far as the law is concerned.

          1. About Question #2*

            Ok then other than the “explicit / specific” singling out of member(s) of “Protected Class(es)” it’s also “illegal” if there’s a “proven pattern”…that is, it’s “proven” to the court’s satisfaction, if the member(s) even dare to get the courts involved in the first place

            1. LBK*

              The OP didn’t even mention legal action or fear of being fired that I can see, so I’m not sure why this is relevant anyway.

              1. About Question #2*

                There’s already been more than one person “complaining” about the employee’s hair. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the “At-Will Termination / Not in a ‘Protected Class’ ” wheels rolling in an unfavorable irreversible direction for said employee (unless they’re outside of USA or in a non-“at-will” US state)

                1. fposte*

                  Your phraseology makes this sound more formal than it is. They could fire her whether somebody complains or not, same as the bosses of many of the rest of us could fire us for unpopular hair. But it’s pretty unlikely, and the OP, who knows her job better than we do, didn’t seem to be worried.

                  (Also insert obligatory reminder that we are all in several protected classes.)

    3. Elizabeth H.*

      This is so irrelevant though – I feel like it’s kind of demeaning or insulting to respond like you assume the letter writer is thinking along these lines. If I posted asking how to deal with my boss’s request to switch from Excel to google sheets, would you tell me that Excel users aren’t a protected class so I wouldn’t win a wrongful termination lawsuit?

      1. About Question #2*

        In your example, your boss isn’t telling you that more than one complaints against you though, that’s the difference

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          That could just as easily apply to my example though – anything other people in the office would request that an employee change about their work habits. You said “There’s already been more than one person “complaining” about the employee’s hair. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the “At-Will Termination / Not in a ‘Protected Class’ ” wheels rolling in an unfavorable irreversible direction for said employee (unless they’re outside of USA or in a non-“at-will” US state)” – what do you mean?

          1. About Question #2*

            Slight possibility the employee may be in danger of eventually being terminated (although I highly doubt, but even still you just never know in the “at-will” world). Many “at-will” terminations start off with a “minor” (even frivolous) complaint, but now the employee has more than one, and the boss felt it was important enough to bring it to the employee’s attention. Especially since the complaints aren’t about “Protected Class(es)” (for example none of the complaints were “I don’t like the employee’s gender”, “I don’t like the employee being age 40 and up”, “I don’t like the employee’s ethnicity and/or country of origin” etc)

        2. Lindsay J*

          But complaints (from employees or customers) are not a contributing factor to whether something is discriminatory or whether something constitutes an “undue burden” under the law (at least in most cases) to my understanding.

          If the OP were Muslim and wearing a hijab, and the employer told her she needed to remove it, whether or customers or coworkers complained about it would be irrelevant. It would still be discriminatory to tell her that she had to remove it, and she would still win a case over the issue.

          It also wouldn’t matter if the employer thought – or if other people actually said – “Well, since she is wearing a hijab, it’s only fair that I get to wear my baseball cap.” The other employees being dissatisfied that they don’t get the same or similar privilege does not make it an undue burden and they still need to allow her to wear her hijab, and can still disallow other employees from wearing other forms of non-religious headgear.

          Where it becomes difficult for the person being discriminated against to prove is when they are told that they are being disciplined for completely other reasons. So like, if the job wanted to fire the Muslim woman for wearing a hijab, but they are smart enough to know they can’t overly say that. So instead they say they are writing her up for “poor work quality” because her most recent memo had a typo in it, or for tardiness for coming in a minute late, and say that other people complained so they had to write her up. That’s still illegal, but more difficult to prove. If she can prove she is being adversely targeted – that a non-targeted employee made similar errors and was not written up, or that other people in similar job functions come in a minute late all the time and are not written up – then she can win the case. But having complaints makes it a little murkier because they can say “Oh if someone had complained about Jim we would have written him up too” and it’s difficult to prove a hypothetical.

          1. Lindsay J*

            And at-will and EEOC issues are sort of mutually exclusive.

            You can fire people for whatever reason you want, except for things that are (or are related to) a protected class.

            So you can fire some one for drinking Lime Redbull instead of Blue Redbull. But you can’t fire them for being black or muslim or a woman.

            And where the less open and shut cases come in are that you cannot fire people for things that adversely affect a specific protected class, as it would mean that you were firing them for being part of that protected class. So you can’t fire some one for wearing a yarmulke because that is essentially firing them for being Jewish. You likely can’t fire everyone with black, curly hair, because that is essentially firing them for being black. (Even though many Jewish people don’t wear yarmulkes, and some black people don’t have black curly hair, and some people with black, curly hair are not black.)

          2. About Question #2*

            But the thing is that management (who is in a “Firing / Terminating Position”) is now also “complaining” along with the “complaining” customers and/or coworkers…and none of the “complaints” are about the employee’s “Protected Class(es)”. Complaining about an employee’s hair because it’s “unpresentable / unprofessional looking” is not a “Protected Class” (and especially if it’s “Firing / Terminating Positions” who’s now “complaining”). Complaining about an employee’s hair specifically because the hair represents age 40 and over and/or certain race(s) and/or religion(s) and/or disabilities and/or medical conditions etc are “Protected Classes” (regardless of who’s “complaining”)

  28. Mary*

    OP2, one thing I haven’t seen suggested is to upsmarten the rest of your look. If the rest of you is averagely smart and your hair is just a little bit crazy, people will focus on your hair as the *thing* that’s making you look unprofessional. If the rest of you is really put-together, you’ve got more leeway with your hair. So neat subtle make-up, slightly more conservative businesswear, plain tidy nail varnish and so on.

    Just to be absolutely clear, the expectations of “professional wear” placed on women are COMPLETELY UNFAIR, and are a form of unpaid labour that increases the further away you get from slim, white, able-bodied, straight blonde hair, 20something. We absolutely shouldn’t feel like you have to have perfect nails, lips, eyebrows, a more expensive suit etc to “compensate” for 0ur bodies having F-cup boobs, curly hair, facial hair, being unable to wear high-heeled pumps or whatever. But these expectations are real. You can choose whether to expend energy on finding another job where presentation is less important, pushing back against your boss, or presenting differently. If you want to stay in this job and you don’t think your boss is going to change his attitude, smartening up the rest of your look is one way to deal.

    1. London Bookworm*

      That’s a really thoughtful suggestion that I hadn’t considered.

      Yes, without suggesting that I think these are fair criticisms, veering a little extra-formal with clothes and makeup will likely buy you more leeway in other parts of your appearance.

    2. Agent Diane*

      I’ll +1 this. I choose one area of my look I wasn’t changing for anyone, and smartened up everything else. So the thing that was different to “normal” became a unique selling point to distinguish me from all the interchangeable Emmas.

  29. SomePTSDChick*

    LW 4, thanks for your thoughtful letter. I don’t want to armchair diagnose Sansa, but I have sexual assault PTSD and work. PTSD is a medical condition just like any other. My advice would be to treat her like any other colleague with a medical condition, such as being deaf in one ear. It’s kind that you want to help, but it’s also important that you don’t second-guess Sansa’s needs or white-knight her to other people. Sansa’s trauma and her needs are not your main job; your job is to act like a co-worker. This will actually help her recovery.
    A few weird work-arounds that work for me are:
    – positioning of chairs/equipment with back to the wall and in sight of entrance/exits (I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it is to not be able to see the door.) This is the only accommodation I’ve ever asked for.
    – warnings if you need to make a loud noise, like, louder than yelling volume (heads up, just gotta shut this door)
    – people not sneaking up on me for a joke (this happened in one workplace)

    You can ask your manager if there’s anything specific. As a coworker, what do you do if she has a panic attack etc?

    Remember that her trauma is not your responsibility. Your employer should have a medical plan for if she gets triggered, has a panic attack, that sort of thing. I did a lot of vomiting in the early days. If something you do triggers something like this, what I would tell a coworker is that I have this condition because of the trauma, if I didn’t, their action would have been fine, therefore, it’s the diseases’ fault and not theirs.
    Good luck. Would love an update.

    1. London Bookworm*

      Yes, the best thing you can do by far is be a supportive coworker and treat her normally. Try to cultivate a space where there’s room for feedback and suggestions on her part. You don’t have to frame that as accommodating for her trauma, just think of it as accommodating for her as a colleague. Be sensitive to any requests she may make (and don’t necessarily ask her to explain her reasoning, unless it’s something really difficult to accomodate), but there’s no need to try and anticipate her requests – in fact, that may aggravate things.

      The fact that she’s seeking out this volunteer work suggests that she’s strong and trying to move forward.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Would it be too obvious or troublesome for OP4 to make sure he doesn’t ever touch beyond a handshake, gives her a little extra physical space and doesn’t block sole exit paths? I’m thinking like standing next to a cube opening or office door instead of in the entry, heading for the side of an elevator.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          Speaking as a PTSD-haver, I personally wouldn’t like that because my issues aren’t about being touched by men. Sansa could have been assaulted by a man, or by a woman, or been in a traffic accident, or witnessed a natural disaster, or, well, all sorts of things. Giving her a wide berth might make her feel more comfortable, or it might make her feel unwelcome and stressed.

          The main thing to remember is that trauma involves a severe disempowerment/loss of control. As such, fait accomlpis, even well-intended ones, can do more harm than good. The thing to do is let her set her own comfort level, and give her space to figure out what that is.

          I’d suggest that OP clarify with their boss whether Sansa knows there’s been a briefing about her PTSD and whether she’s comfortable knowing that others know. If she is, it might be ok to say ‘I don’t know what sort of things make you anxious but I’d like you to feel comfortable, so if something bothers you, please just let me know so I can respect that.’ Then drop it and don’t mention it again unless she chooses to raise it, as being reminded that you have PTSD can remind you why.

          If you’re not sure she’d be ok with that, play safe: just be nice to her like you (hopefully) would be to anyone. Notice her body language and step back if she flinches, but don’t obsess, as that’s likely to make you act odd. If she makes a request, honour it in a calm, matter-of-fact way so she knows she can ask without having to get into painful explanations – that’s key. (Some of my triggers are so irrational that I’m embarrassed to explain them.) If you make a mistake, apologise, ask what she’d prefer and then do that. Building trust can take time, so just let her have that and you should be fine.

    2. Reba*

      Thanks for sharing these insights.

      also, “sneaking up on me for a joke” — I’m not recovering from trauma and I would hate this.

    3. lawyer*

      Agree with all of this – and would encourage the OP not to assume (as you point out) that the trauma Sansa has experienced was sexual assault. There are any manner of events that can cause PTSD or severe traumatic responses. I know a person who was kidnapped and tortured during the Bosnian conflict who reacts very similarly to what is described above – that person is a man and the torture was not sexual in nature, FWIW. Similarly, I’ve known people who experienced severe trauma as a result of witnessing large-scale death in wartime (think the bombing campaigns in Syria).

      The best thing for Sansa will be to assume you should treat her normally unless she asks you to do something differently or someone who has spoken with her asks you to do something differently. It sounds like you really want to handle this in the best way possible, and that’s awesome and I’m sure will help this be successful.

    4. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Thanks @SomePTSDChick. Responses such as yours are why I posted in the first place and why I like reading AAM. She finished her first day with us yesterday and it seems to have gone pretty well; I’ll post an update either a couple of months from now or when she decides to finish her stint – whichever comes first.

      — The idea of positioning hadn’t occurred to me – thanks so much for that! As my office is structured in such a way that visitors have to sit with their backs to the door, I think I’ll be walking over to her cube a bit more in future.

      — I’m generally pretty softspoken and hate loud noises myself, I don’t think the second point would be much of a problem. I’ll definitely keep that in mind though.

      — I once accidentally cracked a classmate’s eye socket when they did precisely that (He’s fine and we’re still friends, but he doesn’t approach me from behind anymore for some reason…!). No way I’ll be doing that to anyone, I’m not that masochistic.

      At the moment the plan is to put her in a quiet room and call her emergency contact if she gets triggered. We also made sure she has her meds close to hand and we know where they are in case she needs them. We’ll see.

      Thanks again!

      1. SomePTSDChick*

        No worries. It’s great that you’re trying to learn.
        And yeah, I didn’t really assume it was sex assault trauma. Sex assault survivors have one of the highest PTSD rates, though. Higher than veterans.
        PTSD causes changes in the brain, the main symptoms are hypervigilance and re-experiencing. Check out an MRI of a brain with PTSD, it’s super interesting.
        Yeah, to be fair, co-worker didn’t know about my PTSD, just thought it was funny that I was jumpy. Asked him to stop politely but firmly 3 times, then I took him aside and mentioned I had PTSD. He was pretty sorry, which is a good thing, and he stopped, and we remained cordial and professional.
        The other thing is I do get triggered occasionally, and it is generally by the most random things. Like, super random, uncontrollable things. Just last week I had a flashback at night, and the next day my teacher at my night course was wearing the same shade of navy blue as was in the flashback, so I was on edge the entire time. But that doesn’t mean it was her fault! There was a great letter on here from someone who had a colleague with OCD, and the company was doing things like making rules about what people could wear and things.
        Part of recovery from PTSD, or even just getting better, is to be able to handle it in some kind of fashion. Being slightly triggered unintentionally by your environment, while not fun, gets better the more it happens. Sansa has probably chosen your work environment because it’s challenging but manageable.

  30. PM*

    OP5 – I’m wondering if the bit about movie recommendations in the LinkedIn profile is a way for him to identify people who actually looked to see who he is before contacting him. One gets a lot of generic contact requests on LinkedIn, so this might be a way to filter for people who are specifically interested in talking to him.

    1. Leela*

      Former recruiter here, I have a line in my LinkedIn bio about loving to talk movies with people. This is because 1) I really do and 2)it helps people remember something about me if the LI is all they have. I wouldn’t mind a person reaching out to talk movies and inquiring about a job, but I would find it very odd to have that included with an actual resume/cover letter email. It wouldn’t affect their chances but might come off like they think it would, and if I couldn’t move them forward I’d just feel weird about the fact they recommended it, because now when I watch it that’s all I’d be thinking about and if I see them again and they tried to use the move as an in to talk to me (definitely has happened) I’m aware from experience that the conversation is an opener to have a conversation about the position outside of normal channels

      1. linkedin limbo*

        Thank you so much, PM, Leela and Llama Wranger, for your perspective on this! I’m OP#5.

        What’s interesting about the LinkedIn profile is the fact that the movie recommendation is the only thing in the personal statement section of the profile. And in my conversation with the recruiter, the recruiter’s personality came off as quriky. When I asked a career advisor about whether or not to include movie rec, she seemed to think that it could be a quirky way to stand out from the rest. Which is why I was leaning towards doing it.

        And if it makes a difference, I was also only planning on adding it as a post script, not in the body of the cover letter email itself. The body of the cover letter would only go over my qualifications and why I would be great for the job. So it’s not so much that I think that this magically garners favor and gets me the job so much as a quirky way to separate me from the crowd.

        But I do get that it could seem weird and awkward so I just wanted clarification and different perspectives on this.

        Thank you!

  31. Car crash victim*

    You can be a pale white girl and still have very curly hair. I have 3 melanin cells and I get my curls from my Jewish grandma. And that’s what I said the day I wore my hair down and some jealous bitch complained to HR about my hair. I’m also in a red state – these employers here think they OWN you.

  32. Legalchef*

    OP2 – I bet if I saw your hair I’d be super jealous of it! Your boss is weird and I agree w asking him to describe what he means by “normal.” As long as your hair is clean it shouldn’t really matter.

    One thing to consider, only if you want to do it for YOU, and not to please your boss and the random parent, is maybe look into a keratin treatment? I have thick wavy hair that gets frizzy, and it does great things to tame the frizz but it doesn’t lose its body/all the wave. It also air dries much faster.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Seconding this. If you think you’d be happier if your curls were tamed just a bit, a keratin treatment is a wonderful thing. It’s temporary (it washes out gradually rather than leaving a sharp line of demarcation in your hair as it grows out), it doesn’t damage your hair, and on super-curly hair it will just loosen and smooth things, not eliminate your curl altogether. Also, I get mine done at a cosmetology school and it costs less than $50! Please note that a keratin treatment is NOT the same thing as a Brazilian Blowout.

        1. tangerineRose*

          If I use Suave conditioner in the morning (and avoid shampoo), comb my hair, towel dry my hair instead of using a hair dryer (a diffuser is also better than just a hair dryer), it usually looks OK. If it doesn’t, or if I’m trying to look very professional, I add hair gel. I love having curly hair and don’t want to straighten it.

  33. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I have very fine and extremely dense hair. And tons of cowlicks. I present as butch female.

    If my hair is freshly washed and long enough I will be surrounded by wisps flying every which way. Especially if the air is very dry.

    This drives me batty. I cannot stand having stuff flying about my head.

    And due to above mentioned denseness my head gets very very warm.

    I keep my hair in a buzz cut to stay sane and cool.

    That leads to interesting assumptions on the part of some people.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Surely you present as a butch female *cat owner*? I mean, how do you keep the cathair off?

      (This is me, trying to make a joke. I’m also a knitter, also a cat-having-person, and I’m not butch but most straight people still get that wrong. Just androgynous, that’s me. My butch friends all back me up on that one. :)

  34. ValaMalDoran*

    OP 2: Ignoring the bs about your curly hair being unprofessional ( just…what?), I recommend spin pins. They’re hair pins that look like little corkscrews.

    I have thick, straight hair, and before spin pins came along, nothing short of a million bobby pins held my hair up. (I had my hair done for a wedding once, and the stylist used 88 bobby pins.)

    Don’t be afraid to use a few spin pins. More than you “should” need. Good luck.

  35. Lady Phoenix*

    LW2: I am wondering if you happen to be a Black woman from the description of your hair. I could be off base and forgive me if I am.

    If you happen to be black, I would talk to your stylist about any products fot Black peoplethat curb frizziness caused by humidity (I do not own anybsince I am white and I do not work in the cosmetics industry). Otherwise, you have to remind your boss that this IS your normal, natural hair and how the comment could come across as racist.

    If you are not black, then I do have a product. I use Pureology style&care infusion. I use a small drop after towl drying mt hair and let it dry on its own.

  36. ArchivesGremlin*

    OP #2, if you do pull back your hair, just be careful you don’t do it too often. Pulling back hair can damage it, and damage it severely! I’m dealing with that right now in that the top of my head and towards the front are thinner because of me pulling back my hair (which is wavy to curly).

  37. Leela*

    OP I feel you, you could have been writing about my hair! I have a giant Irish puff of curls that breaks most ponytail holders and pins are laughably ineffective, even dozens of them just get buried in there without actually changing the look of it.

    I’ve had a few jobs tell me that my hair is unprofessional-looking, even if the curls are styled and the frizz is down (rosehip seed oil is great for that by the way, but it can loosen the curls!). I’m completely unwilling to damage my hair by ironing it and also to get up an hour or two earlier to section and straighten it, especially since we live in a humid area and it would just get frizzy again instantly anyway.

    I’ve moved into an industry with very casual presentation so it hasn’t been an issue but it used to make me so angry that I was expected to batter my hair into one that was arbitrarily determined to be more professional.

  38. Jules the Third*

    Yeah, wow, this whole conversation is making me mad. It’s the 21st century, we don’t have time for this sexist bull.

  39. Pollygrammer*

    #1: I think it’s completely understandable that you’re taking this hard. My suggestion is to wait–don’t jump to conclusions like you aren’t cut out for the business world. Wait until the sting of losing your boss is lessened (and don’t compare yourself to your coworkers–everyone has different ways of dealing with disappointment/loss). It sounds like you had the same level of attachment to him that you might a friend, although in a different way. That’s a lot to lose, so don’t feel dumb or oversensitive about feeling the way you do. It’s probably compounded with the stress on long-term upheaval, which is especially stressful if you’re new to the workplace. The good news is that restructuring isn’t something you’ll have to deal with forever. You don’t have to (and probably won’t) stay at this company for the rest of your career. Honestly, at some point you’ll be able to find an office more supportive and stable than the one you’re at.

    Wait to see how you feel about the new structure of your team–it might be totally okay! Wait to see if you can find out if your former boss lands on his feet–he probably will! Connect with him on LinkedIn, say you really enjoyed working with him and hope you can keep in touch. Ask if he’ll be a reference. It’ll get easier, I promise.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Seconding this. Reach out to your old boss. I’m sure he will give you a good reference. Who knows, maybe he will hire you at his new job? (It’s smart and very normal for you to be job-searching during the restructuring.)

    2. LW #1*

      Thank you so much for this. My dream is that he lands somewhere great and takes me with him! I have reached out to him and he is doing as well as can be expected, and he said he is more than happy to be a reference for me. This whole experience has lit a fire under my butt and I’ve sent out several resumes and reached out to a number of people in my network. I’d prefer to have options when April rolls around and we find out what the new structure is. You’re right, it might be awesome, but it also might totally suck. :)

      1. MLB*

        In addition to what Alison said, unfortunately no job is 100% stable anymore. I’ve been working in the professional world for over 20 years and been laid off twice. I was in the mortgage industry both times it happened, and then landed a job in healthcare thinking I was safe. But that company went through restructuring many times in the 6 1/2 years I was there. My manager was let go in one of those restructures and I was really upset so I know how you feel. But I kept in touch with her (she is someone I consider a friend as well) and she reached out when her company had an opening and now I’m working with her again. Good luck!

      2. Reba*

        Good for you! I hope your search leads you somewhere good.

        You’re going through a kind of grief, compounded by months of anxious waiting–this sounds like a really trying period and not indicative of what the business world writ large is like.

      3. Bored All Day*

        I worked under a great boss for 9 years. When the company merged with another, he decided to leave. I stayed, and was rolled under another manager who is in another state. We never really saw eye-to-eye…some related to corporate culture clash, and some related to a big difference in opinion (I have a lot of initiative, and he wanted ‘status quo’).

        Anyway, after 3 years of that (so 12 years total), I’m finally heading out to work at another company…with the boss that I worked 9 years with. I kept in touch with him after he left…he was also a reference of mine when I applied at other jobs (which, I obviously didn’t get or didn’t accept).

        It was HARD when he left, and I really did try with the ‘new’ boss, but I always missed that first one, and missed the working environment even more when he left. Keep an open mind…but also keep in touch. You just never know what will happen!

  40. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #2

    I haven’t had time to go through the comments this morning, but maybe OP can have her hair thinned as part of her regular hair cuts. I have very thick, curly hair, too, and I found that keeping it in layers and having it thinned really helped tame it. There are definitely still times when frizz happens, but it’s not quite so voluminous. And I find a strong-hold hair gel to be much better at keeping things contained and well-defined. I put it in when my hair is wet, comb my fingers through, give it a few shakes of the head and I’m done.

    Good luck, OP! It’s tough to keep curly hair in line sometimes.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      I’d caution the OP to be careful with hair-thinning. Layers can be great for curly hair, but most traditional stylists will hear “hair thinning” and thin out the under layers, which will make her hair BIGGER not tamer. If she isn’t seeing a curly-specific stylist (someone who specializes in Deva Cuts/dry cutting), I’d definitely recommend that as a next step.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        Isn’t this the truth. If not careful I can end up looking like a Qtip if my hair is ‘thinned’ wrong. My poor stylist will wet cut a shape, then we diffuse it, then I ‘do my thing’ as she calls it, and then she cuts again. It’s probably took about 3 years for us to get this down. There were some questionable haircuts to begin with, but now she knows where my hair chunks and more stubborn curls are.

      2. tangerineRose*

        Long, choppy layers work for my curly hair – so far the stylists seem to understand that.

  41. Argh!*

    Re: #1

    I was restructured out of a job about 18 months after my boss was fired. The new boss was barely qualified (as were most of the new hires in management), and I think she was brought in to make the experienced people quit or retire. When we didn’t, they resorted to layoffs and involuntary transfers. The whole ordeal was horrible for me and for many others. NewBoss played headgames that whole 18 months, and NewerBoss after my transfer was equally unqualified for her job (our own Betsy DeVos). I managed to find a job soon after, but looking back I wish I’d started looking sooner. I had been hopeful that either NewBoss would crash and burn, or that I’d survive the restructuring without a transfer. Neither happened.

    I trust your instincts, OP. If you think this is the beginning of dramatic and difficult changes, especially since it’s been hard on you, my 2 cents is that you should polish up your resume and look for a new job. Leaving on your own terms is infinitely better than being jerked around by the company until your sanity is crumbling.

    1. LW #1*

      I’m sorry that happened to you. I am looking, yes, and even had a phone interview yesterday for a job that seems very promising. I’m the least experienced in my department, so I can see how I’d be an easy person to cut out of the new structure. Like you said, better to leave on my own terms.

      1. Argh!*

        …and being least experienced also means a new job, even a lateral job, will not look bad to future employers. I hope you can get out while the getting’s good.

  42. Murphy*

    OP2: I definitely don’t think that curly voluminous hair looks unprofessional! Adding to the chorus of curly hair advice, my best friend has very thick very curly hair, and she’s found the “no shampoo” thing (using conditioner instead) very helpful. Again, I don’t think you need to do anything at all, but if you are looking for hair advice to avoid having this conversation at work, this might be helpful.

  43. MuseumChick*

    OP1, I am so sorry you work around asshats like this. I would push back on this with your boss, “Hey, I wanted to ask for clarification on what you meant the other day about making my hair look more “normal”. Could you give me an idea of what you mean by that?” He will say whatever awkward thing he will say. “Hmm, I don’t think I understand. This is how my hair grows, so it is “normal” and I keep it groomed. I’m not sure what else is expected of me.” He’ll say another awkward thing. Just keep asking questions/acting confused about what he is looking for. This will (hopefully) highlight how completely ridiculous this whole situation is.

  44. The Other Dawn*

    OP 1:

    I totally get that it’s devastating to lose your great boss so suddenly, but you have no way of knowing from the outside whether there were performance problems he’d been warned about, or if maybe he just wasn’t the right culture fit, or any number of other things. You do seem to be taking it a little harder than you should, but it’s probably due to being new in the business world and also having a boss that you really liked who was there one minute and gone the next. I’d suggest keeping in mind that you have no way of knowing why he was let go, and you likely never will, so just let it go and move on. Hopefully your next boss is just as good.

    This happened to me when my bank was bought by another. About a year after that, my branch manager, whom we all loved, was let go. Same thing–he was there on Monday and gone on Tuesday. We were all stunned and devastated. All we could think was that Management was cold and heartless, and he was fired for no good reason., And it made some of us nervous that we were the next to go, as there had been several other terminations around the same time. We thought that if someone this nice could be let go for no reason, then we were surely next.

    A few years later, when I’d moved pretty far up the ladder, it became very clear that the people who were let go in the early days actually had some pretty serious performance issues, were on a PIP, and hadn’t improved. As direct reports, we had no way of knowing what our boss’s goals were and that he wasn’t meeting them. We just knew he was a great person to work for and a really nice guy; we didn’t know the other side of it.

    1. LW #1*

      Thanks for your point of view. I’m also in financial services, and have to wrap my head around how different it is from the non-profit world I’d been in before. You’re right that I have a narrow lens here and I’ll try to keep that in mind.

      1. mf*

        LW, could you may reach out and send your boss a nice note to say I loved working for you, I’m sad to see you go, etc.? It’s not much, but it would probably mean a lot to him and might make you feel a bit better.

    2. not so sweet*

      “All we could think was that Management was cold and heartless, and he was fired for no good reason., And it made some of us nervous that we were the next to go […] A few years later, when I’d moved pretty far up the ladder, it became very clear that the people who were let go in the early days actually had some pretty serious performance issues”

      My experience was like this too. Until I came to understand some of the things that had happened before the firing(s), I was terrified. Someone else being fired came out of the blue to me, which means that management was being appropriately discreet. But I had not really thought of that as something that could happen, and immediately I was hyper-focused on all the things I might have done wrong, what kind of mood the bosses were in, and what every office conversation was going to lead to. My stomach hurt and I dreaded going to work. It helped a lot when the cleanup efforts led to me finding out about some of the long-term problems.

    3. Oranges*

      Yes, this was what was running through my head also. No one on a PIP/is struggling will rent a town crier to tell everyone about it. It sounds to me like he was “fired but got a fig leaf”. The fig leaf: he could state that he was “let go because restructuring” but in reality he just was a bad fit.

      I’ve been in “bad fit” jobs. They suuuuck. There was nothing I could do to hit my job goals. It wasn’t possible for me no matter how hard I tried. It was stressful since I knew I couldn’t do the job but I relied on the paycheck so I couldn’t just quit. (I did get fired from that job. Best thing evers.) He sounds like a good person but it might be he was a bad fit for whatever reason. Even if he’d been there for years the job might have changed and it was a good fit but isn’t any longer.

  45. Kittyfish 76*

    OP#2: I have not read the comments, so this may have been said. That is ridiculous. You wear your hair the way YOU want. I cannot believe the audacity of peopl saying someone’s hair in unprofessional (barring a multicolored mohawk in certain fields). We live in a world or complainers, I guess. I would LOVE to have beautiful curls, but alas I am stuck with poker straight hair.

  46. rosiebyanyothername*

    OP2, as a fellow curly girl, unfortunately I’ve been there too. :( My college career services office suggested I straighten my hair for interviews!

    1. Pollygrammer*

      For interviews, I have heard it suggested that people keep their hair back. Only because striking hair–including strikingly fabulous hair–is, well, striking. The idea is that you don’t want anything about your appearance to be the main impression you make. I don’t know whether I agree, but it’s a suggestion that comes from a good place.

      1. Delphine*

        On the other hand, do you want to work for people who won’t hire you because of the way your hair grows out of your head?

        1. Pollygrammer*

          The person who suggested that didn’t mean somebody wouldn’t want to hire you because of your hair. She meant that if you want something to make an impression, it should be something you say. Organizations interview a lot of people–when a hiring manager doesn’t remember your name, you want to be “that candidate who said that really impressive thing,” not “that candidate with [striking physical appearance of any kind, be it hair, clothing, elaborate nail art, etc.]”

          Does that imply a not-very-conscientious hiring process? Absolutely. But I’ve been on a hiring panel where someone later referenced to an applicant as “the woman who wore a cardigan” and we all knew who she was talking about.

  47. eplawyer*

    I’m a pale white girl with incredibly voluminous curly hair. I mean so big and heavy it literally yanks itself it out by the roots when each hair gets too long. I had it all the way down my back for many years. but I was getting headaches and a stiff neck from trying to hold up all that hair. Now it is chin length, but still heavy and LARGE and CURLY.
    I love my hair. It frizzes, it sheds, not a lot can be done to style it. But you know what? It’s MY hair. I ain’t changing it for no one. I keep it washed. It can be finger brushed if it gets too out of hand. I appear in court regularly — you don’t get much more conservative than that. Not ONE person has ever suggested I change my hair. If they did, they would not appreciate the response.

    #2, your boss is out of line. Do your best, and start job searching. This place is weird about hair and you don’t need that stress in your life. Celebrate your big beautiful curly hair.

  48. MommyMD*

    A Brazilian blowout works great for my thick curly hair a couple of times a year and doesn’t damage it. No one at work would say anything to me about my curly mop top (which I think is weird that someone complained) but I do feel much better when it looks polished and professional. Frizzy is never a good look for me.

  49. Boo Bradley*

    I haven’t seen them mentioned yet, but Moroccan Oil and Miss Jessie’s Jelly Soft Curls have done wonders for my frizz-probe curly/wavy hair.

  50. WeevilWobble*

    Re: Sansa there is really no reason to think any interaction with a man will be triggering. Most people who have been abused by the opposite sex aren’t triggered by just being around the opposite sex. Triggers tend to be more specifically linked to the abuse. And, even if, interacting with men is something she has to do so it could be part of the therapy angle.

    I would just pretend you don’t know and be normal. But it’s nice of you to be concerned.

  51. Anita-ita*

    #2 The nerve! I cannot belief people have complained about your hair and your boss even said something about it. I have red, long, curly hair and some days it’s frizzy just because that’s the nature of having curly hair. I absolutely love my hair and it is my best physical quality!

    If someone asked me to change my hair the way it is now, I would say no, sorry and that I would make sure it looks presentable every day. There are some great products I use to help with the frizz and I’ve found that the more I use, the less frizz I have (I’ll start with the products that aren’t expensive then go to more expensive): Organix Argan Oil, Maui Moisture Thicken and Restore Blow Out Mist, a good holding mousse, and Garnier Leave in Conditioner.

    The more expensive products are from the Kevin Murphy Line: I LOVE Killer Curls, Smooth Again, and Anti Gravity.

    I do a mix of the Kevin Murphy products with the other products. I hope you can find a solution and don’t change your beautiful curls!!

  52. Ginger*

    Letter writer #2 – I am enraged for you.

    I’m a pale-looking woman from the South with very curly hair. I spent much of my early years trying to make it look “normal” and doing a lot of damage.

    Now I go on national television with curly hair and no one tells me I look unprofessional. (see my twitter for examples Your boss is wrong.

    I would ignore them. I would find a new boss.

    More importantly – everyone on this comment thread who thought it was okay to tell this woman she needed to change the way her hair naturally grows, you should rethink it. Would you tell someone with bushy eyebrows that they’re unprofessional? Someone who greyed early? Someone who has thick arm hair? And would you ever tell a man any of those things?

    Many people have brought up race because its a HUGE problem for African-Americans in the workplace. But the small number of white people (or latino) who have dealt with this need to also speak up.

    We need to start challenging each other and ourselves if we impose standards of “professional” that mean looking like your average white person.

  53. Dr. Doll*

    Curlyhair OP, that parent is one special snowflake…at least in his or her own eyes. I can’t believe people are complaining to your boss about your *natural hair*. That is utterly ridiculous. The boss should say, icily, “Was OP’s service to you satisfactory? Oh, it was excellent? That’s very good to hear.”

    I agree with the person who pointed out that it whiffs of racism — at best classism. What, we’re all supposed to look like those Boston Brahmins in an Anne Rivers Siddons novel?

    And, us straight-haired girls, WE all want your curls!

  54. Temperance*

    LW4: I would probably talk to your boss and ask for clarification regarding Sansa’s role, and exactly what it means that volunteering with your org is a form of “therapy” for her. I would personally be uncomfortable working with someone who I was expected to treat gingerly or participate in their mental health treatment, but if that’s not a concern for you, sully forth.

    It’s very kind of you to want to tread lightly, but my gut feeling is that you should treat her like any other volunteer.

  55. foolofgrace*

    OP #2: You shouldn’t have to micromanage your hair, but you asked for recommendations. There is a very easy way to do a chic French twist: pull your hair back to the nape of your neck and then start twisting it as you gently pull up. When you get to the top, fold it over and stick in a couple of bobby pins. I know you said your hair doesn’t hold pins, but by the time you’re putting in the pins, you don’t have that much volume of hair left to pin. I hope this suggestion is helpful for anyone with long hair. It worked wonders for me when I had longish hair.

    1. RB*

      I can only get this to stay up for me if I fasten it with one of those large hair clips, the ones that are about four inches wide.

  56. Jubilance*

    #2 – I’m amazed that lots of people are suggesting that the OP change her hair simply because she’s white. Regardless of the OP’s race, it’s wrong to be told that the way her hair grows out of her head is “unprofessional”. It’s wrong to be given the advice to “wear a wig” or do some complicated things to her hair. Her hair is curly and sometimes it frizzes up, but that doesn’t make her any less professional. And it’s wrong to tell anyone that the way their hair naturally grows out of their head is unprofessional, whether they are Black & don’t use a relaxer, or are white and simply have really curly hair.

    OP, there may be some products that might help with the mid-day frizziness, like silicone products that help seal the hair shaft to prevent humidity from getting in. Also carry for curly hair is much different than straight hair – have you seen the DevaCurl system? I’ve found that technique around using lots of moisturizing conditioners, and sealing in the moisture helps a lot to prevent frizziness from humidity.

    1. WeevilWobble*

      And it’s still based in the idea that the most professional look is a very stereotypical Anglo-Saxon look. An idea which hurts some white people who don’t meet the standard (and more white women than men) but disproportionately impacts persons of color and jewish people. So we need to rid ourselves of it ad a society.

      But I also see how this isn’t a hill to die on for the OP. I’d still push back against it though.

      1. MuseumChick*

        This! The entire attitude is eurocentric. The boss’s language, using the world “normal” tells me everything I need to know. But, the reality is the OP may not be a position to fight this. I do think she should professionally and politely push back with her boss.

    2. LizB*

      This this this. It doesn’t matter that OP2 is white, the idea that curly = unprofessional definitely comes from racist roots* and has a huge disparate impact on women of color. It’s an attitude that should change for the sake of everyone.

      I have friends who swear by DevaCurl; I use Shea Moisture and loooove their Curl Smoothie leave-in product. It makes my curls so nice and defined. I’ve also used Intelligent Nutrients (which is a smaller brand made locally in my city, so I don’t know how widely it’s available) and liked the results. Also, the more you can work with your natural texture instead of against it in how you care for your hair, the better your results will be: find a salon that will cut your hair when it’s dry so you can see what kind of cut and length you’re actually getting, don’t do a towel turban after you shower (just scrunch your hair with a towel or a t-shirt), air-dry if possible or use a diffuser on your blow dryer.

      Man, this letter really touched a nerve for me.

      *in the sense of “our society’s standards of beauty are broadly racist,” not “anyone who doesn’t like curly hair is intentionally being racist”

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I completely agree with all of this. Even the DevaCurl recommendation, though I’ve been sitting on my hands trying not to recommend things. :) I get a DevaCut four times a year, I use their products, I love how my hair looks. Sometimes it has a bad day and I put it up. But my default is letting it do its thing, because it is my hair. It is clean and well cut for its type, and that’s all anyone should ever need.

    4. Colette*

      I agree, and I think the boss is petty to bring it up, but he is the boss. This is one of those things that shouldn’t be an issue, but if the OP can find a way she’s comfortable with to meet her boss’s standards, that will probably help her in the long run (until, of course, she is able to find a job working for someone who understands that people have different hair).

    5. Elizabeth H.*

      For what it’s worth – I think that so many people are offering suggestions about hairstyles because LW #2 specifically *asked* for suggestions! She wrote: “I’m stumped on what to do. I don’t want to spend a ton of time or money straightening it. Updos aren’t a great option because my hair tends to be too thick for pins or clips to hold for extended periods of time. Are daily ponytails my best bet? I would love to hear if you and your readers have guidelines on professional hair or experience with this.”

      To me, she sounded open to suggestions about different options for her hair that didn’t include straightening. A couple people have mentioned that they themselves had worn a wig or had a straightening procedure, but I read all of the comments and virtually ALL of them that suggest things OP could do with her hair have been suggesting products, devices/clips/etc., methods, styles, and websites that specifically encourage curly hair to be curly in the best way possible. These don’t really seem like suggestions to “change her hair” in a way that makes it something it’s not naturally. Like, if I did literally nothing to my hair besides wash it and let it dry it would probably not look the best it can be either even though it’s “how it naturally is.”

      1. Observer*

        Actually, the only people who mentioned wearing wigs were people who were not suggesting it – the suggestion (which is really ridiculous) came from someone who didn’t indicate that they had ever worn a wig. And the fact that they suggested it tells me that they probably haven;t worn one on a regular basis. I’m Orthodox, I wear a wig whenever I walk out the door (I do NOT look good in most head scarves) and I’m comfortable with them. But in no way are they a reasonable expectation at any normal office type job.

        As for the rest of the suggestions – I agree with you. It sounded to me very much like “you shoudn’t need to do this, but if you’re looking for suggestions blah, blah, blah”

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Oh, I think you’re right! I had a specific comment in mind that I thought someone posted about having a lot of fun wearing different wigs, but I’m clearly thinking of a different post or maybe even a different website.

          1. Observer*

            I think there was a comment about having fun with wigs but I think that more along the line of a sarcastic “Why are you crying? I’ll GIVE YOU something to cry about!” ie “You think THIS is bad? How do you like a new do every day?!” (I think a few people also made similar non-serious suggestions for interesting hair colors as well.)

  57. LittlePink*

    Re: the curly OP
    I have hair that is out of control. It cannot even reasonably be described as curly….the texture is frizz, full stop. It grows like that and that’s how it is “normally.” I definitely think there is an element of racism to this, that straight hair is the “norm” and any kind of textured hair is the “less than” other. I would ask what normal means to the boss. If the answer is “straight”, well, some hair really cannot be straightened. Mine can get close with a LOT of time and expense, but never fully “straight” and glossy.

    This is making me remember all the times in elementary school when my straight-haired teachers would yell at me to “brush your hair!” not understanding that 1. you cannot brush curly hair straight 2. brushing makes the frizz worse, not better! But in their minds, it being frizzy meant not brushed/groomed. Ugh.

  58. Soz*

    OP2 – I agree with the people who say that the hair thing is racist – race is more than just the colour of your skin!

    It also really reminds me of that bit in Jane Eyre, when she starts as Lowood school. OP, if your boss is into literature this could be an argument to how he is basically copying a literally character known for being unreasonable? (I joke):

    ”Miss Temple, Miss Temple, what—what is that girl with curled hair? Red hair, ma’am, curled—curled all over?” And extending his cane he pointed to the awful object, his hand shaking as he did so.

    “It is Julia Severn,” replied Miss Temple, very quietly.

    “Julia Severn, ma’am! And why has she, or any other, curled hair? Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform to the world so openly—here in an evangelical, charitable establishment—as to wear her hair one mass of curls?”

    “Julia’s hair curls naturally,” returned Miss Temple, still more quietly.

    “Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature: I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly. Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely […].” (1.7.23-27)

  59. MustNotBeNamed*

    Another curly haired white girl here. When I was in college, someone in the career development office told me my hair needed to “look more brushed.” Luckily, it’s never come up in an actual job for me.

    I also find that pulling my hair half back, so it’s out of my face but not all up, can be a good solution on weird hair days! But I hope that you eventually end up working somewhere that’s less ridiculous about this.

  60. LizB*

    I didn’t even read letters 3-5 because letter #2 made me so angry. OP2, curly hair is in no way unprofessional, you should wear your hair in whatever way works for you. I struggled for years to make my hair look even a little bit presentable, until I discovered that, whaddayaknow, it looks best when I let it have its natural curly texture instead of trying to change it! Gasp! If you like ponytails or braids or whatever style keeps it more flat, then go with that, but a little frizz is a normal result of a normal hair texture + normal weather patterns, and the fact that people have a problem with that is infuriating.

  61. Llama Wrangler*

    Re #5, my thought in reading it was that the request for a movie recommendation is a specific trick to weed out people who haven’t read his LinkedIn profile.
    I’ve only heard about it in the reverse situation (my partner buries a request for recruiters to mention a key word in any messages so that he knows they have actually read his materials and are targeting him, because he gets a lot of essentially spam requests); but this seems like such an oddly specific request on Linkedin that this was the scenario that jumped to mind.
    It also presumably wouldn’t matter in this case, since the recruiter already asked OP 5 to email about the job.

  62. Emi.*

    Your hair sounds like my roommates, and she puts it in a loose braid when she doesn’t want to deal with the frizz. Would that work for you?

    Your boss is bananacrackers, though.

  63. a-no*

    OP2: I have a lot of hair. And it’s very curly and wild and long. There is no stopping it but I do swear by the Redken NBD Bossy cream for frizz. My hair is still curly and wild BUT I do not get the frizz halo! It even holds up in hot and humid! Usually holds my hair down for about 3 days too.
    They have various levels of the NBD cream, but for thick hair with curls you want the bossy. Run a little bit through your hair when it’s damp/wet-ish and style as usual. They even have a anti-frizz blow dry – which while my hair is still HUGE when I blow dry it, it’s smooth and doesn’t frizz.

  64. Zuppa da Clams*

    I’m sure the hair letter is the popular one today but I’ll contribute with my own job and hair story. It’s not quite the same at the LW but I can see where this is coming from.

    -Until recently, I had thick long red hair that would take me an hour to blow-dry or straighten, etc. It has never been chemically treated or dyed. I put my hair back in a ponytail every day and would do the ends a bit so it looked like styled ponytail. I wore very light-to no makeup due to having sensitive skin (just like LW’s previous hair journey, I had gone on a make up journey in my high school and college days to find brands that worked for my skin, which would rash or break out if a harsh breeze blew on it.) My clothes are trendy and always clean and pressed. I’m a very preppy J. Crew type. In my review, during which I was recommended for a promotion, my hair was criticized-it never looked “done.” I never wore noticeable make up and looked tired. Now, I bit back a bit-due to a recent staffing issue, I was working like 14 hour days while trying to hire new staff, and I live 40 minutes away in a high-traffic area, so to get my hair looking to what my boss’s standards were, I would have to wake up at 5-6am. I was also criticized for not wearing as much makeup as my boss, a woman who looked professionally made up every day, would like. I was a little hurt, because personally, I think it’s close-minded that I should have to wear that much make up and change my natural appearance that much. I saw women at my job that had my boss’s style-more BCBG type, makeup with contouring, long nails, tanning-get preferential treatment. I really didn’t think this was fair. I worked really hard and didn’t think I looked slovenly or uunkempt. And it wasn’t the first time she had made comments like this to me-before I shrugged them off, but now, in my review, I was getting *graded* on my professional appearance.

    And it isn’t fair, but at that point, you have to make a choice. I loved my job. My boss wasn’t going to change her opinion on this matter. She wanted a certain look for her business. And she made a point that my appearance reflects on her and the business, which is based in health and beauty. Her logic-while not what I wanted to hear and still maybe not 100% airtight-made more sense.

    So I compromised. Was I going to go full Youtube makeup and hair tutorial? No. But I tried a little harder to get my appearance to her standard. I got one of my relatives who cuts hair to give me a lob (long bob) and a cheap keratin treatment so I could have a low-maintenance hair style. I invested in gel manicures but didn’t go for the long tips. I invested a bit in my eyebrows and eyelashes so I could look like I was wearing more makeup than I was. I went back on the make up and skin care journey again to find brands that worked for my highly sensitive skin by using beauty subscriptions. I got compliments from clients. I got promoted.

    Now, girl with curly hair, it’s not fair that there is a certain beauty standard we can’t adhere to. You can move to a different environment and maybe you’ll find that the weird hair issue is reflective of a larger problem at this job and a new job with more open-minded people will be a pleasant change overall. Or if you love your current job, you’ll have to seek a stylist and get some hair advice or do a groupon for keratin (which is way healthier than say, Japanese hair straightening) or cut your hair short so styling is easier. While this doesn’t seem like a leave-or-stay situation, you’re probably going to keep getting these comments about your hair. They’re not going to become more open-minded, their standards will stay the same. You may have to go on your hair quest all over again to find something that works.

    1. Rachel M*

      What you’re saying might make sense when you work in health and beauty (where I’m assuming how you look reflects something about your job) but it doesn’t when you work in higher ed, even in a wealthy and conservative area. If she wants to go on a hair quest that’s great, but *your* experience isn’t reflective of *her* industry.

      1. Zuppa da Clams*

        I did say that in my comment, that’s not the same, but if more than one person has said her hair is unprofessional-obviously there is a general aesthetic that is expected that the OP isn’t adhering to. It sucks! But maybe they’re about making everyone look very slicked back and preppy or something, if it’s a school where parents are complaining about her hair! I think the outcome is the same–she can endure the comments about her hair or she can make a change. Maybe the comments will stop-but I doubt it.

      2. Zuppa da Clams*

        Btb, I manage a therapeutic spa, where presumably more natural beauty would be emphasized-but we’re in NJ and my boss has her own aesthetic that is different from other people in her field.

    2. Yorick*

      This is sad but probably true. If the boss thinks OP’s hair looks unprofessional, they’ll probably continue to think so. OP can push back but I wouldn’t expect it to be successful, and she may have to decide whether to leave or find a new way of doing her hair.

      1. Zuppa da Clams*

        That’s the basic point-the OP’s boss-and the parents or whoever is complaining about it-are never going to change their minds about this.

  65. Cowgirlinhiding*

    OP1: This happened to me a few years ago when we were having a downsizing in our company. It wasn’t news that we were having lay offs but I was expecting myself to be laid off before my boss. I was totally blindsided when I walked into the office one morning and he didn’t show up and we were all called into a big meeting with our VP to find out that he was the only one in our department laid off (our VP had been making him justify keeping each one of us, over and over). We were assigned another boss in that meeting, someone that I knew and worked with at the company. He was a good person but a horrible micromanager; I started looking for another job not long after this. Before I could leave, he found another job and left, hurray, and we got another okay boss.
    Anyway, that was a horrible day and so the next and the next. I had been his admin for a long time so I had his personal phone number. I called him and we talked, I knew how he was doing, that helped. I was tasked with cleaning out his office, that also helped. We are still very good friends and we keep in touch and have a great friendship. He looked for work for about 2 years (had a severance package so it wasn’t all bad) till he found another good job ( because his is pretty awesome) where his doesn’t have the same stress he had in his previous job. It will get better over time and when you get a new boss, make your own decision about how good or bad they are.

  66. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    OP #2: if your hair is long enough to braid, that might be an easy alternative to the “bush on the back of the head” look. It only takes a couple of minutes (maybe longer if you do a French braid). Mind you, your boss and some of your visitors are being jerks, but I got the sense this wasn’t a hill you wanted to die on.

    Also! My extra-curly friends tell me there are websites dedicated to styling curly hair. Perhaps a browse through a couple of those will turn up some styles you like that aren’t labor intensive.

  67. Newlywed*

    #2 This just makes me continue to long for the 80’s and 90’s hair styles when everything wasn’t flat-ironed to death. I always think about Roz’s hair in Frazier (what mine would normally be) and it was big and voluminous and frizzy AND professional. I don’t want to have to flat iron my hair every day to look professional, but my hair is wavy — not straight or curly — so if I blow dry it, it doesn’t lay flat and smooth, and I end up having to spend a huge amount of time trying to straighten every little piece. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me “you didn’t want to do your hair today?” and I wanted to deck them because, yes, I spent an hour on my hair!

    1. Mona Lisa*

      I grew up during the time of the Rachel hairdo and spent so much of my adolescence trying to get my hair to conform to the appropriate standard. There is so much freedom in accepting my natural texture and choosing to work with it instead of against!

  68. Sweet T*

    OP1, I have no good advice for you except to say that I’m sorry. My amazing boss is retiring soon, because of new leadership in our organization, and our department will be restructured. I dread it so much. The sad part for me is that, like your boss, she is actually very willing to stay on but the new leadership would rather she leave.

  69. KR*

    1) I’m sorry to hear your boss has been fired. If I were you, I would gather your references, put out feelers for other jobs, and pay close attention in case your job is at risk. The good news is that you may get an even better boss next!

    2) That parent, and your boss, are absurd I am also a white girl with poofy hair that frizzes when you look at it wrong. When I’m faced with a guaranteed frizzy or humid day I tend to do a half up half down hairdo. I will use some sort of gel or mouuse to smooth out the top and the sides near my face and let the back and the bottom be crazy. Also I generally don’t brush my hair more than I need to, I don’t wash my hair unless it’s smelly or oily, and I use a good conditioner. Other than that I would tell your boss that this is how your hair naturally grows and that it’s clean and neat as can be, and that you’re not willing to spend a lot of money or time to tame it or damage it to make it look more conventional.

    4) Its wierd to me how much everyone in your company knows of your new volunteers history. It’s almost like they view it as a charity to let her volunteer with them. I think your best bet is to try your best to be work-friendly, courteous, be flexible, and kind. Pretend you haven’t heard anything about how she’s been “traumatized” or notice that she’s visibly nervous. My insight is that she might benefit the most from being able to simply come into work and be treated kindly and fairly every day to reach a level of normal in her life.

    1. KR*

      Also I love bumble and bumble curl primer. I shower, part my hair, and put some of that in my hair – I do not comb – and then I’m off. It looks best when it air dries for me at least.

  70. KR*

    1) I’m sorry to hear your boss has been fired. If I were you, I would gather your references, put out feelers for other jobs, and pay close attention in case your job is at risk. The good news is that you may get an even better boss next!

    2) That parent, and your boss, are absurd I am also a white girl with poofy hair that frizzes when you look at it wrong. When I’m faced with a guaranteed frizzy or humid day I tend to do a half up half down hairdo. I will use some sort of gel or mouuse to smooth out the top and the sides near my face and let the back and the bottom be crazy. Also I generally don’t brush my hair more than I need to, I don’t wash my hair unless it’s smelly or oily, and I use a good conditioner. Other than that I would tell your boss that this is how your hair naturally grows and that it’s clean and neat as can be, and that you’re not willing to spend a lot of money or time to tame it or damage it to make it look more conventional.

    4) Its wierd to me how much everyone in your company knows of your new volunteers history. It’s almost like they view it as a charity to let her volunteer with them. I think your best bet is to try your best to be work-friendly, courteous, be flexible, and kind. Pretend you haven’t heard anything about how she’s been “traumatized” or notice that she’s visibly nervous. My insight is that she might benefit the most from being able to simply come into work and be treated kindly and fairly every day to reach a level of normal in her life.

  71. a different Vicki*

    OP4: Your being a young man could be irrelevant to Sansa’s traumatic experience, or even make you less threatening than someone else. For one thing, not all PTSD comes from interpersonal violence–other causes include natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. Even if she was specifically attacked, the attackers might not have been either young or men: she might be fine with you, but nervous around older men, or women her own age, or people with long hair.

  72. KJDubreuil*

    I have slightly longer than shoulder length graying very thin fine hair.

    I read in a comment above “I’ve got ridiculously fine hair, and unless I powder it to within an inch of its life after washing and air-drying, I literally look wet-headed, like I just stepped out of the shower or got caught in a freak rainstorm. ”

    What the heck is powdering your hair? I want to know please!

    1. Annabelle*

      They might have been referring to dry shampoos, but there are also things sometimes referred to as “pumping powders” that are supposed to make your hair look more voluminous.

  73. Miles*

    #4 Usually trauma survivors just want to be treated like normal and not singled out for what happened to them. She is likely to be on the sensitive side of the scale for some things that remind her of the experience but the usual guidelines for professional behavior tend to be enough (I guarantee she isn’t the first trauma survivor, or even recent survivor, you’ve worked with unless you are very early in your career)

    That said, just know how and when to back off. Recognizing if she needs space and giving it to her until she manages to collect herself is usually enough. That and respecting boundaries she sets even if she doesn’t enforce them in the moment. But frankly even that is unlikely to come up if you and your coworkers conduct yourself in a professional and friendly manner

  74. Nichelle*

    WOC here. I’m disappointed in the number of people here claiming racism against OP #2. She clearly states she is white. While he boss is being awful to her, it is light years away from the treatment POC continue to get over their hair in the workplace. Jumping to racism is offensive to POC, doesn’t actually help OP #2 and is not pertinent because there is no racism against white people and it is not s thing. I’ve seen people in here clearly point this out so I’m not sure why it is getting traction now. I thought people here were more informed.

    1. An Underemployed Millennial*

      You can’t be racist against Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian people in the United States but you absolutely can be racist against Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Jewish people who are technically “white”. Curly hair is very common in those groups of people. I do agree with you though that racism against black people is MUCH worse than anything any other race or ethnicity deals with here.

      1. nope*

        So when I was denied a promotion by a company because I’m white and was uccessful in legal action against the company with proof submitted, it wasn’t racism? Huh, today I learned sonething.

    2. Annabelle*

      The designation of especially curly hair as “unprofessional” IS rooted in racism, though. And I’m saying that as a WOC with curly hair. I suppose you could argue that this is more like enthnocentricism or something, but it’s still a byproduct of the way we hold up standard, white European features (straight hair, blue eyes, fair skin, etc.) as the ideal.

    3. Delphine*

      The concept of curly hair being unprofessional stems from racism, it doesn’t matter that OP is white and therefore isn’t experiencing racism.

  75. Gaia*

    The hair letter really irritates me. I don’t have curly hair, I have very (very, very) fine hair that is very thick. Because it is fine it tangles very easily. Because there is a lot of it, it looks messy pretty easily. I keep it short enough to maintain some sense of neatness but…yea…sometimes it chunks up a bit and looks like it could use a quick brush. But, you know what? I can still do my job just fine.

  76. Jaybeetee*

    LW2: I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here for a minute. OTOH, naturally curly and even frizzy hair is absolutely not “unprofessional.” OTOH…if *multiple* people have complained about your hair, I’m concerned that on your bad days, it’s crossing the line from “unruly” into “sloppy,” and the complainers think you look unkempt, and view their complaints along the lines of poor grooming in a customer-facing position – akin to someone who isn’t showering often enough, wears dirty clothing, lets their hair be a tangled rat’s nest instead of brushing it (for those with hair that’s easier to manage), etc.

    Unfortunately, I am a pale white girl with poker-straight hair, and don’t have any useful advice for how to tame curls (my struggle is to *add* volume). A ponytail sounds like the easiest route for your frizziest days, and what a friend of mind did most of the time with her Goldilocks curls (she’d straighten when she had the time, otherwise ponytail. I think I saw her in all her curly glory like once over a several year period).

    1. Decima Dewey*

      Multiple can mean a lot of people, or it can just mean more than one. Or the same person making multiple complaints if the boss is faceblind.

  77. PersephoneUnderground*

    OP#4- My 2 cents. It appears you are assuming her trauma was sexual in nature (since you’re worried your being a young man may cause problems), but unless you’ve been told that you should keep in mind that you don’t actually know any details. She could be traumatized by something completely different from what you are expecting. E.G. What if she were nearly hit by a bus, which hit and killed the friend standing beside her? (This is something that actually happened to a classmate of mine in high school.) Trauma is a broad category and the reactions can be unpredictable and specific to the person, so consciously be careful to not assume anything. Take your cues from your boss as Alison advised, and if they say it’s ok it might be good to simply ask her if there’s anything special you should do to make her feel comfortable at work. But generally try to treat her as normally as possible and don’t assume things- guessing what someone else needs in this kind of situation is just shooting blind.

  78. MB*

    #2 – You’d be surprised how often this happens. I have curly hair – not super curly, more wavy/kinky kind of like what your hair looks like after you take it out of braids – and I have just learned to love it how it is naturally. Like the writer, I also used to straighten daily but it’s too damaging and takes way too much time. Anyways, I wore my hair naturally one day a few years ago during a presentation in one of my college classes. It was clean, out of my face, etc. My professor literally left a note on my grading sheet saying that my curly hair was unprofessional and that I should pull it back for presentations. He took points off.

    I was so upset. I actually cried. I couldn’t believe that something like my hair could negatively impact my grade like that. But the biggest thing that I’ve found is that it was B.S. I now work full-time and no one has ever made a comment or cared what my hair looks like as long as its clean and styled.

  79. Tedious Cat*

    OP 2, I don’t have any hair advice, but I think it might be time to start polishing up your resume and looking around, as your boss is showing his true colors regarding backing up his people. I know this probably sounds paranoid, but none of this — the sexism, the-customer-is-always-right attitude, plus as a former university employee I suspect some classism — is saying good things about him.

  80. Alienor*

    I’m just boggled by the fact that someone complained to the curly-haired OP’s face about her hair, *and* that others have apparently complained to her boss. Who does that?! Other people’s hair is literally none of my business unless they’re working in food service and shedding strands into my sandwich. I wonder how these complainers get through the day when they’re so easily bothered that they have to lodge a formal protest about the naturally curly hair of the employee working the front desk.

    1. Mary*

      It is boggling, isn’t it? Like, you’d think the convergence of the kind of client who’d complain and the kind of boss who’d actually take them seriously rather than giving them “you what” face would be so rare that this would never actually happen.

  81. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    #2 – I feel you. I have never learned to properly manage my incredibly thick curly hair that I have way too much of. I also understand not being able to find a clip that will hold your hair. I cannot use any clips in my hair. They do not hold as I have enough hair for 4 or 5 people (it’s only shoulder length, I’m speaking strictly of volume).

    I have defaulted to two methods. If I wash it in the morning, I can put enough heavy hold mousse it for it to look good for just over half of the day. I’m not customer facing so I don’t care that it’s seriously unruly by the afternoon. This doesn’t sound like it’s a good option for you, but maybe with some higher quality products it could last all day?

    What I do most days though is a pony tail. Find the ones that are extra large and designed for thick hair. If you can’t get the pony tail holder to go around at least 3 times, it’s not a good tight hold. A style that I like is to make a loose pony that sits at the base of your neck and then flip it back through and tighten it. I think it looks a little better than a plain ponytail, although that is what I do the majority of the time. I put a link to this in my user name because I’m not sure that I explained it very well.

  82. Lindsay J*


    If you can at all do it, the best thing I’ve found for my hair to keep it looking professional is a quick bun. I just make a pony tail, twist it up, kind of loop it around itself, and fasten it with a second hair tie. I can pretty much do it on the fly at this point, it looks neater than a pony tail alone or being down loose, and it’s one of the only things my hair will do consistently. Even straightening doesn’t really work for me because it frizzes up and or starts to recurl by midday usually.

    I’m also a white girl with thick, voluminous, wavy hair. I break combs and brushes if they’re not the right kind. (Either really sturdy wide toothed, or boar’s hair).

  83. Lindsay J*

    #1. I would make sure there is truth to the idea that he was just fired for no real reason as well.

    My boss, who everyone loved, was fired a couple weeks ago. And there was a lot of resentment from people, and uncertainty on my part (okay, if they fired him, am I next. He put in 10 years and then was fired for no good reason – is a company that does that really one I want to stay with?) when we first heard about it and had no details and assumed it was for something small or petty.

    Except, it wasn’t for something small or petty. It was for a major conflict of interest that pretty much any company anywhere would have fired him for, and that he knew he was risking being fired for when he did what he did.

    After finding that out I felt a lot better because it didn’t seem random or uncalled for anymore. It seemed like the natural consequence of a bad decision. And since I wasn’t making a similar bad decision I didn’t have to worry.

    It has also helped that I’ve reached out to my acting boss – my ex boss’s boss – and after the first day (which I imagine has been a bit chaotic since he was just coming back from paternity leave and I don’t think anyone foresaw this coming) he’s been very responsive, has had answers to all my questions about who I should go to for [whatever thing my boss used to do] etc.

      1. Lindsay J*

        There were rumors going around, and evidence that confirmed the rumors. So then I asked the interim boss what happened and he confirmed that it was a conflict of interest issue.

  84. RB*

    Re #1: I thought she meant that they “treated him like crap” during his tenure with the company, or during his tenure with that particular manager, not that they treated him badly during the firing itself.

  85. Oblique Fed*

    OP#2, you have had a lot of comments giving advice for approaches to take to the curly hair issue. I wanted to highlight the comment by Mary about the potential for “upsmartening” the rest of your look as a potential approach if you don’t want to use (or don’t have) social capital on pushing back too hard on your boss but also are not able/willing to do what has been requested (make your hair look like a different kind of hair entirely.) In my experience, one or two elements of personal style that could be read as “quirky/trendy” or considered “unprofessional” can often be offset by raising the “professionalism” of the rest of what you wear, so that it sort of averages out. I used to be a business consultant and worked with a guy who had splendid dreadlocks halfway down his back: paired with his sharp consulting suits he looked super professional and I never heard anyone say anything about his hair that wasn’t an admiring comment. I personally like to dye my hair unnatural colors (currently I have pink-and-purple streaks in my pixie cut) but I get it professionally done (so it doesn’t have that “teenager did this with Kool-Aid at home” look) and I pair it with outfits that are on the upper end of dressed-up for my office, and it seems to even out; I get a lot of positive comments on my look. (I do work in a government job and don’t do anything public-facing, so we’ve got a fair amount of leeway, but I also have a straight-talking boss who would let me know if I was shooting myself in the foot.)

    So – while you are completely in the right to push back on this because thinking curly hair is unprofessional is in fact rooted in (possibly unexamined, but still) racist ideas of what a “professional” person looks like – if you decide you don’t want to, this may be a way to reduce the hassle you have to put up with that won’t take hours of time daily.

  86. mf*

    #2: My favorite response for this kind of thing is “why?” Make them explain why your curly hair (or lack of makeup, flat shoes, etc.) is not professional and watch them squirm when they realize they can’t do it.

    1. Wintermute*

      That’s not a bad one, another is “well that’s just my heritage/genes I guess” as a subtle reminder that they’re walking smack into unlawful national origin and racial discrimination when they start policing hair texture and how different kinds of hair responds to the weather…

  87. Susannah*

    As someone with hair that can verge between curly/frizzy/fly away filled and definitely deteriorates throughout the day, I have generally defaulted into a side braid for work/professional situations (I’m an elementary school teacher). Working with young children, I think that a slightly younger hairstyle, like that is, gets a bit more acceptable, and I just like the aesthetic of it more than a braid.

  88. mintypins*

    Regarding LW 4: Thank you for being considerate of your volunteer! I don’t know if you’ve heard of ‘trauma-informed care’ but, basically, there is a growing body of research around trauma and ways that we can respond to those who have experienced trauma in a way that minimizes triggers and doesn’t re-traumatize them. This is often applied to providing services to trauma survivors: medical care, social work, therapy, advocacy, but there is a push for trauma-informed principles in the workplace as well. Sometimes simple and easy things like creating a schedule structure so that your volunteer knows what to expect each day, allowing her to sit in the part of the room that feels most comfortable for her, and making sure she knows she’s free to take breaks as-needed if things are getting overwhelming. Not all survivors need these things, and everyone is different, and it is a little weird of your organization to be sharing that history with you, but if it’s something that is going to be present, or it’s something she brought up as a concern, there are ways to address it and help her feel more comfortable. Allowing her to lead the conversation and asking her what she needs to feel comfortable at work is a positive. Trauma is more common than you might think!

    Here is a link to a study:
    And more info on trauma-informed workplaces:

    1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Thanks Minty! You and some other commenters upthread have given me good points and advice that I’ll take into account. I’ll probably have to read those studies over the weekend though. ~LW#4

  89. ladycrim*

    OP2, I am also a pale gal with voluminous curly hair. (I can almost cosplay as Merida from “Brave” without a wig.) I find that Frizz Ease brand styling mousse works wonders for getting the curls to calm down. It’s really fast, too. Just dampen your hair with wet hands, rub the mousse onto your hands, and run your hands through your hair. Give it a try and see if that spares you from needing to wrestle your hair into a ponytail or be subjected to rude comments.

  90. oh*

    As a white girl with unruly hair I wanted to put in a vote for hair scroos. They actually grabbed my hair better than 99% of the stuff I tried. They are cheap too. Fortunately in my line of work no one cares what I look like . . .

  91. Wintermute*

    #2– This is a perfectly reasonable thing to push back on, and the law may have your back. Things like hair texture tend to be heavily related to your national origin and your race, both of which are legally protected classes. And the law has long realized that discrimination against certain features (ESPECIALLY hair) is basically proxy racial discrimination. Dress codes that require straight hair have been litigates, and the results don’t just apply to people with classical African-type hair that want to keep their hair natural, they can’t force you to straighten your hair.

    That’s not the FIRST place you go, obviously, but if you’re getting repeated mentions it may be time to contact HR and use those magic words “hostile work environment” because repeated criticism for your ethnic features is absolutely not okay and it’s absolutely prohibited. That applies to every ethnicity, to curly hair and kinky, wavy and straight alike.

    It might also be worth being a little more pointed than Alison suggests, and if it’s brought up again bringing it to your boss’ attention that they’re treading into discriminatory territory.

    1. Zuppa da Clams*

      Except I think-if the OP were indeed a POC-I don’t think they would EVER say something like that to her. But because she is white, they feel her hair is unprofessional and she can do something about it. But if she was black, it would be such blatant racism, they would surely have the self-awareness, particularly in the education community, to tiptoe around that? (Although I know it happens all the time-I’m not trying to dismiss the actual experiences of POC in the workplace who HAVE been discriminated against because of ethnic hair.)

      1. Wintermute*

        That doesn’t matter. White people are protected by the EEOC just as much as people of color are, and curly hair is just as much of an ethnic/national origin thing as any other type of hair is. The law is the law regardless, and it protects you from discrimination on the basis of your features.

        1. Dee in Texas*

          Dear OP,

          We WOC knew that the boss and parent identified you as “a pale white girl” because the felt comfortable asking you to make your hair more “normal.”

          Please, please, please, on behalf of the millions of other naturally curlie girls, take this up with your HR department. The boss and parent were making discrimatory comments. Your boss needs to hear from HR why this is wrong. Imagine if this boss said “blonds only” or “no gray hair.”

          Btw, check out for hair care tips.

  92. Pixalottle*

    Lots of people have good suggestions for styling curly hair but I had a few for if toy just want to put it up. I have a lot of hair so lots of usual methods don’t work and it’s too heavy for a ponytail.
    Flexi 8: great for twists and buns, holds better than individual pins
    Buns with a hair fork
    Ficcare clips
    They all hold hair comfortably all day, if it’s humid and nothing else works. There are lots of videos on how to use them.

  93. S Stout*

    LW2: have you tried a braid? And, I have to say, I wonder why anyone is commenting about your hair?

  94. A Nickname for AAM*

    I’ve been thinking about this since the “curly hair is unprofessional” letter was posted. Not only is there a race issue, there’s also an element of classism involved. The kind of hair treatments required to look permanently sleek and polished are not only white-eurocentric and time consuming, but expensive. Professional straightening treatments are hundreds of dollars for example. The kinds of shampoos, conditioners, gels, and styling tools that work on beating curly hair into submission to white-eurocentric standards are expensive too: $10 for a few ounce bottle of shampoo, $100 for a sturdy flatiron, $20 for frizz serum.

    Wealthy women always comply with these standards because they can afford it and find it advantageous to spend money on gaining the privilege that comes with having meticulously styled hair. Someone who works in a customer-facing position at a college likely does not get paid that kind of money.

  95. Heather.*

    #4 I am a volunteer with complex PTSD, and so I wanted to say; how would it be to reframe this as ‘how can I get the best out of Sansa?’ Vs ‘how can I avoid triggering her?’

    The best volunteer managers and colleagues I’ve worked with are ones who treat me as a peer, who want to know what my skills are. Giving feedback on the quality of my work vs my coping or ‘fitting in’ means a lot. Trusting me to manage my trauma symptoms and giving me low stakes challenges helps me grow. Affirming that I have professional potential helps. Focus on what Sansa can do now and help her by keeping an open mind on what she can do in future. No one is ever broken imho, some of the most remarkable successes I know came from disaster.

    You might consider:
    If Sansa has a goal for her volunteer in terms of career development, make a plan with her that can form the basis for a reference in future.
    Talking with her on her skills and what she enjoys, linking to projects you have in your organisation.
    Including her and introducing her to staff, clients, allowing her to build networks.
    Give strengths based feedback – What went well, what could be done differently?
    Giving her room to decompress from the stressful aspects of the work and encouraging self care by making sure you and your colleagues look after yourselves.

    These thing can apply to any volunteer or colleague. We all have mental health and you may be already have been working with trauma survivors you aren’t aware of.

    Trauma is an event that goes beyond the normal range of horror and it pushes a person’s ability to cope. To survive it is to be changed forever, but also to gain a new perspective on tenacity, problem solving and personhood. So yes, Sansa has her challenges. But she also comes with a great deal of resiliency, empathy, experience of adversity and character. You have gained a warrior so don’t wrap her up in cotton wool sympathy. She might be an asset to your organisation. Be prepared for Sansa to surprise you.

    1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Hi Heather. Sorry to hear you went through that, but I’m glad you prevailed & emerged a stronger person for it. You’ve raised some good points which I can use and incorporate going forward. As of now, what we’ve (i.e. my colleague in Admin and I) done for Sansa have been giving her tasks such as filing and some spreadsheet work (with plans to upgrade to writing and publicity in time), and giving her a quiet room and informing her emergency contacts if things go pear-shaped. Our aim for now, though, is to give her enough time/space to pull herself together again, before we send more challenging work her way. So… We’ll see. :)

  96. starchaine*

    As someone with curly hair, I will second, third, fourth, fifth any suggestion to bring moisture to your hair.

    1) Avoid shampoos with sulfates. They dry out your hair horribly.
    2) Avoid any product with silicones. This includes ingredients that end in -cone. They coat your hair so the moisture can’t get through, and they can only be washed out with sulfate shampoos.
    3) Avoid any product that says it is anti-frizz. It has silicones.
    4) Conditioner can be a styling product for curly hair. I use a small amount before I use styling products.
    5) Deva has a great line of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products. Their gel does a great job of controlling and taming my hair.
    6) Don’t use a hairdryer. That direct heat will increase the frizz. Some have good luck with a diffuser. I find it still frizzes too much for my taste. A bonnet dryer works well for me – distributes the heat more evenly without directly frying my hair.

  97. milan*

    My hair is Platinum Blonde – I moved to a place that has a lot of chlorine in the water and my hair frizzed out! I have used the Made from Earth Avocado Hair Mask every 2-3 days and my hair did a 180! The frizz is gone and my color is vibrant again! Best for me is to put in after washing (while still pretty wet) and combing through, leaving on for about 10 minutes – it has 5-7 minutes suggested but for me 10 minutes works best! I am happy with this purchase – recommended!!

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