The Mane Conflict: Hair Curly or Straight?

When it comes to jobs and men, does it matter?

ByTARYN BRILL via logo

Aug. 12, 2008 — -- Curly versus straight. That, my friends, is the question.

Or, more specifically, why do women with curly hair feel the need to straighten it? Is it because they get treated or perhaps perceived differently with a smooth, straight look?

First impressions count, but we wanted to see if anyone really noticed or even cared. Does it really make a difference?

From the time I was a tot, my curly hair has been my identity -- I was the girl with big curly hair. Braces never fazed me, but the hair was always a big concern.

Like so many women with curly tresses, I routinely head to the salon to have it straightened. Celebrities do it with ease, but for the rest of us, it can take hours and cost hundreds of dollars.

So why then are so many women with curly hair addicted to their flat iron? To find out, I conducted an unscientific social experiment in New York City.

I had a photographer take my picture once with curly hair, and then once with it straight. I then had the photographer take pictures of eight actresses.

Then we brought in five men to rate the pictures -- the eight actresses, and me. We told the panel we were working with a company that was looking for the new face of a clothing line. They were to describe each picture with a single word as well as rate them from one to ten -- ten being the woman they would most like to date.

When the picture of me with curly hair came up, the scores were not very generous -- a three was involved -- and the words to describe me were "teacher," "warm," "average," "frazzled" and "giddy."

"She looks to me like she's trying to get a husband really fast," one of the men said.

After they rated a few actresses, my picture came up again, but this time I had straight hair.

This time, though, three out of the five men gave me higher marks. They used words like "classic," "pretty," "nice," "centered" and "friendly." My total score jumped from 25 out of 50 to 31 out of 50.

After the ratings were done, I asked one man who had given me a five during the first round why he had bumped me up, all the way to a seven, when I had straight hair.

"It's just a distraction," he said. "I want to look in your face, and all I'm seeing is hair going everywhere. So I'm seeing the hair go all over the place instead of just keying in on your eyes."

The man who had given me a three initially said that I looked more "natural" and "approachable" with straight hair.

But as big a difference as the different hair styles made during the experiment, one guy noted that, by itself, hair is not that big of a deal to him.

"As a guy, being a guy my whole life, I can't remember ever sitting around with a bunch of guys saying, 'Oh my God! Look at that girl's hair! I've got to talk to her!'" he said.

I decided to try out the two styles on kids next, because they always tell the truth. So I brought two of the pictures from the earlier experiment with the grumpy guys and asked the kids to run to which one looked prettier.

But just like the guys, 20 out of the 22 kids ran to the picture of me with straight hair.

"You look more better than curly because curly looks all bushy and it's kind of messy and the straight's kind of nice," one child said bluntly.

Well, they sure are honest.

Finally, I went to a place where first impressions are known to be extremely important -- the dreaded job interview.

Tory Johnson, workplace contributor to "Good Morning America," helped me out by setting up a panel of six recruiters who would be asked to grade me as a job candidate on a scale from 1 to 10. The panel would be split into two groups of three, and I would see each with a different hair style.

I wore the same clothes and even answered the same questions the same way. But the recruiters' perceptions? Very different.

Only one recruiter made a passing comment about my hair when it was straight, but all three mentioned it when it was curly.

"I've been in company meetings with people with big hair, and actually I think that it's somewhat of a distraction," one recruiter said.

"I think it was kind of wild," said another.

But in spite of that criticism, the group that interviewed me with curly hair gave me much higher marks -- 26 out of 30, versus 22 with straight hair.

On intelligence and ability to articulate ideas clearly, I received a 20 out of 30 with straight hair, but 28 with curly.

When it came to confidence, I got a 23 with straight hair and rocked a 28 with curly.

Oddly the group that interviewed me when I had straight hair thought I showed too much confidence, a characteristic that one recruiter said "can easily be transferred into being cocky."

But with curly hair?

"She was personable. She was funny without being too familiar," one recruiter said.

So the guys and the kids were asked to judge a picture or a look. The recruiters were asked to judge a person.

I suppose it's really not surprising at all to me that I impressed them more with my natural curls, because that's how I'm most comfortable.

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