WPTV reporter Rochelle Ritchie with relaxed hair
On December 29, Michelle Breyer, co-founder of NaturallyCurly.com, was on the NPR radio show “Tell Me More” discussing natural hair and the personal, political and economic implications of being natural. Joining her was Rochelle Ritchie, reporter at WPTV in West Palm Beach, FL and Danielle Belton, author of the blog BlackSnob.com.
Rochelle started the conversation by talking about her personal experience when going natural. A female anchor told her that she needed to get extensions when she was first starting out in the TV world. This adviser said stations were going for a long and straight look. Rochelle got the extensions and wore wigs and immediately started getting calls from other stations and began moving up the reporting ladder. At that point, she vowed to wear the wigs and extensions no matter what the cost.
For six years, she wore a straight and sleek style and also spent more than $9500 on the services. Eventually, she was inspired to do a big chop after noticing the severe damage being done to her hair. Rochelle pitched the story idea to her managers, and they ran with the idea. Rochelle is now completely natural and told her T.V. audience, “This is how you will see me reporting from now on.”
On the radio show, Michelle then weighed in and said that Rochelle's story is a common one and that more women are starting to say they want to be natural. There are different cultural issues, but many of these issues seem to affect African American women. Often times, they are told that their hair needs to be straight because that is the standard of beauty. Instead of feeling comfortable with their natural hair, they conform and never wear their hair curly. However, people like Rochelle are helping change the standard. Many large companies who never made products for natural hair are now starting to because they see it is what women want, Michelle said. Attitudes towards natural hair are changing, and many women are starting to embrace their natural self, she added.
Rochelle Ritchie with natural hair
Danielle then took the floor and offered her opinions about the standard of beauty. There is much pressure to conform, she said. In fact, it’s a common theme with redheaded actresses, she added. At some point they dye their hair blond and then they look like every other starlet out there. Why would they do that? They stood out before. They were gorgeous. They were different, but ultimately they give in to the pressure to conform for their career; you’ll get more work, you’re more acceptable. The other side of that is when a woman decides not to conform. It spreads a wildfire and women think, “If she can do it, I can do it, too.”
When Danielle had relaxed hair she would get attention for it, but it was very different. Some men told her that if she ever cut her hair or quit straightening her hair they wouldn’t date her. She started believing that having straight hair was the only way she would ever be pretty.
Danielle finally decided to go natural and she has gotten attention for her curls. On her blog she writes, “If you ever want to feel what it's like to be a celebrity for a few days, ladies, get your hair done in the biggest, curliest, craziest afro possible. If you can't grow it, sew it. You will be amazed at the response. In two weeks I've had strangers ask to take pictures with me. I've had white people assume that I "must be somebody" (especially when I was wearing sunglasses). I've had men knock down old ladies to talk to me. (Literally. Dude knocked down an old lady!) All drinks are free and everyone is amazingly happy to see me.” Danielle quit conforming and now she inspires women everywhere to do the same.
If you didn't get a chance to hear the interview click here to listen. You can also see Rochelle's reports following her natural hair journey here and see how people have responded to her transition here.