My Internship Helped Me Find Myself

Non-conformity is number 1 on my list of things to avoid at all costs. So when it came to changing my appearance to potentially advance my career, I found myself conflicted, unmotivated, and disappointed. It felt like I had lost my voice.

Over the summer, I interned at WTNH News 8 in New Haven, a local news station that focuses on the Connecticut shoreline. Before I was even accepted as an intern, my natural curls drew the attention of two people who didn’t know me personally, nor had they seen my work.

The first comment came from a distant family member who is working in the industry. We had dinner to talk about my plans, and one of the things she focused on was whether I had a wig. Coming from a person of color (POC), who, under her wig, had a hair texture similar to mine was jarring, but I did not take her seriously.

Before my internship interview, which she helped set up for me, she told me to straighten my hair. I planned to put extensions in my hair within a week or so after the interview, but she was adamant on me straightening it beforehand.

I had not put heat to my hair in over three years. I was terrified.

My natural texture is sensitive to humidity, water, and heat. With uncertain spring weather at its peak, I knew the style wouldn’t last, and I was afraid to have to re-straighten my hair. I used the flat iron three times in the days leading to my interview.

The morning of, it flurried outside and my umbrella was in my car. My pre-interview nerves got the best of me and I could not stop sweating. Soon the ends of my hair started to puff up and I was an emotional wreck.

Thankfully, there was a scheduling error and my interviewer needed to reschedule, but I was so anxious that the longer I waited, the puffier was my hair. The next day I added extensions.

Extensions are a way I style my hair by braiding it down, and sewing in fake hair to make it appear differently.

I decided my family member’s suggestion wasn’t worth the stress and planned to spend the summer natural. To be safe, I asked the man who interviewed me, a black producer at the station, his thoughts on the subject.

Much to my surprise he shut me down. He used words to describe natural hair as “uncombed,” “out of order,” and constantly changing, which would confuse viewers.

Still, I would not allow him to bring me down. Although his words hurt, I refused to believe the answer was cut and dry. Assuming he was jaded from his years in the industry, I pursued my answer.

After about a month into the internship I was preparing to  go on vacation in Miami, and did not want my hair covered for the week off. My last resort, the only other POC who could relate on the subject, was a younger black producer at the station who told me she started her career as a reporter before producing.

She gave me her cell phone number and I put my anxiety about being shut down on the subject to the side to finally get the courage to text her. Her response was not what I hoped to hear.

“I wouldn’t wear your natural (sic),” she said. “White news directors are looking at your reel.”

My heart sank.k I lost interest in continuing my internship. Had I wasted my entire college career on a profession that would not accept me as I was? Was I not good enough for these people? For television?

How could I turn this into a positive?

After taking the extensions out for my vacation, I bought a wig, which I admittedly loved, but what was essentially a full coverage hat did not agree with the heat, and the stress that came with making sure it didn’t look like a wig was distracting when I prepared for my day, and my time on camera.

This did not ruin my experience. I learned a lot and felt rewarded, but I still needed to figure out what I was going to do about my career path. I was  0 for 3 on my natural decision but my heart could not accept my fate.

My return to school brought me back to earth. Being back in my environment with professors and classmates who believe in not only the work I have already done, but in me  and my ability to accomplish my goals, no matter what my hair looked like, reminded me what was important.

My hair defines me, and that’s because I chose to make it so.

I’m not going to let it get in the way of the work I do. My hair doesn’t change my capabilities as a professional. I understand now that everyone I spoke to previously was looking out for me, and I appreciate their support and guidance. But, I’m going to use this opportunity to find my own way.