The hair and make-up studio of a television network is a weird and wonderful thing. People walk out of there transformed, especially when they walk in with curly hair.
That’s because curly hair does not cut it on the telly. Think about it: how many women on TV can you name who have curly hair?
It turns out there are many, but you wouldn’t know it, because they have their hair straightened and perfectly coiffed by the magicians in hair and make-up.Clockwise from left: Angela Bishop, Yaara Bou Melhem, Jeanette Francis, Ellie Southwood and Tracey Spicer (OK, that’s a perm because there are so few photos of her natural curls!)
“It makes me look kind of nuts”, it’s “distracting”, “untidy”, “unprofessional”, “my fun side”, and a “secret”.
These are just some of the reasons curly-haired TV presenters give for wearing their hair straight on screen. As a curly haired woman who occasionally visits the TV industry, I found this phenomenon crazy. Why can’t women have curly hair on television? I developed a few theories about why curls don’t cut it, but as with many questions related to female beauty, the answer is rather more complex than it at first seems.
Theory number one: Is it fashion?
“University was the only time my curls were right for the era,” says Angela Bishop. “I had the full Kylie Minogue/Charlene on Neighbours thing going on.
“But once I started working at Channel Ten they had to become a secret. I learned to get faster and faster at smoothing them out, in order to get to work on time, and prayed I would never get caught doing a standup in the rain, lest my duplicity be exposed.
“But eventually it had to happen. I was out covering a story on the rare yellow footed rock wallaby in the Mootwingee National Park in western NSW. We were staying in shearer’s quarters, and the first evening we arrived, I noted they had power, so I figured I could whip out the blow dryer the next morning and have poker straight hair in time for the shoot.
Unfortunately, the generator was only switched on at night, which Angela didn’t find out until she had dripping wet hair.
“So Sheila,” they asked her, “you want us to fire up the generator and burn our precious rations of fuel so Miss Chic de Lic from the big smoke can blow dry her hair. In the desert!”
“I mumbled something like ‘you’ll never understand’ and shuffled back to my room to work on plan B. Which was…..an Akubra.”
Angela does admit to wearing her hair curly on a couple of occasions on Channel Ten – when the station’s band Hard and Fast were on the road. Curls, she says, “…are more suited to rock’n’roll.”
Theory number two: Is it an order from male producers?
When Ellie Southwood was working on Channel Seven as a news reporter in Western Australia, her curly hair was a frequent sight on television screens across the state. But when she decided to head east to Sydney and met with some news directors there, the response was unequivocal: “‘Really like your work. You can obviously do the job. Just… the hair…’ Quite clearly curly hair wasn’t going to cut it in Sydney,” Ellie said.
She didn’t need to be told twice. Ever since that meeting, Ellie has blow dried her own curls straight for work.
“I can understand that straighter hair might look more neat and professional, so I oblige. But I also love my curls and sometimes wish I could set them free – to send a message to all those women and girls who damage their hair with straighteners that curls can be cool too!” says Ellie.
Jacinta Tynan, Sky News presenter and author says that straight hair used to be a necessary evil when she presented the news in front of a chroma key on the ABC. “It was a requirement to keep it flat and neat and spray down the ‘flyaways’ – a technical term, I believe – so it didn’t flare. That’s why so many of us newsreaders in those days had ‘helmet hair’. I was told I couldn’t keep my hair long then so had a bob for years that was so not my preferred look! I felt like I was someone else.”
Since the advent of digital TV, however, Jacinta has taken to wearing her hair curly on Sky. Kind of: “Of course I tame my curls. It takes effort to get the natural look! I say to my haidresser, ‘let’s tong it’ and that will last a couple of days.
“I haven’t been subject to a ‘curl embargo’,” she says, “but I do know a presenter who has because her (male) bosses decided it didn’t suit her. Another was told her hair was too thin for curls.”
Theory number three: Is it just plain crazy?
Possibly… but many women who wear their hair straight on TV have never been told to do so.
“I’ve never been told to wear my hair straight but I find it less unruly,” says Jeannette Francis from The Feed on SBS2. “It can be quite frizzy if I leave it curly and the fly away hairs that show up on camera can make me look kind of nuts.
“Curly hair on TV can make it seem like you have a crazy vibe about you. It’s much easier to control if it’s straight.”
Yaara Bou Melhem, a curly-haired reporter on SBS’s Dateline recalls a conversation she was having with fellow journalists recently: “We meandered onto talking about women who ‘boldly’ wear their hair curly on TV and discussed the case of one international journalist who refuses to listen to demands from her base to brush her hair.
“I’ve never had that, but then I’ve never tested it.
“It was just a given that I wear my hair straight for television. Curls are so unpredictable and mine are prone to frizz, big time, which is in no way screen friendly. I associate curly hair with my ‘fun’ side and straight with my ‘professional’ side.
“I’d love to wear my curls all the time but we have a love-hate relationship because they’re prone to craziness, which I love… and hate.”
No, it’s the audience!
According to Tracey Spicer, however, it’s all about the audience.
“Hair and jackets are the most common topics of viewer feedback. Management uses these comments to direct the hair and makeup artists about the ‘look’ they want for presenters and journos,” says Tracey, who is a columnist for The Hoopla, presenter on SkyTV and former newsreader for Channel Ten.
“My hair was always the subject of great consternation. Hair and makeup artists, wanting to work at Ten, were trialled on my hair because it was ‘curly and very difficult’.
“In a way, I see the argument for straight hair. Curly, unruly hair can look a bit distracting – and, as a news anchor, your primary role is to read the news – nothing should distract from your face, it’s the same with fashionable jackets or dangly earrings.”
It’s not just the girls, either. Marc Fennell, from SBS, and Charlie Pickering, from Channel Ten’s The Project, are curly-haired boys who’ve taken to straightened times. And it’s not just the news – apparently “curly haired girls historically don’t do well on the Bachelor,” reports Hollywood magazine. Gasp!
And in case you’re wondering whether it’s just an Australia phenomenon, here’s a picture of the newsreaders at the USA’s Fox TV network, in all their glorious diversity.
So what’s up, audience: Do you really think people with curly hair aren’t in control?
Are we really judging female professionalism by the wave of their locks? Is it simply about fashion, or is something else at work here?
Do you have curly hair? How do you feel about it, do you wear it straight or let it fly?
Watch The Hoopla’s Gabrielle Jackson discuss the issue with the Studio 10 panel:
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