AJ Walker has been a television news reporter for more than a decade. But she’s only just getting the opportunity to feel like herself while doing her job now that she’s allowed to wear her hair in braids on-air for the first time.
The Lansing, Michigan, native has worked her way up through multiple stations, chasing her dream of becoming an investigative reporter. Now with that title for West Palm Beach’s CBS 12 News, Walker is striving to achieve a bigger goal of broadening on-camera representation — starting with her hair.
“There are many limitations placed on on-air personalities when it comes to our look,” Walker tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Your station makes it clear that they are within their rights to have control over how long or short your hair is, and hair color, whether or not you can wear extensions, braids, or natural hair.”
While extensions were typically deemed acceptable by the companies that she’s worked for prior, Walker shares that she was still restricted to keeping her hair straight. And although she was never outright told that she cannot wear braids, Walker says it was evident that her favorite hairstyle wasn’t deemed suitable.
“When I discussed the possibility of wearing braids on-air with stations, the answer was, ‘Let’s keep your hair the way it is,’ ‘We like your hair the way it is’ and ‘That’s too dramatic of a change,'” Walker explains. “To me, that was still a ‘no,’ although it wasn’t worded that way.”
However, after taking a break in-between jobs and going through the tragic death of her mother, Walker was inspired to ask the Sinclair station that she currently works for about changing up her look, and going on camera with the style that became a fond reminder of her mom.
“I had worn braids several months before getting hired when I was in between jobs, but I took them out to go on job interviews out of concern that braids might hurt my chances of getting hired. But I missed my braids,” she says. “It is a skill my mother taught me. When she died a few months ago, part of me felt like wearing my hair braided was preserving a part of her.”
But Walker also has hope that the station’s decision to allow her braids will lead to an even more important conversation that extends to other minorities and women.
“Not many people realize that African-American and other women feel and often are forced to wear hairstyles that the company or news station deems acceptable,” Walker shares. “The freedom to wear my hair in a style that is a part of my culture and a skill handed down to me from my mother gives me a stronger sense of self-esteem, self-worth and confidence as a person and as a woman. This is a hairstyle I chose for myself. It reflects who I am.”
Now, Walker is celebrating alongside her CBS 12 colleagues and viewers, who have shown the on-air reporter support for rocking her braids, as she hopes to open the doors for many other young black women to do the same in their industries.
“A long straight weave can help land you a job because you have ‘the look,’ but that isn’t really our look. That’s just an image we struggle to maintain,” Walker says. “Let us be ourselves. We are still professionals even if our hair is different.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• Naomi Campbell’s natural hair makes a rare appearance at Paris Fashion Week
• Basketball referee benched for allegedly commenting on girl’s hairstyle: ‘She is going to have to do something about her hair’
• Parents say 3-year-old’s braid was ripped from her scalp at daycare: ‘I just want justice for my daughter’