COLUMN: Decision to 'go natural' has deeper roots for 9 On Your Side reporter Kristen Swilley

Posted at 5:00 AM, May 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 09:05:09-04

Kristen Swilley is a real-time multimedia journalist for WCPO 9 On Your Side. She works at night, and you can usually see her in the 11 p.m. newscast.

CINCINNATI -- As journalists, we're in the business of authenticity.

We spend our days bringing you stories from as many perspectives as possible and digging for the information you need to make well-informed decisions. Journalists -- at our best -- are honest for a living, and that's a privilege I never take for granted.

It's always felt a little funny that the message in my head never quite matched what was on top of my head.

I know it might appear silly to write about something as seemingly trivial as my hair, but for myself and other African-Americans, "going natural" has deeper roots.

Kristen Swilley before ...

I worried that wearing my real hair without straightening it would tank my career. I wouldn’t be the first: It has happened before across industries ranging from the military to food service and, yes, television news. People, particularly women, have lost their jobs for looking black.

I'm lucky enough to work in a place that thinks differently. So after years of burning, bleaching and chemically straightening my hair, effectively burying this part of myself, I decided it was time for a change.

... and now.

I spent hours cutting off and pulling out the straight hair woven into my own. Now I can finally look in the mirror and see the most honest version of myself staring back. It's my first time looking how I was born since middle school, and it feels great.

With that said, I'll need you to be patient with me, Tri-State. Given our ever-changing weather, my hair won't always look the same. You may not be happy with it, and there's a chance it won't always turn out how I planned.

I can guarantee you just one thing: It will be the real, unedited version of me.

In a profession where we value truth above all else, I've learned there are few greater privileges than getting to be yourself.