It’s not often that you see a Black female newscaster on-air without the industry- standard straight tresses—the broadcast industry’s definition of polish and professionalism. Yet, reporter/host Amina Smith has refused to be sidelined for wearing her natural hair — frequently showcasing her highlighted crown of natural curls.
The bubbly journalist is known for her sports and entertainment work on FOX, ESPN and Big Ten Networks. She currently hosts Watch Stadium’s Emerge and is a correspondent for BET Networks shows, including BET Breaks and Set Trippin’. But, while she’s reached many levels of success, but even she has been susceptible to the anxieties of rocking her curls on-air.
Hype Hair chatted with the popular reporter about the challenges of being natural in mainstream broadcast and the impact she hopes to have on up-and-coming reporters.
HH: When in your career did you decide to go natural?
Amina Smith: I’ve been natural my whole life. When I got into my first year at a station in Kansas, I used to wear sew-ins. I used to drive all the way to Kansas City to get my hair done. It was my first job; I don’t even think I made $20,000 a year. So I’m trying to go and spend money on buying the hair, which was close to $250 or $300 and then trying to get a friend to do my hair. It was too much, and so I was like, you know what, as scared as I am to be in the middle of America and wear my hair natural, this is what y’all going to get!
HH: What have your experiences been like working at an African American targeted network like BET compared to more mainstream stations?
Amina: It’s night and day. BET Network is where you get to embrace your culture; where you are on the show with box braids one day, a wig the next day and natural hair on Wednesday. Chile! And nobody is going to bat an eye. I’ve literally been in an environment where they’re more corporate, mainstream America, and if I come with straight hair, they will think I’m a totally different person. I like being at BET Network because it allows me to let my hair down and be around people that understand my culture. It’s very different in each space, and you have to adapt.
HH: When you do step out with your natural, what is the reception?
Amina: In the past, at other places that I’ve worked at, people might suggest to my makeup artist or wardrobe stylist that “maybe she should wear her hair straight.” I don’t even like wearing my hair straight when I come to a mainstream network, because I don’t want them to get used to seeing me that way. I feel like when somebody sees me with my hair straight; it’s like, “Oh, it looks nice like that.” I’m like, “Well, it looks nice natural, and…I don’t want to damage my hair.” I’ve had other friends and colleagues, who have unfortunately had viewers message them and tell them that their hair was unkempt or it was messy. It baffles me that people in 2019 would say things like that to a Black woman or a woman of color.
Now, I do get anxious or self-conscious sometimes when I go for jobs. A lot of Black women are going to want to have weaves or wigs, and some networks prefer that. So when I go for a job, sometimes I feel like, “Oh no, what if they don’t want me to have the job, because they think that my look isn’t clean enough or proper enough or doesn’t fit the look of the talent that they have on their rosters?”
HH: Do you find that you don’t have the luxury to try out a new hairstyle without being pigeonholed?
Amina: Yeah, in all honesty, that is how I feel. It’s also a standard in the TV industry to have one look. So now, not only do you have to have one look, but, at the same time, there’s this notion that you have to have straight hair. If I come in with a wig one day and then I come in the next day with curly hair, there are just so many questions like, “How did you get it to do that?”
I don’t mind explaining, but sometimes it just gets exhausting trying to explain certain things to people. And then it’s, “Why don’t you wear your hair like that more often?” I don’t like to open up that can of worms.
HH: With natural hair, it can be hard to guarantee the same look every single day. How do you manage your hair for day-to-day consistency?
Amina: I feel like I really have it down to a science now. For example, if I’m on-air Monday through Friday, I’ll do a twist out on Sunday. Then that would usually last me until about Wednesday. I might start seeing a little frizzy frizz on Wednesday, so I might do a little re-twist. Sometimes, I’ll just re-twist the front because I’m lazy. And then other times, if I feel I need a whole revamp, I will do a conditioner wash and then do a twist out and pineapple at night. Then Saturday and Sunday, I don’t even know what it looks like during the day. I have a bun and all kinds of stuff going on.
HH: What are your holy grail products?
Amina: Coconut oil, SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie and DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel. And of course, water. Then I’ll use Jamaican Black Castor Oil for my scalp and for the front of my head. I’m not a product junkie, at all. I have a couple of products, but my thing is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
HH: What has impacted you the most since deciding to wear your natural hair on-air?
Amina: When I went out to do my stories, people who were of African American descent or another minority would pull me aside and be like, “My daughters love to watch you because of the way you look on-air.” Everybody looks one way. Everybody has straight hair. Everybody’s got a weave…a wig.
Don’t get me wrong — I love me a good wig. I just feel like representation is so important. When I was down in Atlanta for the Super Bowl and I ran into [ESPN anchor] Sage Steele, I told her, “Thank you,” because she was one of the people that I looked at. I was just like, you know what, if Sage Steele can do it and she’s on ESPN, then I can do it. I want to be that same person for somebody else that’s coming up. I just want people to be comfortable in their own skin; in their own beauty. I think that is so important that that message is conveyed to young Black women.