10/16/2013 12:07 EDT

Photographer Endia Beal Gives White Women Black Hairstyles In 'Can I Touch It' Series (PHOTOS)

Endia Beal

A white baby boomer walks into her office wearing cornrows - sounds like a practical joke, right?

Not for photographer Endia Beal, who gave a few middle-aged white women a free haircut and photographed them - but there was a catch.

Beal's series of photographs titled "Can I Touch It?", which she worked on this past summer during a five-week residency with the Center for Photography at Woodstock, features the women dressed in conservative officewear and sporting so-called "black" hairstyles: Cornrows, finger waves, afros, you name it. The women, who are all over 40, weren't allowed to choose their hairstyle and had to be photographed, even if they weren't happy with the results.

"I said, 'I am going to give you a black hairstyle,' and they were like, 'You’re going to give me cornrows?'" Beal told Slate, "and I said, 'No, we’re going to do finger waves.' 'Finger waves? What’s that? You mean from the ’20s?' And I said, 'These are a little bit different type of finger waves!'"

The idea of the project was to challenge the way people of all races and ages to think about how express themselves in a corporate environment, and to open up a dialogue on appearance and how we dress.

Beal specifically chose middle-aged women because she wanted them to know what it was like to dress as a black woman while at work.

"I wanted people that had a certain idea of what you’re supposed to look like in the workspace," she said, "because it would be a challenge for them to understand what I experienced in that space. And to a degree, many young white women have shared that experience, but for older white women it’s an experience they haven’t necessarily had."

Celebrities have been embracing black hairstyles for years; Avril Lavigne is one of many stars to sport cornrows (and who could forget Bo Derek's famous 'do?) and even Christina Aguilera once rocked an afro.

What do you think of the photos?

Photo gallery White Women Wearing Black Hair See Gallery