I had made a conscious decision to start wearing “natural styles” in place of my “straightened style or natural bun” work combo. My natural kinks at this point were almost shoulder-length, and I believed I was afforded at least a few professional-looking options. I tentatively walked into the office with two-strand twists and hopped on the elevator. My boss walked in after me.
“OMGeeeeeee, those braids are soooo cute!” she mused effusively, instinctively reaching to grab a handful. I cringe-smiled, and deftly angled my face away. “You look like Aunt Jemimah!!”
While combing the interwebs for topics, I came across a wonderful effort called the Professional Naturals Project. The aim is to give examples of naturalistas in the workplace, how they handle difficult situations, and positive moments in their professional hair journey. They ask you to submit both answers to questions and pictures of your work-appropriate hair styles. While I’ve submitted mine (and I will definitely know if I have been selected to be featured) I wanted to give a few tips to women starting out on their journey!
DO Understand for Now Your Hair Means More to You than it Does to Everyone Else
That is to say sometimes, just sometimes….it is just hair. Not every comment, question or observation is an attack on your race, individuality or beauty. Some people are genuinely curious, and have a natural tendency to reach out and grab what’s “novel” (don’t believe me? In my pageant days I was a spokesperson for a medi-spa and was horrified by the amount of people that assumed it was okay to touch my breasts without asking, as they always assumed I had just had them “done”). Horribly-executed-but-otherwise-well-meaning moments are actually better times to teach valuable lessons than to react. Use the attention wisely. Soon, your natural hair will be so much a part of “you” that your obliviousness will become everyone else’s, but for now pave the way my friend.
DON’T forget that Corporate Settings Thrive off Uniformness, not Individuality
This is going to sound very unpopular, but hear me out. Corporations, especially larger ones, are much like fast-food chain franchises. The way they maintain order is by creating as much of a “uniform” out of the look and culture as possible. Entire bookshelves are dedicated to fashion tips for women to inject some individuality into the “corporate dress structure”. I am saying all that to say-you are not alone. Almost every ethnic variation apart from their one “ideal” has to give up something to the corporate structure-the key is to find your balance.
Unless you are in a Management position (and even then) this is not the time to “rebel” with your hair, fashion and makeup choices (and yes, unfortunately there are some horribly outdated minds that will see your hair as a “rebellion”). Study the dress and styling’s of your female supervisors, or women in positions you want to be in, and then emulate as much as possible. If your hair is able you can also try natural versions of their hairstyles. Keep your makeup and style choices otherwise conservative if you are in a stricter corporate setting. Ease in “edgier” styles over time as they become used to your hair. It can be done almost anywhere if given the right amount of patience.
DO Remember Your Hair is a Part of Your “Total Package”, not the Package Itself
“I am not my hair” has been so overused is it almost cliché, but it really is true. Give yourself time to adjust to the change and then get on with your life. I have been relaxer-free for almost the entirety of my adult working life, so when I got asked what my workplace difficulties were I almost couldn’t name them-as they were no longer “challenging” to me. But while I sound confident now, the initial backlash was so harsh I had to wake up every morning for almost two years to give myself a “you are beautiful” pep talk in the bathroom mirror before work! It gets better, I swear it does-but the change will be within you. Once your hair goes back to being a simple reflection of your personality and not your identity you will find interactions to seem more and more “normal” to you. My natural hair doesn’t give me as much ‘freedom’ as the statement of being true to me across the board does. Getting to that point was not easy, but it definitely has been worth it.
What about you? Do you have any hair stories at the workplace? Share them with the Professional Naturals Project or feel free to add them below!