How I Stopped Being Afraid To Wear My Natural Hair In The Workplace
I first went natural during my freshman year of college. I had originally planned to transition into being natural by letting my hair grow and snipping off bits of my straight hair little by little until all that was left was my kinky texture. But seeing as I’m highly impatient, I spontaneously cut it all off. In a fit of frustration and rage, I grabbed improper paper scissors (I should’ve used hair shears), went into the bathroom, locked the door behind me and chopped off my relaxed hair bit by bit. Tears ran down my cheeks as strands fell into the bathroom sink. When I first saw my reflection in the mirror, I couldn’t believe what I had done — there was no turning back.
That was the start of my natural hair journey, but it took years before I fully embraced my natural hair. I deeply hated it at first. People constantly told me I looked like a boy. A cousin of mine said I was stupid to have gotten rid of my “beautiful” relaxed mane (hair that’s chemically straightened). And to make matters worse, I had no clue what to do with it for my internships at glossy women’s magazines. On top of typical first-day-of-work jitters, every time I started a new internship, I agonized about what to do with my hair. Sure, I was excited to even have the opportunity to work at publications I’d always admired, but it was deeply terrifying to also have natural hair, given that it is often deemed unprofessional and unkempt in American society.
While media is a more welcoming place than other industries (to a certain extent), navigating this world as a woman of color when they are so few of us in newsrooms (especially in leadership roles) isn’t without its difficulties. And as the new person on the block at my internships, I wanted to make a good impression on my future coworkers as well my new boss so they don’t end up regretting hiring me in the first place. So I would relentlessly plan my outfits for my first day (and first week, if I’m being honest), come up with a short and snappy bio about myself to tell people, map out my commute in advance to ensure I arrived on time, and plan out how I was going to wear my hair in a way that was palatable for everyone, meaning I’d get a straight weave installed (hair extensions that are sewn directly onto rows of braided hair) to conceal what was underneath and avoid any invasive questions or looks for my natural hair.
That said, there was one time when I was forced to wear my natural hair to work because I didn’t have enough time to get my hair done, as my schedule was quite busy around midterm season. It was only for three days, but it was one of the most dehumanizing experiences ever. Multiple people tried touching it, I got a lot of weird looks, and some people straight up ignored me (I later found out they thought I was a different person, which is strange, because my face stayed the same). I was completely mortified by everyone’s reaction. So much so that, for the next couple of years, I never once wore my natural hair out in public besides when I was en route to the hairdresser to get a weave or braids done (the latter is seen as edgy and cool by my peers, so I could wear it without ridicule).
That all changed once I came across a slew of videos on YouTube of black women sharing their natural hair journeys and their experience wearing it at work (they constitute what’s known as the “natural hair movement,” a social phenomenon of black women encouraging each other to accept and wear their natural hair proudly despite prevailing Eurocentric beauty norms that prize white women and their features). Here were strong and inspiring women talking about some of the ridiculous situations they’d had to deal with in the workplace because of their hair, and yet, they persevered and continued wearing their hair confidently. They refused to be deterred by naysayers. If they could do it, why can’t I? I thought to myself.
When I finally got my first “big girl job” in media, those women’s empowering messages pushed me to start being more understanding and accepting of myself. Plus, by a certain point, constantly getting weaves became far too expensive ($150 – 250 a month to redo) to keep up on my editorial assistant salary, so it essentially became a financial imperative to accept the texture of my hair. Once I finally came to terms with the fact that I naturally had highly kinky hair (barely any curl definition), I took the plunge and wore it out in the open at work. To my surprise, my coworkers loved it, which goes to show there is nothing wrong with who I am naturally — I was just working in a toxic environment before.
Since that day, I’ve worn my natural hair in work settings multiple times without any fear or shame. And now that I’m a freelance writer, you can catch me with my ‘fro out sometimes at work-related events. That’s not to say I don’t still wear weaves, braids, and now wigs, but I no longer do so to shrink myself in order to make people feel more comfortable around me. If someone is going to judge me for the way my hair naturally grows out of my scalp — that’s on them. It has no bearing on my capabilities and my ability to do a job, so I’m officially done with letting people dictate how I wear my hair.
Shammara is the editorial assistant at The Financial Diet. When she’s not copy-editing or writing about her financial woes, you can find her on Twitter sharing her thoughts on beauty and fashion trends and pop culture.
Image via Unsplash