I wish I could reference a guide that told Black women what to do with their hair at work. I’ve searched everywhere from Madame Noire and Mommy Noire to Pinterest and Thank God I’m Natural for work-friendly hairstyles that will make my curly mane look “acceptable” by traditional office standards — but it’s not like there’s an official guideline of what is accepted or looked down upon that we can refer to before stepping into our individual interviews or new jobs.
When perusing pictures of work-friendly hairstyles for women with natural hair, I have found numerous women sporting their natural curls without much constraint. It seems as though social media is calling us to embrace our natural looks in the workplace. And don’t get me wrong, the support I have seen Black women give each other to love and embrace their curls is amazing and much-needed. My only fear is that my future boss won’t be on the same page as me. Even though the natural hair movement has provided me with confidence in my hair, it has not yet changed the fact that some employers still discriminate against Black hair. Therefore, I feel like I am not properly prepared for what is about to come when I step into the “professional” world.
Why don’t you just ditch your curls and straighten your hair?
I have worn my hair natural for my whole life, and I have refused to straighten my hair for more than a year now. I stopped straightening my hair because the compliments I would get for my change in hairstyle always rubbed me the wrong way. People would touch it and comment on how soft and shiny my hair was and how they thought I looked prettier with my hair straight. I felt like the ugly duckling after it transformed into a beautiful swan. So when I went back to my curls it was like I was the ugly duckling again. I was so sick of feeling this way that I decided to wear my curls all the time and force others to embrace them. I’ve made great progress this past year toward truly loving my hair 100 percent. And the natural hair movement has really made the transition much more possible for me.
Some women have stories similar to mine. Others have stopped applying heat to their hair to salvage what is left from the damage caused by years of relaxers and ironing. For those of us who go natural, there are important reasons as to why we chose to ditch relaxers. Unfortunately, the professional world does not always know of these reasons or consider them valid.
Now I find myself at a standstill, as I’m sure many of us feel. As much as I want to continue with this natural hair journey in full force, I realize that the professional world will most likely want to see my hair straight. Of course, I don’t want to over-exaggerate – there are work settings out there that are accepting of black hair. In fact, I was lucky enough to work in an office this past summer that had no problem with my curls. But these settings can be a rarity.
As a law-school-bound student, I know that law firms as well as other corporate settings are infamous for being unaccepting of Black hair. Let’s face it: As much as I love my hair, there are stigmas people attach to it, such as: “wild,” “hippy/hipster,” “weed-smoker” — and those are only a few of the labels. My college degree at a prestigious school and can-do attitude might not single-handedly change what people think of my hair, specifically my interviewers and future employers.
The professional world has not yet widely accepted black hair. what can we do?
Do we move the natural hair movement into corporate America with full force and risk unemployment? Or do we surrender and press our hair in an attempt to look like them?
I say let’s make bigger and bolder moves toward making natural hair widely accepted in the professional world.
But to be honest, I am young, slightly naive and have no experience in the professional world. I cannot yet shed any advice on how to maneuver this gray area. Will my curls be accepted in my future workplace or will they be condemned? I don’t know how you could possibly tell before your first day at a job. Do you just walk in the first day with curls, or do you come in with straight hair and scope the place out for a week before making a decision? And if curls are fine, are there only certain hairstyles that are deemed “acceptable”?
Now I must call out to all of you women rocking natural hair in the workplace. What advice can you give a 20-year-old with temperamental curls just dipping her feet into the professional world? Share your opinion and experiences below.
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