The other day, I walked into my living room and found my friend sitting at the dining table staring at her computer screen. I walked over and saw that she was looking at wigs (now this is nothing new, sis is a wig-aholic). A few minutes later, I heard a loud sigh. “I need to buy a nice wig for my interview,” she said. “Why can’t you just wear your hair the way it is?” I asked. She laughed hysterically and told me to be serious.
As I was about to go off on a “why can’t you just embrace your natural hair rant,” I quickly realized, “Oh my gosh. I don’t think I have ever worn my natural hair to an interview.” In fact, when I go for interviews, I do not bring out my curly Brazilian wig; instead I pull out the Malaysian wig that has been straightened to the gods (okurr). I had to ask myself, “Why do I feel the need to have my hair a certain texture to get the job or even make it to the next level in the corporate world? While I am very comfortable with the skin I am in and adore my hair, why do I feel the need to please others? And why is straight hair preferred to curly hair?
My hair is an expression of who I am, yet I hide it and put on a different persona during interviews. At times, I feel like I have to be someone that I am not in order to “secure the bag.” I could not help but sympathize with my friend’s fear that her natural hair could deter her from getting the job.
For decades, black women have changed their appearance in order to make others comfortable in the workplace. We wonder, “What if they make fun of my hair? What if they think it looks weird? What if they ask me how my hair ‘grew’ so long in a matter of 1 day?”
I will be the first to admit that I was scared to wear my natural hair out at work. I would tell myself I was thinking too deep into it... “Is it your hair that these people are looking at? Or is it your qualifications?” Then I would remember stories of Hollywood, schools, and even the modeling industry discriminating based on hair. Even Oprah, yea sis, THE Oprah Winfrey, was forced to perm and straighten her hair when she started out in the industry.
As the only black person at a previous job, I always found it difficult to change my hairstyle. The first time I wore my hair in a sleek bun, my coworkers found a way to turn my hair into show and tell *eye roll*. “How would they react to my Afro?... Yea, we can’t let that happen,” I quickly said to myself.
I have friends that fully embrace their natural hair in the corporate world (shout out to y’all). When I asked them how their hair is perceived at work, it turned into a therapy session that I was not paid for (unless cheesecake counts).
Listen, I am happy to be nappy, but you know what I am not happy about? The constant questions from coworkers when I wear my natural hair out or when my hair “grows” from 10 inches to 32 inches overnight (like seriously, mind your business Steve).
This is why most of us feel the need to “play the game”. You wear your hair straight because you think it will make you more relatable and get you the job. You even convince yourself, “ Let me give it a few months before I start showing my personality. “Let me give it like 6 months before I bring out my flaxseed styling bundle and the twist-out.”
More and more women are choosing to embrace their curls, and let me just say that I am here 👏🏾 for 👏🏾 it 👏🏾. In the midst of trying to find a job, that last thing we should be worried about is how people are going to perceive our hair! Getting the job should be about your performance and not the appearance of your hair!
The conversation with my friend taught me that I have a lot of growing to do. It also showed me that there is a need for representation in the workplace (don’t look at me, I told you I’m still growing). We are in 2019 and if no one has told you, let me be the first to say that what is ON your head does not define what is IN your head. So go ahead! Embrace your fro! And the next time a co-worker has something to say about your hair, ask yourself... What would Solange do? 🤔
Have you dealt with natural hair struggles in the workplace? I’d love to hear about how you handled the situation!