On my 18th birthday, my highschool boyfriend told me my curly weave suited me better than my 4A ringlets. He claimed the weave gave me shiny locks and made it easier to play with my hair in comparison to my often tangled curls and coils. When I was 20, I was at my first fashion job and my manager called my natural hair “fluffy.” At 25, my dreadlocks landed me in TSA questioning before boarding a plane. When I was 29, a close friend of mine asked me why I’m no longer embracing natural hair when I showed up with box braids.
Unfortunately, each misconstrued impression and judgment placed on my hair as a Black woman was not singular but a collective narrative that told me that I’m different and do not belong. Each time I received unsolicited advice about my hair, I got tricked into thinking that how I choose to style my hair was not my choice.
Sadly, all the Black women I know, and a handful of women of color who are on the receiving end of these comments also experience a lack of confidence and self-worth. The comments are so frequent that you end up believing them — therefore adjusting to the majority's preferences and ideals of beauty.
The fact of the matter is, Black hair is inherently political. We opt to weave our hair and are accused of assimilating. When worn in braids or natural, we are praised for honoring our diaspora. The versatility of Black hair can be posed as a double-edged sword: great for the wearer but open for public scrutiny. Black women are often judged more by how they look than who they are, making it difficult to ignore public opinion. In fact, it took me years to get from valuing public opinion to embracing my personal hairstyle choice, regardless of comments. Because it’s a tricky situation to navigate, I’m sharing some of the ways I got through it.
My Natural Hair Journey
Natural hair can be a career liability. Throughout my work life, I’ve been plagued with societal pressures to straighten my hair for job interviews in order to appear more “put together.” I’ve spent upwards of two hours every morning transforming my curly locks into straight, sleek ones. If that wasn’t enough, I watched my bank account take a hit on synthetic braided styles to adhere to dress codes that indirectly signify natural hair goes against their “neat and tidy” policies. Based on my experience, many employers and coworkers view braids as a political or aggressive statement, one that shows rebellion.
The sad truth is we’ve been conditioned to believe this for far too long. The mere foundation of professionalism stems from European features and mannerisms aimed to push out anyone that doesn’t fit this mold. It’s the reason why I am anxious to introduce a new hairstyle, cut, or protective look at work, fearful that someone won’t recognize me, or that I’ll get the dreaded question—“Can I touch your hair?”
Of course, there are some protections aimed to dismantle the discrimination Black women face in the workplace, like the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act. The CROWN Act prevents enforcement of "grooming policies that claim to be race neutral, but in reality have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color." This alone, however, is not enough.
Why I Now Embrace Styling My Natural Hair
Unfortunately, we’re not conditioned to love our natural textures, and it becomes an ongoing process to learn how to embrace your natural hair. I think the main issue is that people latch onto a single story. When they see your hair in one style for so long, they box you into a specific category and you become a poster child for that hairstyle. Throughout my life, I’ve been a poster child for straight hair, protective styles, and now, the TWA (teeny weanie afro).
In terms of ignoring public opinion, it’s been a three year journey for me. It started back in 2017, when I got tired of straightening my hair every morning to fulfill an impossible standard pushed on me by society. It then blossomed into me wearing my natural hair half out, with the rest of it tucked away. After learning about my hair from natural hair bloggers, my hair stylist, and a plethora of products, I became fascinated and proud of textured hair and wanted to show mine to the world.
While in lockdown due to the pandemic, I've found myself wearing more protective styles: more braids, cornrows, and bantu knots. Over the last three years, the more and more I learned about my hair and what it can do, the more excited I got to proclaim and display it—and thankfully, the further apart I got from caring about public opinion.
Don’t get me wrong, changing your personal and outward narrative is no easy feat—I still have days when my inner voice is pleading with me to “correct” my frizz, “fix” my less-defined curls, or avoid certain people when sporting protective styles. But the intentional decision to choose how I want to style my hair, with no outside opinions, has been liberating.
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