Have you ever tried to google the phrase ‘professional natural hair’? Google immediately recommends hairstyles for natural hair that look professional. Surprising right? Does that mean that without some “careful” styling natural hair isn’t professional?
Every person with curly or kinky afro-textured hair has faced the dilemma of finding professional natural hairstyles to wear. Whenever we need to present ourselves to strangers, we ask ourselves: Will this hairstyle look professional? Will people take me seriously? What are you going to with your hair? Why is your hair so untidy? Sometimes others ask the questions for us: What will you do with your hair? Why didn’t you comb your hair?
Stigma in Wearing our Hair Natural
African women have internalized stigma around wearing their hair in its natural state. It is so bad so that the only content on the internet is advice to fix it, how make it professional with an array of natural hairstyles.
When preparing for that date, that job interview, that conference, our first thoughts still go to the same old questions. Rather than focusing our attention on ways to display our wit, knowldege, skills or experience, comes the all too familiar, I need to do something with my hair. Reinforcing this negative self-image that something is wrong with our natural hair.
Making a good first impression is without a doubt very important. After all one must in, not to stand out in the wrong ways. Our choice of hairstyle needs to be “forgettable”, it cannot appear “unkempt” or “untamed”. Does this mean that we should hide or suppress a normal feature like hair to appeal to our prospective audience?
Unlearning the Stigma: Accepting Natural Hair as Professional
Beyond providing us with guides and techniques to re-conquer our natural hair, the natural hair movement continues to grow. Because of the growth of the movement, more and more African women continue to unlearn this stigma reconnect with their roots and embrace their natural hair.
I’m sure we’ve all seen this meme. It is funny (to most), but we need to be doing something to change things. The state of your hair doesn’t influence the way you deliver your work! It’s probably even disturbing that we can accept a job with an employer, start to date a guy or get into acquaintances and friendships that will not accommodate the essence of who we are.
Tips to Bringing our Natural Game
Tip 1: Play it Safe
Just like the meme says. Play it safe for the first few days and wear professional hairstyles. Find a simple natural hairstyle that would be deemed professional. A wig, a scarf, some cornrows, a low bun or afro puff maybe.
Choose something that you are comfortable with. Something that still shows who you are even if its not at your loudest. After all, we perform our best when we are most comfortable.
Tip 2: Ask if wearing your natural hair is acceptable.
The second and most important tip we would give is to ask. Ask and you shall receive! If you want to know the state of mind of your audience about natural hair, whether you wear it in an Afro or dreadlocks, ask during that first meeting.
By asking you don’t have to fake it for the first few weeks/months. You will get to find out right then if it’s acceptable.
Tip 3: Discuss it with your boss and colleagues.
After you get the job and you have been there for a while, bring up the topic. Find ways to discuss natural hair and whether there are hairstyles that are considered to professional within your school or work industry. Take the opportunity to educate your colleagues about the movement. Showcase some natural hair at its fullest glowy and compare these with the hairstyles on the internet or on social media that are thought to be professional.
You will be surprised to find that the most sceptical of the subject are the most likely to never have considered the subject. The more familiar they get with it, the more open-minded and accepting they will become.
Tip 4: Educate the Next Generation
Kids are impressionable and easily influenced. As adults, it’s our responsibility to teach them about right and wrong.
Do you remember the young girl in South Africa who was sent home because she wore her natural hair to school? [Racism row over South Africa school’s alleged hair policy, The Guardian 2016]. Now imagine her state of mind to this day. She learnt the hard way that society won’t accept her as she is, she has to compromise herself first.
Representation, meaning what our kids see daily also matters. If a child switches on the TV, and she/he sees are Disney stars with straight hair or cute curly hair, they will associate that with the norm. The day I heard my 12-year-old niece tell me that the only way to be beautiful is to have extensions like Selena Gomez, I knew there was a problem in the entertainment industry. (Special shout out to Sauti Sol and their song/video of Melanin, that showcases that dark-skinned girl with natural hair are beautiful.)
This is a growing problem. For African women, when you wear your hair natural, you are called “ratchet” and when you’re trying protective hairstyles like wigs you’re called “fake”. Will we ever get a break? The movie Nappily ever after on Netflix starring Sanaa Lathan describes best the journey to stop according importance to what other people think of you. Your hair, your choices. You make choices over what you wear according to your style, what you eat according to your taste, why not wear your hair according to who you are and what you want? If you like your hair short, cut it; love wearing it in Afros, rock the largest one; feel like a ‘Sista’ and want some dreadlocks, stunt them. You are who you choose to be, not who people think you should be.
Next time you go to an interview, wear the hairstyle that represents you the most. There’s confidence in owning up to who you are. Yes, natural hair is professional, because being professional is about your work ethic, not your hairstyle.
The world around us is slowly changing. It’s the beginning of a new era with new minds. One in which we won’t have to force our kinks and curls to behave and sta straight for one day. Nina Simone said it best: “It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn!” Black women are thriving and offering you naturalists out there the necessary product. Huge props to black-owned companies all over the world, starting with our very own Mosara Kenya.