Natural Hair and the Professionalism Debate

In June of 2008, I made the decision to embark on my natural hair journey. At the time, I chose to do so due to hair breakage I was experiencing at the crown of my head and other reasons I won’t bore you with here. At the time my decision had nothing to do with my career, but as I began researching on how to “go natural” I kept coming across articles asking if natural hair was professional or not. Needless to say this discussion topic concerned me and made me question the entire decision on a deeper level. After much thought and analyzing I devised several points on the matter that I would like to share with you as well as to what I equate my successful journey:

1. Natural Hair is actually the hair you were born with, it is not something that can determine your professionalism or unprofessionalism, anymore than the color of your skin can, so this argument on that basis alone doesn’t stand to reason.

2. The choice to add permanents/relaxers/color or any other chemically altering product should be yours to make and not that of your employer.

3. The professionalism question is more in relation to how you choose to style your hair, not the hair itself.

So based on the three points above, I decided to continue my journey by transitioning for 9 months and finally doing my Big Chop a.k.a “the BC” on April 4, 2009.

Acclimating Co-workers and Family
As we all know the view of natural hair in our community is sometimes negative, add on the concern of what co-workers will think and you can imagine the stress one can feel. Here are the steps I took to avoid this situation. Note: this did not eliminate every question or rude comment, but it did help make my transition and journey successful and enjoyable:

Educating: Yes this seems funny to some but the reality is the mindset surrounding natural hair all comes from a lack of education on the topic. Many people don’t even know that many minorities have naturally curly hair (this includes the minorities themselves). Most just think it is unruly, frizzy, and unmanageable hair, but when properly moisturized it becomes curly beautiful hair.

My means of education was by using facebook. For some this isn’t something you are comfortable with, but it allowed me to notify those in my life regarding what was going on, as well as to educate who would otherwise be scared to ask. People told me they felt like they were going on the journey with me. Individuals, who were also co-workers, were able to help answer questions from others who were too scared to ask me directly or who made uneducated comments out of my earshot. I had many people of all nationalities who joined in on discussions on facebook and in the office (even some from our HR Department). Most just wanted to thank me for sharing and educating them on a topic in a way which allowed them to see the transformation and appreciate the process. For those who wonder, I work in a corporate law office, so it is a pretty conservative organization.

Proper Styling: The key to the professionalism debate is all in the way you choose to style your hair. Hair is like clothing and any other accessory, there are work appropriate hairstyles and there are night and weekend hairstyles. You have to wear the one that fits your environment. The worst thing you can do is arrive at a meeting where the focus is on your hair or hairstyle and not your project. Youtube, blogs and websites give a plethora of styling ideas to have professional and even formal hair styles that are easy and very cute.

Understanding: Many times we misconstrue curiosity and awe with rudeness or prejudice. When you make the decision to embark on this journey, you must too make the decision to be understanding with people. Remember your concerns, remember your questions and remember your preconceived notions before judging others. The fact that someone is staring at your hair doesn’t always mean they are disgusted, many times it means they are thinking or just in awe at the beauty of your mane and are at a loss for words. Maybe they are intimidated or too scared to ask you about it. Just practice smiling and wearing a face of openness (stop mean-mugging people!) you will be amazed at the compliments and questions you receive and the conversations that are sparked.

From a professional standpoint, understanding and doing these things are what helped make my journey successful. It has been 3 years since I embarked on this natural journey and I am so happy I didn’t let the Professionalism debate stop me. Do your research, educate yourself first and then jump in…you will be glad you did.

2 Replies to “Natural Hair and the Professionalism Debate”

  1. You’re right, educating ourselves is key. I have attempted many-a-times and have failed many-a-times. Alas. It was poor planning (of all things) but I’m getting the courage to try again.

    1. Definitely try again and get a support system of women who have already done it so if you start wavering they can help you determine what has gone wrong. Lessons Learned are a powerful thing lol.

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