Live Your Most Beautiful Life
When it comes to natural hair, a relatively hot topic is whether natural tresses are truly accepted in corporate America. After speaking with friends and reading various opinions on this issue, and I can honestly say that the answer is: It depends.
Let me first provide a personal anecdote about sporting curly hair in a very traditional/conservative workplace environment. A few years ago, I worked at a law firm where I was the only drop of color among the attorneys. Most of the female lawyers wore bone-straight hair (regardless of whether their hair was naturally that way). Only one woman sported curly hair, and it was not uncommon for me to hear other attorneys make curious comments about her hairstyle choice and at times questioned why she wore her hair that way as an attorney.
One day, I decided to do a braid out (I have relaxed hair and normally wear my hair straight and down, but braidouts make my hair look beautifully thick and very curly). When I am out and about, I receive compliments on my braidout curls. However, when I walked into the workplace, some people did a double take but didn't know how to respond to the new look. Later that morning, a paralegal walked by my office, stopped and stated: "You look...different." I simply responded, "Thanks!", and left the comment alone. When I chatted with a fellow young attorney later that day, he mentioned that my new style was "interesting". When I asked him to elaborate, he told me: "If you want me to be honest, I don't personally like it. But then again, I don't like curly hair." I shrugged, and he continued, "You know the blonde attorney with curly hair? Yeah, I don't like her curls. They look really unprofessional." While I appreciated his honesty and continued to sport my curls proudly throughout the day, I noticed that colleagues simply did not know how to respond to my curls, so they didn't say anything except uncomfortably exhibit the "double-take" body language.
Their expression may have been a symptom of a particular environment (or perhaps, a profession) that typically lacks diversity (black women are particularly underrepresented in law). Law firms just happen to be one of those environments that are highly conservative, white-male dominated (among associates as well as management/partners), and critical of personal appearances that appear to be "out of the normal." As a result, I was not surprised or hurt by the uncomfortable reaction. However, I did start to wonder: if I went natural (especially if I did the big chop), would my new style make them extremely uncomfortable? If it did spark discomfort, should I even care?
That said, I am not trying to paint my experience as the traditional "black woman" corporate experience. Black women are not a monolith, and their experiences highly vary. If you want proof, just google "is natural hair accepted in Corporate America," read the blogs, and take notice of the different comments. While some women state that they have not had a problem sporting natural hair in their workplace environments, some state that they have faced struggles and simply learned how to deal with them. When all is said and done, black women today are still negotiating their hair identities in today's workplace.
As India Arie poignantly stated in one of her popular songs, I am not my hair. However, I do believe that in many corporate environments, black women still deal with hair politics. I am proud of the fact that more and more black women have decided to sport their natural tresses at work. I am also happy that many workplaces are increasingly accepting natural hair as more black women enter and succeed in the corporate world. In this day and age, perhaps the question shouldn't be: "Is natural hair truly accepted in the workplace?". The real question is whether we are willing to embrace our true style, our true identity, and not let fear of what others may think shape our sense of self or our personal identities.
If you have an opinion about natural hair in the workplace, we would love to hear your opinion about it! Please comment below!
-Written by: Cafe Belle's Society and Culture Barista