The Chemist: Natural Hair in the Workplace

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Hi Everyone! I hope you all are doing well. Things have been pretty crazy these last few months and I want to send each and every one of you a virtual hug.

I have been waiting on our July posts for a while because we're going to talk about natural hair! This week, we're talking about the stigma of natural hair in professional settings and how we combat that and then in two weeks we're sharing our routines. I even have a video WITH a voiceover for you all. Let me not get ahead of myself and let's get into this week's topic.

On top of the other million and three things Black folx have to worry about, how we wear our hair is a huge one we are always considering in professional settings. Now, you may be thinking, "Well why is that a big deal?" or "Why does that matter?". Those questions come from a place of privilege, if you've never had to worry about them before, so recognize that and keep reading.

Natural hair in the Black community comes in different shapes, sizes, styles, and textures. There is no one way to be natural, nor is there a right way. We live in a society where hair that is presumed to be "nappy", in a fro, or super coily is seen as "unprofessional" and people call hair that is straight or wavy "professional" or "acceptable". And because of this stigma, Black folx tend to modify their hair's natural state with relaxers and/or heat to not stand out and fit in with their non-Black counterparts. THIS IS PROBLEMATIC! Now this is not to say that wearing relaxers or straightening your hair is wrong, because it's not. It's problematic when it's rooted in the idea that Black hair isn't beautiful and is something that needs to be corrected to fit in with white people and to make them feel comfortable. That's the difference.

A lot of little Black girls and boys grow up not loving their tresses because of comments like, "It looks better straight" or "Why is your hair so nappy/not done?!" These comments are then internalized and manifest themselves in ways like being ashamed of their hair and keeping it hidden. Again, this is not okay. I used to wear a relaxer for yearssssss because I didn't know how to manage my hair and I saw it as a hassle. I've always had super thick hair and would always be subjected to non-Black folx wanting to touch and examine it because it was different. Please do not touch our hair. We hate that. Like seriously. It is not something to examine. It's hair. Appreciate it from afar. Thanks.

It took me until 2017 to really start getting into loving my hair fully. Don't get me wrong, I loved my hair relaxed, but a part of that was rooted in me thinking it was too much. Once I unlearned that, I chopped my hair off and went natural. I started playing around with different products and styles until I found a routine that my hair loves. I'm the natural that deep conditions a lot, changes styles constantly, and that loves looks that give me volume. I had to build a relationship with my hair, rooted in self love this time, and it's been the best three years. I had to fall in love with my multiple curl patterns, the fact that my hair will never be able to do a wash and go, and the shrinkage that comes with it. I had to learn how to unapologetically showcase my hair, regardless of the setting. It's nothing to be hidden, ever. And the rest is history after that. My hair has grown so much in the last 3 years so it gets big, like really big. I also do protective styles in the summer and will rock a puff in a heartbeat. For me being at a PWI, I've conditioned my labmates and colleagues to know that I'm always going to do something different with my hair. It's expected at this point, so much so my labmates wait to see what I'm going to do with it next. It's hilarious.

Now it's not all rainbows and unicorns being natural around white people. I still get people that "don't recognize me" when I change my hair...even those my FACE is the same, side eyes at conferences, and people that want to touch my hair, but I'm no longer feeling insecure about that. That's a personal problem for THEM, not me.

For all my allies reading this post, please share and educate others on this topic. It's you all that are going to help change this stigma in the workplace. When any of you see a little Black child with their natural hair please hype them up. I promise it'll make their day and help them internalize good feelings about their hair because at the end of the day how our hair grows NATURALLY is always valid.

See you soon!

The Chemist


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