3 Black M.M. Stylists Share Their Thoughts on Hair in the Workplace
“Working in fashion, I am fortunate to be in a space that fosters and encourages creativity. But many cannot say the same.”
Our braid patterns map our morning commutes, our Afros bounce with every subway step we climb, and the crowns of our bantu knots peek ever so slightly over cubicle walls, adding an element of surprise to your typical office day. Slaying from 9 to 5, Black hair in the workplace claims the room before we do. It carries a reputation of beauty and burden in our country and offices, constantly refusing to be put into a box. Black hair is not just hair. It never has been.
For centuries, Black hair has been seen as a political statement, when it simply grows from our scalps. When worn in natural coils or colorful braids, Black hair is often deemed “unprofessional” and “unkempt.” At 16, I prepared for my first interview and did a quick Google search for “professional hairstyles.” The side-by-side photos comparing white women’s hair in sleek buns to Black women’s “messy” Afros mortified me.
At that young age, I was reminded of the racism that still lingers between my strands. As someone who has had many different hairstyle eras, I have felt every emotion as a result of unwarranted comments. I have felt the embarrassment of being asked to sit in the back because my hair was too big. I have had to swat hands from my braids and reluctantly answer all of the “Is that your real hair?” questions. All of these harrowing experiences have shaped my relationship with my hair, first as a child in school, and now as a working woman.
Hair discrimination is nothing new, especially in the workplace. Black people are harassed and reduced to petting zoo animals because of odd obsessions with our hair. Corporations are firing Black employees because Black hair fails to fit their models of “company culture,” and most shocking of all, federal legislature must be drafted and passed just for our hair to exist in the institutions we navigate daily. Black hair should be able to just be: NO heavy petting, NO overzealous compliments, and definitely NO “I barely recognized you” comments when we decide it’s time for a change. Working in fashion, I am fortunate to be in a space that fosters creativity and encourages self-expression. But many cannot say the same.
Here’s what 3 Black M.M. stylists had to say about hair in the workplace.
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I wear my hair in micro twists, or pulled back in a low ponytail. Sometimes, I’ll wear it pulled up into a puff on the top of my head like a crown.
Two instances where I had to verbally and physically defend my hair stand out. I was once asked to “tame” my ‘fro into something “smaller,” like a ponytail. In the other instance, I had to physically dodge a stranger’s hand going straight for my head (more than once!). That day, I was in disbelief; I couldn’t formulate the words: “DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR.” However I wear my hair, I know this massive collection of coily strands that I have been blessed with will pretty much always grab attention, so I just let it. Above all, I say: Think about who you are and who you want to be, then dress/style accordingly. If you’re trying to fit into someone else’s mold, some part of you will always stick out of it. So make your own mold, and fit into that.
“Stand your ground, sis!”
I wear my hair in ALL ways: Afro, cornrows, box braids, locs, dreadlocks, buzz cut, blow out, and wigs. I’ve had past coworkers who have made comments about how I always switch my hair, or how it looks “cool.” I honestly despise when that word is used to describe our hair, because it shows that our hair isn’t seen as pretty or beautiful. Calling our hair “cool” makes it sound like an exhibit people have never seen before.
A manager at an old job tried to convince me that I needed to change my hair color to work there. I never did, because the way I wear my hair is important to my identity. I feel my best when I look my best. Know that you’re BEAUTIFUL! Stand tall and strong in your identity, because it’s YOURS.
“Screw the boundaries!”
I choose to wear my hair shaved and natural. It’s less work to maintain but allows me the freedom to dye it different colors. I’ve always worked in a creative space that has allowed me to freely express myself when it comes to my identity. Although I cut my hair for convenience, my hair is still very much a part of my identity.
Keeping my hair short also gives me the ability to transition between hairstyles on a whim. I love starting breakfast with a blonde fade, switching to a 30″ wig for lunch, and maybe dyeing my hair pink by dinner. I would advise women in the workplace to adjust their crowns according to their own preference. The world is going to say something about everything we do, so we might as well be cute while doing it.
These responses were edited for length and clarity.