Natural or not, embrace your hair story.
It's 2018 and African American women still struggle with hair issues. With all the race issues in the U.S., are we still battling hair? I've noticed that celebs such as Oprah, Thandie Newton, Melissa Perry-Harris, Jill Scott, and Solange Knowles are all wearing their hair naturally, but can the average African American woman go 'natural' in the workplace and still be perceived as quaffed and professional? Would America be ready for the former First Lady (and the best one of all history) or her daughters wearing locs, braids, or an Afro?
I could be wrong, but I think not. For most Black women the first hairstyle they wear is chosen for them. Mother decides what's right and proper, and for many it begins with the use of a flatiron or a relaxer to achieve the most acquiescing appearance–meaning hair that's long, silky, shiny, manageable, neat, groomed, polished, and acceptable to society—all equaling straight.
Our "hair-story" begins with Sarah Breedlove aka Madam CJ Walker. She was an entrepreneur and inventor of hair shampoos and ointments during the turn of the century. Her products were designed to strengthen hair, but when combined with a hot-comb, they were also very successful at straightening hair. Walker's hair products would propel her into becoming the U.S.'s first African American millionaire.
Today, the Black hair-care industry is a trillion dollar business, with African American women spending almost ten billion dollars a year on beauty and hair care products – 80 percent more than any other ethnic group. But in the last two years, chemical hair relaxer sales, marketed mostly to black women, have dropped by 12 percent, according to Mintel, a consumer spending and market research firm
Julie Varee, my sister
My sister lives in Anchorage, Alaska. She told me a story of an early love affair and later divorce from chemical processing, which eventually led to finding acceptance with her natural hair.
"When I moved to Washington D.C. to work after college, I saw so many more Black women with natural and un-straightened hair. After a short stint with a Jeri-curl, I cut my hair short and began wearing it without any chemicals and then later I chose to have "locs" (a process of tightly knotting and forming hair into a long, snake-like roll). When I eventually cut them off, my boss at the time gushed that my hair looked so much more "professional" without the locs. I've kept my hair very very short and it hasn't seemed to have an impact on my career — even in Alaska," she says.
The question of whether natural hair is a political statement depends on who you ask. Tiveeda Stoval, a former Community Service Program Coordinator at University California San Diego, is a self-proclaimed "hair-activist" of sorts. She says she never felt as beautiful as when she stopped wearing hair weaves, using chemical relaxers or hot-combs to try to straighten her hair. She began wearing her hair in "sisterlocs" nine years ago, and says her hair has never been an issue in the workplace. "It's my statement, but I don't believe it has really held my career back at all. I work in non-profit though, maybe it's different in a corporate job. My kids are bi-racial. My daughter and son have both cut their hair super-short. My daughter used to wear locs and my son had a huge afro," Stovall says
Arthel Neville, FOX News anchor
FOX News anchor Arthel Neville, who wears her hair almost exclusively in a straight hairstyle, says she believes hair is important in front the camera, but that doesn't necessarily means it has to be straight. "You can't have distracting hair. As long as you look pulled together it shouldn't matter how you wear it—be it braids, locs, or straight. I wore my hair in mini-braids ten years ago, it was a more casual look. I wouldn't wear it today on-air as an anchor," Neville says.
Geya Williams-Prudhomme, my cousin
According to Assistant District Attorney and Section Prosecutor, Geya Williams-Prudhomme, "If First Lady Michelle Obama were to wear her hair naturally, she'd get massacred in the media. In my office, I see Black women confidently wearing their hair naturally, but my white male co-workers have been known to make little jokes. I heard about a male DA a few years ago who had locs. They really made fun of him saying they didn't know if he were the DA or the criminal," Prudhomme says.
Black women who do straighten their hair go to great extents to maintain these expensive and high-maintenance styles. Staying away from water and sweat is an absolute with chemical or heat processed straight styles—even if effects their health. Doctor Amy J. McMichael, M.D., conducted a study at Wake Forrest University, and found that complications of hair care is the main reason why many of her African-American patients don't exercise as much as they'd like to.
My cousin, Teri Harrison
"I think there's a an unspoken standard in corporate America that straight, long hair is pretty and more acceptable than natural. Naturals are still associated with being "angry," "anti-western" or "hood," says Harrison, an attorney, author, and personal development strategist. In business, success is duplication.
"Women duplicate what we see as successful. It's not easy to be your authentic self. But I always wonder if the beauty standard is one that corporate America has set for us or we've set for ourselves? If we embrace our truth, wouldn't the rest follow? If you can make money, they'll accept you the way you are.
"The more Black women who work in corporate positions and wear their hair naturally, the more role models there'll be for women who're afraid to let go traditional hair rules. Michelle Obama could things change a lot. Every African American woman I know looks to her with such huge admiration."
My hair is naturally curly, but I've recently taken to curling the ends with a curling iron to control the curl and in an effort to look more glam. I've struggled with my hair my whole life, but, the truth is since it's thinned a lot lately, I'm just glad to have it.
Ten years ago, a close friend of mine lost her hair going through chemo. She survived and today she's cancer-free. But, the experience put the whole hair thing deeply into perspective for me.
Whether you chemically straighten your hair, wear it naturally or with a weave, your hair is your crown, and how you choose to show it off is ultimately your decision -- no one should pressure you or make you feel badly for being you.