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  • Writer's pictureKay Gravesande

What is "Professional Hair"?

Hairstyles in the workplace have been a controversial topic for many years. Before we get started, I want to clarify something: it's completely ridiculous that this is even a topic of discussion. Why? Because we are not born with the ability to choose our features, yet we live in a time when institutions and politicians find it acceptable to ridicule the texture, color or design of our hair... hmmm okay.

Moving on.

A woman's hair has always been a sense of expression. Looking back through the last five decades, we've made changes to the volume, where we placed a pin curl and how deep the "bayang" swooped casually over the eye. What hasn't changed, is what was considered a professional look vs. what was less desirable.

It has long been widely accepted that women wear their natural hair texture and color to work to please the eye of all colleagues, customers and vendors - assuming that style and color were blond, brunette or ginger. To be fair, we did see a brief moment in time when the afro took charge as a fashion statement (along with bell bottoms and bright colors), but in general the most accepted style for women of color was straight hair with a bump curl. Don't worry, men weren't left out of this debacle, as they were expected to groom their manes to a low cut taper. Up until the 2010s, it was uncommon for an African American or Black man to be found in a corporate board room with a head full of dreadlock or a long beard.

As we've seen more expression in hair trends in the corporate setting, we've also seen more opposition. A lot of the disapproval comes from unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone has them, and although Karen may say she has black besties who play poker with her and Jim every Friday night, if she grew up in the rural sticks with parents from the depression, she likely has an unconscious bias again POC.

Black women commonly experience multiple microaggressions throughout their career - likely due to unconscious biases from their white counterparts. These microaggressions come in the form of discrimination because of their name, physical appearance, receiving lower pay (don't forget Black Women Equal Pay Day is August 22nd) and more. One way we've found to combat this, is to look more appealing. Statistically one in five black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work — twice as many as white women.

Unfortunately, there are countless stories of black people being denied access into organizations or locations when they were being themselves.

"Stories alleging hair-based discrimination have gone viral on social media, including Andrew Johnson, a New Jersey student-wrestler who was forced to have his locs cut; Kerion Washington, a Texas teen whose mother said he was not hired at Six Flags because of his hairstyle; and Brittany Noble Jones, a former news anchor in Mississippi who alleged that her decision to wear a natural hairstyle was a factor in her dismissal. In a Medium post, Noble Jones claimed her news director said her natural hair was “unprofessional and the equivalent to him throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store.”

A woman's choice in styling is her self expression and can be highly culture significant. Beyond locs, braids, straight or curly, she hand selects products that aid her porosity and nourish her edges. One of my favorites, is Edge Naturale, Follicle Enhancer (Sponsored). This product is great for reviving your edges, stimulating fuller follicles to add volume to your healthy hair. I love to pair it with Olive Oil edge control and Shea Moisture Leave In Conditioner.

When children are born they cannot choose their features. We cannot pick the texture of our hair, the speed at which grows or the color it will be. We can't determine our eye color, how full to make our lips or the width of our nose. The idea that anyone - company, leadership, government or otherwise - has gotten involved with the uncontrollable look of a person is again, completely maddening. It is just another example of African American culture being desensitized and abused.

No matter what style you choose, wear it proudly. Your dreadlocs are wisdom; your braids tell a story in their pattern; your curls are unique to your ancestors; your kinky twists are fly and I love your straight look - whatever you choose, know that is okay and we glorify you.

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