Me, My Natural Hair, and Corporate America

I simply yearned for confirmation that corporate America deemed me acceptable for its space.
It was six o’clock in the morning and I was already giving myself a pep talk.

As I stared in the mirror examining every out of place curl, adding more gel to my hair perimeter, and checking to make sure every strand of my natural tresses were well oiled, I gave myself a quick nod.

“It isn’t perfect, but it will just have to do.”

No, I wasn’t preparing for a special occasion. It was a normal day like any other, but the anxiety was no different.

Tending to my hair took up the bulk of my time as I prepared for work that morning. I wanted to make sure it was perfect enough for work. Good enough for my co-workers.

It wasn’t that I was seeking attention or compliments. I simply yearned for confirmation that corporate America deemed me acceptable for its space. It took me a while to realize the void I felt, and it took even longer to realize that I wanted corporate America to fill it.

There are other women with natural hair at the agency where I work. There are women with locks, braids, twists, you name it. Many of them seem confident or completely careless about their hair. However, that only made me more confused about my distress.

Was I the only person having these feelings?

One day, I met another young professional and to my surprise she was a hair blogger. We instantly connected. The more we talked about hair, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone in fearing negative consequences because of my natural hair.

She confided in me that she had experienced countless discriminatory actions against her, simply because of her hair. This young woman was stylish, professional, and poised. Her hair always looked stunning yet, corporate America found a way to put her hair down, and prevented her from excelling in her career. She was even disrespected by a fellow African American woman—her supervisor—who told her she wouldn’t be able to get a new job she applied for because she wears her hair in its natural state.

After a couple of lunch venting sessions with my blogger friend, I took some time to reflect.

Those mornings I obsessed over my hair I never realized how mentally strained I was becoming. Something had to give. My first thoughts in the morning could no longer be about what my co-workers would think of me and my natural hair. I no longer wanted to focus on conforming to their beliefs of what was beautiful, what was acceptable. Slowly I began to realize how fierce my melanin and these kinky curls of mine are. They are amazing!

Have you ever found yourself overly concerned with what your employer or colleagues think about your hair?

Do you struggle with styling your hair for work?

Do you feel you cannot be your natural, free self at work?

If you answered “Yes!” to any (or all) of those questions you are not alone. There are many other “Naturals” in corporate America—such as myself—who feel the same.

Together we can eradicate the stigma of natural hair being unkempt, improper and unacceptable for the workplace.

Together we can gain confidence and dispel our fears.

No matter what you experience at work, always remember:

“My hair is an extension of me, but I am more than my hair.”

Repeat this mantra whenever you’re having a rough day at work. Stay positive and let your natural light shine!

Lauren Grimes is a natural hair enthusiast, program analyst and youth advocate living in Washington, D.C.

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