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I Can Be Natural AND...

Naturally curly, chemical-free hair is a nemesis to the status quo. This adversarial dynamic has left many women and girls stifled and confused. Hair politics hinder us, and too often we do not feel free to embrace our natural beauty in professional and educational settings, especially if we choose to style our hair in twists, locs, or braids. Unfortunately, we are forced to consider the implications of our curls and sometimes make detrimental styling choices that impact our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Daily, we ask ourselves, “If I wear it curly will I get the job?, Will I get promoted? Do I look too ethnic for this meeting? Does having locs make me appear unprofessional? Will my hair be viewed as a distraction?” These consistent questions chip away at our self-image and self-confidence, resulting in one critical inquiry, “Am I good enough?”

We have proven that we are good enough because we "thrive professionally despite structures in place to maintain the status quo,” but too many of us are being made to feel like we must choose between our natural appearance and the job or opportunity. Increasingly, the issue of natural beauty is gaining the attention of companies like Dove, Allure, and Pantene. I do not know if their primary intent is to help or to profit, but the documented stories about the struggles of women and natural beauty are real.

I have discussed this topic with numerous women, and their feedback is heartbreaking. One woman shared, “If I have an interview I will wear a long, straight wig. Once I get the job, I will wear it natural. Another woman said, “I cannot go to work with natural hair. It's frowned upon.” A student said, ”My mother thinks my curly hair is unprofessional and I have to straighten it to get a job.” My heart shatters when I hear these stories because too many women are selling their souls for ten pennies only to learn that maybe the sacrifice was not worth it.

I do not believe that we must choose between natural OR ______(fill in the blank: professional, smart, sexy, relevant, effective, important). I believe we can be natural AND ______. I understand that going against the status quo is not easy, especially if you are concerned about your ability to secure a job or an education. In the late 90's, before natural hair was popular, I would come to work fully suited with my head wrapped in a matching African print or with my hair in large twists that resembled Princess Leia. At the time, I did not fully realize the statement I was making. However, I quickly understood when a woman I admire told me that I was brave for displaying my natural hair in a professional environment. Before that time, I never classified my actions as "brave," but I was clearly making a deliberate choice about what was best for me.

Comments and stories like these are an indication that more conversation and education about natural hair and beauty are necessary for real change and understanding to occur in our homes, boardrooms, and classrooms. But, before we can get to that place, we must ask,"What is our responsibility?" Young women are watching, consuming, and impacted by our decisions. Must they travel the same difficult road or can we put them on a path to personal and professional freedom? Must they fight the same battle or can we help them to advance?

The responsibility doesn't solely lie with one group of people because we all benefit when women are happier, healthier, and liberated. Let's do the collective work of supporting natural beauty

  1. By celebrating it through a random compliment.

  2. By hiring employees based on qualifications; not their hair style.

  3. By eliminating bogus school policies that prevent girls from wearing their natural hair.

  4. By sharing styling techniques and products that will enhance a woman’s natural beauty in a professional environment.

  5. By being open to the natural beauty that lies within every woman.

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