What Is "Professional" Hair Anyway?

by Ashley Boyland

When I made the decision to “go natural” I was working in corporate America for a huge apparel company. My hair was always “natural”, meaning free of harsh chemicals such as perms or texturizers, but I refrained from wearing it in its original state. It was always straight or semi straight.  I wore my hair straight to the job interview, and while I was waiting in the lobby I observed the other black women who all wore their hair in silky, bouncy weaves down their back. I made the decision to go natural two months after I started and I vividly remember that interesting Monday morning when I walked in and revealed my beautiful twist out style.

My manager came to my cube for our usual Monday morning business chat, and the entire time she was talking to me her eyes were glued to my hair. She couldn’t look away! I felt her negative energy and I could tell that she was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable about MY hair!

I wore my hair in really cute natural styles for the next two weeks. Twist outs, flat twist updo’s and textured buns mostly.

“Are you still going to wear your hair straight sometimes?” my work friend asked one day during lunch.

 “Maybe, why’d you ask?” I asked her this, already feeling like I knew where this conversation was leading. She proceeded to tell me that my hair was a hot topic around the office and some of the other employees were saying that my hair was unprofessional and would hinder me from moving up in the company. Unprofessional? I couldn’t believe it.  I wondered why my NATURAL God given hair texture was stirring up so much conversation. You would think that I walked in that office with Purple spiked hair or something, that was the kind of reaction I was receiving. 

I never looked back, I wore my hair natural for the rest of my tenure at that company, and I still do to this day.

There are tons of articles on the web about natural hair and the workplace. Many of those articles teach naturals how to wear their hair “professionally." But I challenge this idea. Of course, it isn’t wise for anyone of any race to walk into their place of business with hair that looks like they just rolled out of bed. But women of other races aren’t told that their natural hair is “unprofessional." However, it is a topic that is so prevalent in the African American community. This is a problem!

Whether we want to accept it or not, straight hair is set as the standard of beauty and physical acceptance and therefore it is seen as the most professional of hair textures. But [almost] no person of African descent has naturally straight hair. Therefore, it is safe to say that our natural coils and kinks aren’t seen as professional or acceptable in the workplace. We feel the need to tame our curls with twisted styles, chignons and buns, or just wear it straight altogether. Why must black women always alter themselves to “fit in” with the rest of society and make them feel comfortable? Why can’t my defined wash n’ go be seen as just as beautiful and professional as Amanda’s bone straight hair? If she can just wear her hair out, why cant I?

Some of us Naturals are buying into the hype as well. That’s why there are so many blogs and YouTube videos on how to wear your natural hair in a professional style. Let’s reclaim our power ladies (and natural hair Gentlemen). Our coils and kinks are a part of what makes us unique and beautiful. Our crowns are our strength! My hair being in a kinky fro doesn’t negate the fact that I am fully capable of positively contributing to the overall growth of a company. It has nothing to do with how smart, ambitious or driven I am. I should be judged by my work ethic and weather I produce results or not, not my hair!

There is a popular saying, “Let the work I’ve done speak for me." Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Ashley Boyland


Instagram and Twitter : @browngirlredfined

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