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Working from home gave me space to love my hair by Desire Grose

Photo by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

Working from home gave me space to love my hair.

I don’t remember the exact moment that I learned Black women could lose professional opportunities because of our hair. But I do know that it was early in childhood when my hair journey began. I was six years old when I learned that my hair should look different than how it grew from my scalp. My mom sat me at the kitchen table and painted my kinky coils with a thick, white Luster's PCJ children’s relaxer. In a matter of minutes, my head bore bone straight hair that I maintained well into my twenties. For many Black women, chemically straightening our hair was about manageability. It was easier to style. Not to mention, in the early 90s and 2000s, most hairstyles and styling products for Black women and girls were marketed for those who relaxed their hair. While relaxing our hair was a sign of the times, a beloved trend, it also surfaced the insecurities and oppressions we faced in terms of beauty, acceptance and fitting into America’s dream. As little girls, we longed to free our hair from braids and ponytails to fit in with the white girls at school. And as women, we learned that our hair would be a measured qualification for professional opportunities.

When I turned 27 years old, I decided to do a big chop. That is when Black women cut off their chemically straightened strands to go natural. It was liberating. I felt like I was seeing myself for the first time. I fell in love with getting to know my hair; what it liked; and what it could do. But I felt a lot of pressure to protect this love and to keep it private. For the next three years, I wore braids and wigs - because they look good af yes - but also because I was afraid of rejection and afraid to show up in the world as my whole self. The same year I turned 27, I started a new job. And like generations of Black women before me, I was strategic about how I wore my hair from interview to employment. “Hair is part of uniform,” I remember hearing a Black woman say to me. Everyday, that same Black woman entered corporate AAmerica with her natural hair tucked underneath a long, straight wig. And over the next three years at my new job, I tucked my hair away as well.

Wearing hair extensions to gain approval from others became exhausting. I didn’t want to subscribe to the idea that I could not be beautiful and professional with my real hair. I was nurturing radical self acceptance, fighting white American ideals of how Black women should present themselves in and out of the workplace. I didn’t think I would lose my job if I wore my real hair, though that has happened countless times to Black women in history. I imagined coworkers would finally look at me and see a Black woman in true form; that they would stumble through questions and compliments as they battled wondering if their actions were racist.Taking my wig off meant much more than a style change. It was a homecoming. An arrival to my roots. A side of me that the world had never seen, that I was learning to accept, and that corporate America was notorious for shutting out.

In March, right at my three-year work anniversary and the height of the pandemic, my job transitioned to a work-from-home environment. In a previous blog, I wrote about how working from home during the pandemic and turning off my Zoom camera for meetings launched me into radical self-care. I refused to allow corporate walls to enclose me while in my own home. When I turned off my camera, I took off my wig, washed my hair, and allowed myself to be a professional and a natural Black woman with confidence as I did my job. I never felt so beautiful in my life as I do now. The loving relationship I have with my hair is no longer a secret. I wear it loud and proud wherever I go. I’m not sure this would have happened had the world not closed during the pandemic. I’d likely still be braiding my hair every few weeks or wearing a wig until I thought my hair was at a more beautiful and presentable length. I am learning to embrace what is true in the present and find joy in the journey. Working from home has given me space to heal my self-image. Going back back to work will never be the same because I am not the same. And from this day forward, the only shrinkage the world will see from me will be in my hair.

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