Look… But Don’t Touch?!

I adore my hair in its natural state but wearing my natural hair out in public is something I’m still getting used too. Watching my growth, experimenting with products and trying out different styles has genuinely encouraged a greater sense of pride and confidence for my crown. Although styling and managing my hair is still a process, its a process that I actually do enjoy because I truly appreciate the versatility of my mane.

So… Today…

Usually I drive to work but today due to the venue of an after work meeting public transport proved to be my only suitable option. Thus with my natural puff I got on the Overground at 7:40am and encountered a few sideways glances and a lady who kept looking ever so slightly above me and when our eyes met she offered me a sheepish smile. On the way back from my meeting standing next to the doors on the Circle Line a man looked over at me with both confusion and intrigue. Granted it was slightly irritating, but it was also thought provoking. I understand and appreciate my hair being an integral part of my identity but I wondered what white people see when they shoot a look at my curls; Do I look too ethnic? Am I now intimidating? Do they see my natural hair as a nonconforming threat? Is my hair viewed as unprofessional?

Walking into a work environment where a change of hairstyle is always met with a comment from co workers, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling insecure or feeling as though the spotlight is on you.  Sometimes just ignore my hair and let me get on with my work Yes the compliments at work can be nice to hear, but I must note that others have had experiences of racial micro-aggression masked through compliments. Thus at times when the affirmations are genuine there are actually welcomed especially when feeling unsure and insecure about your hair or moreso about how your hair will be received. Yet this issue of how natural hair could be /is received and perceived in the working world lends itself heavily to an overarching theme of professionalism and what constitutes unprofessionalism. Do you feel comfortable wearing your natural tresses within the work environment? Would wearing your crown in its most natural yet vulnerable state (afro) be deemed acceptable when attending an interview for a new job? If so why don’t more black women wear their afro’s to work? Solange may have told white people not to touch our hair but I don’t want white people – in an interview, in the workplace or on the train- to look too hard either. I appreciate the impact it has but I simply do not want my hair to be apart of any equation. Living within the context of preset and predefined standards of beauty is hard enough and although hair is very important to who I am it does not define who I am. Ultimately choosing to wear our hair natural or in braids to interviews or within the work place is an individual choice and not a reflection of skills, conduct or personality.

To be honest, owning my body this year was really important to me. That can mean a lot of things. That can be in the physical form – wanting to have control over my physical body – and also the way it is presented to the world” Solange Knowles.  Although we may seek agency over our bodies, over the way we present ourselves to society, yet it is evident that control is not held with us. A few months ago a secondary school in London sent a letter home to parents stating that “exaggerated hairstyles” were not in line with their school policy and placed examples of these hairstyles at the bottom of the page – within the letter they included a picture of a black girl wearing an afro and a black boy with braids/dreads. Honestly this letter was saddening.

A school clearly pushing a narrative of conformity to under 16year olds! A small note to resume the natural order; keep us all in line, keep us wearing our weaves, wigs, keep us straightening our hair in order to satisfy the status quo. Above this however, such a stance encourages notions of inferiority, otherness, highlighting our difference and placing a spotlight on something our community takes great pride in.  As the song says “they don’t understand what it means to me…” and it is unfortunate that society will continue to find a way to reiterate and reaffirm the notion that black hair is undesirable, unprofessional and unorthodox simply because they don’t understand. We know our crowns are actually beautiful, versatile and truly underestimated and there are many people white, black and brown who comprehend and acknowledge this also. Still there is an undercurrent of frustration; having the freedom of choice and yet still being hindered by how we will be perceived and the constraints placed upon us from society. Do we conform to these ideals or challenging them? The natural hair movement offers me solace to challenge these ideals,  having friends who wear their natural hair in any which way they feel without limitation and seeing women in the media like Solange Knowles speak out and speak proud about her hair offers the next generation a platform of security and strength.

So yes… Look quickly… but don’t touch

*When I speak about natural hair I am specifically speaking about hair which is not permed, relaxed, straightened or blown out.

A

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