I flatten my hair before I go to work. While the straightener is heating up I look at myself in the mirror, knowing I didn’t want to become like this: A woman who gains confidence from the approval of others. But I have, and that’s why I woke up an hour early to flick on the bathroom light and fill the hall with the smell of burning hair.
I feel most confident when I wear a dress and smooth down my hair. Why? Because that is how professional women are often portrayed.
I remember reading a chapter from the novel Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The protagonist, a young Nigerian woman seeking a career in the American corporate world, goes for a job interview with her Afro hair. The interviewers read her resume and ask questions but she doesn’t get hired. Afterwards her friend tells her that she needs to straighten her hair so she will look more professional for the next interview. And when she does, she gets the job. Although this book is fictional, it is not far from reality.
Is my untamed curly hair the most professional appearance in the office?
Something tells me no.
I don’t think in my agency, where the staff are the nicest people I know, would I be looked down on if and when I wear my natural hair, which I do sometimes. It’s just that I don’t feel put together when all my curls are pointing different directions and the frizz just might bear its teeth if I step outside.
Now that I’m out of school and part of society’s working class, I’m very conscious of my skin color and my hair. In my senior year of college I began to see how much of a minority blacks are, and how most people in power are not black.
In my cubicle at work there is a poster of all the state representatives. Eight out of the 100 are black. Four of them are women. I’m not sure what to think of this new-found knowledge. I’m just now becoming aware of how few of us are out there.
After pondering all this, I turn off the straighter and see a girl in the mirror. She isn’t black anymore, she could pass for a Latino, an Indian, or a black person who is almost white. Do I like this girl, who hides her natural hair and lightens her face with make-up?
When you’re both black and white it’s tempting to choose one side and hide the other in your closet ’till the day is over.