by Krystal Covington, MBA
Every Sunday like clockwork I'd grab my supplies, commandeer the bathroom, and begin my process.
Shampoo -- 2 minutes
Conditioner - 10 minutes with a plastic cap
Heat protectant - 3 minutes distributing throughout with a paddle brush
Blowdryer - 30 minutes while paddle brushing straight and fanning away the smoke
Flat iron - 90-120 minutes with an iron and a rat-tooth comb
Total time -- 135-165 minutes
I was a pro; whipping the flat iron like a cowboy in an old western while watching a movie on Netflix. Long strands of hair and tiny pieces of broken ends fell all over the floor around me, but never did I consider the ramifications. This was the ONLY way, so I had to keep pressing.
I could only exercise on Sunday morning or maybe Saturday evening if I didn't have anywhere to go the next day, because sweating caused my hair to puff up in the roots. My hair was a weekly chore, but I did my duty happily to fit the appearance I was told was beautiful, professional, and kempt -- anything else was considered unattractive, unprofessional and unkempt.
It wasn't until moving to Denver that this process came to an end.
When I left Detroit I chose to leave my car behind and embrace Denver's incredible public transit system. I had a place right in the city just a 20 minute walk from the light rail, and my job was about a half mile from the stop. Uber was everywhere and other tools such as ZipCar and Car2Go made it easy to grab a vehicle when I needed one.
The only issue is, Denver's weather is unpredictable to say the least. After being rained on, sweating due to the sun's hot rays, and even splashed by vehicles while crossing the street I knew something had to change. I spent nearly everyday straightening my hair and I knew my strands couldn't take the heat, so I found a curly hair expert to support my transition.
Why was going natural such a big deal?
Hair is not only emotional, it's also political. We receive tons of messages growing up about what represents professionalism and beauty and we take those in as truth we live our lives by. My mother wore straight hair and she was the epitome of a beautiful, professional woman. I looked to her as the model for how I should look.
I also learned in school tips for a polished appearance for interviews and job progression. All of the photos they showed us featured straight hair, pulled back or curled.
And the biggest challenge of all was the actual reactions of people I worked with during the few times I did dare to wear my natural texture out to the office. Rarely did I receive a compliment; my look was typically met with stares, comparisons with early images of Whitney Houston, or comments such as "you should wear it kinky more often, it suits you." I never quite felt kinky was the word I wanted to hear when it came to my hair, so I avoided my natural look at all costs.
Making the transition
To get through this transition I needed support. I talked with lots of women who went through the same journey, and who encouraged me along the way. I joined local groups centered on discussing natural hair solutions and found a hairdresser specially trained to make my hair look its best, but emotionally I probably needed a psychologist to join the party too.
I was going against the standards I was taught, challenging my old belief patterns, and needed to completely rewire my brain in order to make this work.
Every photo I took looked hideous, I was afraid of what others thought at work, and I was nervous to get behind the camera as part of my job of recording short news and interview segments for my role in internal communications. I was kind of a wreck.
The only thing that gave me courage was knowing that this was the only way to save my hair from ultimately falling out. Wearing a wig for me was simply not an option. With that in mind, I continued on.
Becoming unexpectedly free
I remember hearing a story of a woman who'd cut off her long hair and went natural for the freedom of living her life uninhibited. I thought it was an exaggeration. How could hair change your life that much?
What I didn't expect was the true feeling of authenticity and freedom that accompanied the journey.
It did take people at work some time to warm up to me and my new look, but I was still treated with the same level of professionalism and respect I was accustomed to, which quickly eased my fears of being viewed as unkempt.
The most incredible part of the transition was finally being able to escape all of my fears. I could handle a few drops of rain, get sweaty during the week, and even shower without being worried about water touching my head. Best of all, my weekend routine wasn't filled with hours of smoke inhalation as I burned by hair unnaturally straight.
Once I began to start appreciating my new look, I felt more confident and happier with my appearance simply because people were accepting me and what I felt was my true self -- the self I'd been hiding for so many years.
The value of authenticity
There's so much we could unravel here, but for many of us we spend so much of our time at work playing a role that's far from our reality. The very nature of work invites us to build a facade, put on a show, and fit the mold of what we believe is a good corporate woman.
Whether you're being inauthentic with your hair, pretending to be an extrovert (guilty) or using masculinity as a tool for rising the ranks as a woman, all roads lead to feeling uncomfortable in our own skin.
How powerful would you feel if you rose up the ranks playing the role of yourself?
You'd know that it was only what's inside of you that got you there and you can release yourself from the added burden of trying to cover up the real you at all times. That's true power.
How we can support each other.
Here's a few ways you can support women going through the transition I did. These can be translated to other aspects of life at work in addition to hair.