These Little Locs of Mine: Hair Love & Coping With Physical Transformations In The Workplace

Photo by Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals) on Unsplash

My recent treatment began to eat at my hair. Combing was painful and resulted in more hair loss that left trails like breadcrumbs throughout my apartment. My shower meditations quickly turned into drills hoping I’d avoid examining the hairballs crowding the drain.

I sought ways to hide from myself and the coworkers I encountered on daily virtual calls. My solution was finding safety and solace beneath a range of colorfully printed headwraps — a familiar retreat from when first diagnosed and experienced significant hair loss then — if not turning off my camera altogether. Unlike being in the office, remote work encouraged me to face how I coped with my physical transformation and appreciate myself even when others couldn’t.

Growing up, church days, family gatherings, first days of school, picture days, and any other day deemed special requiring hot combing, a neatly parted scalp, and either a head full of braids with bobbles or patterned plaits were a tradition. Admittedly, there was nothing nice like a hot oil treatment, a well-greased-Blue-Magic scalp, and shiny plaits moisturized with Pink Hair Lotion. For a weather forecast predicting rain, you expected to get the Just For Me relaxer added to the routine.

With how “brand new” the transformations made me feel, I held onto those hair rituals and slightly adjusted them to accommodate hairstyles throughout adolescence and adulthood. Once I started working in high school, I bought hair products with my money to lightly relax my hair and cover my head in hair gel to give it that wet yet “natural” 3b curls. Additionally, I dyed my hair a new color every few months, brushing off breakage because I was confident it’d grow back. All that mattered was achieving my transformation, where others believed the resulting looks were naturally mine.

Unable to treat my hair the way I had before, I lost whatever confidence I previously struggled to harness. Once, I attended a virtual event where Dr. Donna Oriowo spoke about the connection between hair love and confidence. I realized how having hair I hated and losing the hair I hated dictated how I believed others should treat me. So in believing I should remain unseen, unheard, and unloved was the case for many areas in my life, including coexisting at work. According to Dr. Oriowo, while hair texture politics significantly impact women of color, individuals of color who identify as other genders are also affected.

One day, I showed up in a space as a minority with a headwrap. That space was work and working in tech where Black employees are commonly few; Black women are almost a rarity. Because of this, there is always pressure to assimilate for the sake of our survival. But I could no longer worry about these things. It was time I started wrapping my hair to limit the constant pulling whenever I brushed.

The wraps also helped hide the thinning noticed by some colleagues who decided it was an appropriate office conversation one late afternoon. But I was no stranger to office chat about my physical transformations resulting from an illness. Acting as if I hadn’t heard a word, and was unaffected, came from several years of hair texture politics.

Pre-Crown Act I had an employer that posted a list of banned workplace hairstyles — all of which targeted hairstyles for thicker hair texture. To avoid being sent home, I fully relaxed my hair and frequently trimmed the edges. Whenever I needed to give my hair a break, I wore it in a bun.

It wasn’t long before there was a lawsuit, and the employer removed the banned hairstyle lists. But because companies like this one have deeply rooted cultural issues, it will come as no surprise to you that there was yet another lawsuit for other discriminatory practices.

My experiences in the tech industry were even worse. Whenever I straightened my hair, fellow employees would approach me with suggestions that I straighten it more often because I looked nice when I did. The unfortunate thing about those statements is the individuals saying them truly believed they were compliments.

When I first received my diagnosis and started experimental treatments, employees snickered at my hair loss and headwraps. One VP even stood next to me in the breakroom long enough and finally surrendered to his urge to ask me if I was “going back to da hood — you know, like 50 Cent?” — his confusion between rapper 50 Cent’s du-rags and the head wrap I was wearing.

A relative suggested locs and natural oils the first time around to help regrow my hair, and when I had shown up to the office, my locs were consistently referred to as braids when non-Black colleagues pointed out that my hair had “changed.” When my hair regrew to an amount I was satisfied with, I undid my first set of locs and returned to my hair rituals. My hair wasn’t the same, so when wearing plaits to work one day, a coworker asked me, “what’s up with the intricate hairstyle?”

I’d go on, but I think what I have shared thus far offers a good idea of how I felt in those moments and then on.

When COVID took everyone by surprise, my hair and head wraps were the least of my concerns. With everyone lapsing on their beauty rituals, I focused on mine — and I enjoyed them. I enjoyed my last set of 28-inches braided weave. I enjoyed going back to locs and natural treatments to encourage hair growth. I enjoyed wrapping my head in all the different ways I could.

I mostly enjoyed showing up to virtual calls, no longer hiding beneath my headwraps but proudly wearing them. Working remote allowed me to happily style my hair the way I wanted in my own home because no one could tell me to change how I looked under my roof. Freely wearing my locs and managing my physical transformation without spectators has given me much-needed peace.

My self-care, hair-love, and self-love journey birthed these little locs of mine; they symbolize my culture and perseverance. It is not my job to make others unable or unwilling to appreciate my features to feel content by conforming to their beauty standards. It is my job to make me feel content despite other beauty standards imposed upon me.

Data-driven solution & information experience designer creating impactful, diverse, & inclusive digital experiences. Proud first-generation Caribbean-American.

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