What It's Like to Wear My Natural Hair Texture in the Corporate World

Call it going natural, call it The Big Chop, call it jump-in-a-pool freeing. Three women talk about what it's really like to leave relaxers behind.

Michelle Thompson

Personal-Finance Counselor and Coach, Washington, D.C.

“I started experimenting with relaxers when I was 18 years old. I always wore my hair in curls, but the relaxer made them look looser. I stopped dyeing my hair when I was 35. My mother was prematurely gray, so after she passed, wearing my natural silver hair was a way to celebrate her life. But I didn’t stop using relaxers until seven years later. I loved the silki- ness of my hair when it was relaxed and how it allowed me to copy old-school hairstyles, like ’40s waves. But around 2007, I was recently separated, trying to figure out how to create a life for my children and myself and paying for all of these additional expenses. The cost of maintaining my hairdressing was just too much, and giving it up was a sacrifice I had to make. I did my first big chop and cut off all of the relaxed hair in 2010 when my divorce was final. As my hair grew back, I realized that its texture had changed. It’d been 26 years since I’d seen it, and it wasn’t as thick or naturally coily anymore. I still get a little frustrated because my Afro doesn’t stand up as much as it did when I was younger. It kind of falls to the side, so I have to part it strategically. No one talks about what that’s like. But my hair is now the greatest expression of freedom in my life. Here I am, natural hair, Afro, silver. Let’s just embrace it all. I’m creating a new history for my daughters. Now I see them embracing their own natural textures; I love seeing that they’re free to live their authentic life.”

On Her Routine:
“When my hair is longer, I’ll twist or braid it and then take it out over the course of the week and let it get fuller and fuller. Right now, my hair is short, so it’s just wash and go. Because my hair is more white than gray, I use Clairol’s purple-tinted Shimmer Lights shampoo every two weeks to keep it bright, followed by Pantene Pro-V Truly Natural Hair Curl Defining Conditioner. When I jump out of the shower, I just put some argan oil in it. Sometimes I shape it with my fingers; sometimes I just run my fingers through it and that’s what it’s going to do for the day.”

Damaris Lewis

Model, New York City

“I started dancing when I was seven, which meant I was sweating a lot. Having a perm allowed me to go dance, sweat, and not have to get my hair done the next day. Wash and go, whatever that means for your hair type, could have worked just as well, but unfortunately that just wasn’t the standard of beauty. When you first start modeling, they give you a look, and my look was long extensions. It was nobody’s fault; when they met me, my hair had a perm, so they just heightened that straightness. And then one day, two years ago this month, I decided to stop wearing a weave. And this past February, I did the big chop. There is, however, a big misconception that natural hair is bouncy, curly, flowy hair. I thought I was going to wash my hair and have phenomenal bouncy curls, but that was not the case. I have very tight curls. But I love that it gives me the option to do whatever I want. This is my first summer being able to swim, to wash my hair, to just be free. I’ve never done that before. It’s going to be life-changing.”

On Her Routine:
“My friend has a company called Adeba Nature. She bottles African black soap and corn-kernel oil that she grows in her backyard in the Ivory Coast. It’s the best shampoo. And I mix two leave-in conditioners — Carol’s Daughter Pracaxi Nectar Wash-N-Go Leave-In and Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner — and put them in my hair right after I wash it. If I have a meeting, I get my hair put into flexi-rods at the salon — I get elongated curls when they take them out. If not, I’ll put in a little almond oil, leave-in conditioner, Bantu-knot my hair, let it air-dry, then take it out the next day. Doing my hair is a good time; nobody can bother me. If somebody calls me and I say, ‘I’m washing my hair,’ they’re like, ‘Oh, call me back when you’re done.’ If I say, ‘I’m getting dressed,’ they’re like, ‘OK, girl, listen, so….’ Doing my hair is a ritual. People know if she’s washing her hair, give her time.”

Kilee Hughes

Founder and CEO, Six One Agency, Los Angeles

“I went to a predominantly white school in Orange County, California. My brother and my sister and I were the only African-American kids. When you start to develop crushes, it’s on people like Timmy or Johnny. There was no DaQuan, you know what I mean? So of course I wanted to fit in, and that meant having straight hair. And I was one of five, so my mother was time-poor. Relaxing our hair was very much done with convenience in mind. Flatirons didn’t exist, so my mom pressed our hair as well. You heat a comb on the stove and then get it as close to the scalp as possible. It’s scary. You had to sit very still to not get burned. Even as an adult, I did relaxers for many years. I only started rocking my natural hair four years ago, and it was not something I embraced at first. Transitioning is very tough. It’s very emotional. I had long, straight pieces that I tried to hold on to because I didn’t want to lose the length. It’s challenging to be in the corporate world and have natural, curly hair. Times are changing, but I’ve got big hair. I’m six foot one — that can be intimidating. I still have some insecurities, but today I went to a big boardroom and wore my hair curly. I love my hair. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be wearing it.”

On Her Routine:
“I watch these YouTube videos by Curls and Couture, Avielle Amore, and Happycurlhappygirl, pause them, and run to the shower to attempt it. I use six to eight products in my hair routine. I cleanse with Ouidad’s Curl Immersion No Lather Coconut Cream Cleansing Conditioner, condition with Vernon François Whipped Deep Conditioner, and mask with Cantu Deep Treatment Masque. I use Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie as a leave-in conditioner, and my favorite styling creams are DevaCurl Styling Cream and Hair Rules Curly Whip. I also use Eco Styling Gel Olive Oil to help maintain my curls. I dry my hair with the Dyson. It was a big purchase, but it came highly recommended by black beauty editors as a way to speed up my routine and still have poppin’ curls. My hair still takes two hours to dry, so if my arm gets tired, I’ll prop it up on my computer. You gotta do what you gotta do!”

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