I was up for a total of 24 hours studying and reading before what I considered one of the most important job interviews of my life. For days, I’d shopped for the perfect outfit before settling on an ensemble that made me feel the most “boss.” I’d been wearing my natural hair in an array of gorgeous, free-flowing styles as part of a no-heat hiatus, so I opted to style it in its true state: a big afro full of imperfect curls. My makeup was fresh, and I wore my signature red lipstick. I felt confident that I “looked the part.” But I didn’t get the job.
Crushed, I found myself flooded with thoughts and millions of questions about my interview. Had my research not been enough? Were they looking for different experience? However, one glaring question haunted me most: Did my natural hair prevent me from getting the job? It was 2016, so I was holding on to my last bit of hope in humanity, that society was past the stereotypical notion that the only “acceptable” version of textured hair was straight. This question, though, was just one in a years-long battle with embracing my natural hair.
I decided to ask my family and friends with natural hair if they’d ever felt this way. To my surprise, my first encounter with this feeling of professional inadequacy due to my textured locks is, unfortunately, a familiar experience for many women of color. In fact, young girls have even been suspended from school for wearing natural hair, and women have been fired from their jobs.
Thankfully, we have hair-industry giants like celebrity stylist and Vernon François Collection founder Vernon François, who is committed to shattering this stereotype. François, who has worked with celebrities with the most stunning natural strands—Solange Knowles, Lupita Nyong’o, Ruth Negga, Tracee Ellis Ross, Ava DuVernay, and more—is dedicated to inspiring women to embrace and unapologetically celebrate texture in all its glory.
On a mission to spread the universal acceptance of textured hair, François traveled the streets of New York City holding up a photo of one woman wearing two different hairstyles. One of the images showcased her naturally curly hair while the other depicted her hair straightened. “Which image do you believe is more professional?” François asked strangers. Some people immediately pointed to her straight hair while others pointed to her natural hair. François then asked each person, “Would you straighten your hair to look more professional?” Although their judgments varied, the fact that so many people automatically associated straight hair with professionalism is incredibly upsetting.
“There’s a stigma with what’s socially acceptable for the professional working environment because of the appropriation of what’s deemed to be professional or not,” François explains in the video. “Your ability to do your job should never be defined by your hair texture.” Watch the full video below.
When I asked François if he was surprised at all by some of the responses after surveying strangers, he pinpointed a problem that’s still lingering in our society. “I was taken aback by the way in which people associate professionalism with hair texture,” he says. “For me, this demonstrates the confusion and contradiction in identifying what is most beautiful.”
It’s still important to address the fact that in terms of social acceptance of natural hair, progress has been made. “If I would have asked the same question 10 or 15 years ago, more people would have chosen the woman wearing her straight hair, because that was normal then,” says François. “I think we have definitely moved forward in wanting to have more conversations about the standard of acceptance in the professional environment when it comes to natural versus straight hair.”
However, François believes to create even more understanding, we first must identify the word “natural.” “Embrace your natural texture, whatever that may be,” he says. “The reason some people don’t stems from so many different stereotypes, which is mostly from ill-informed information. We’ve been told for so long that if your hair isn’t bone straight, it’s not acceptable. Regardless of your texture or your ethnicity, your texture is beautiful, which needs to be at the forefront of the beauty industry.”
Your frizz is as good as your shiny, straight hair—let’s embrace that.
The Vernon François brand speaks to that shift. Its founder believes no individual’s ability to do their work in professional environments should be tied to image and hair. Over time, many women have conformed to these unjust standards and hostile professional environments.
“I am a 32-year-old Caribbean black guy, and I’ve always had this hair texture,” he says. “It’s not new, and it’s not a trend. Social media has definitely become a force to be reckoned with in terms of discussing texture. The popular culture is embracing natural hair, and brands are starting to recognize the value in celebrating true patterns in all kinds of hair. And I think that’s the conversation we should be having, rather than saying it’s a trend, because that implies it’s not going to be trendy in two or three years.
“You really have to bear in mind the language that we’re using to enlighten ourselves with someone’s natural hair. We’ve never spoken so much about this issue until now, which is why people are interested. And you see the volume of interaction online and on YouTube with bloggers talking about their natural hair textures. That alone tells you that there’s a consumer out there that wants to be listened to.”
François wants all brands to come forward and be unapologetic about using a word like “kinky” rather than suppressing the meaning with words like “tightly coiled” or “loose waves.” “Those are the things we all have to be unapologetic about because if you whitewash those terms, you’re going to alienate the vast majority of your consumers. Why would you not want to speak their language? So we are definitely moving forward, but I think it’s safe to say that brands like myself are paving the way to have wider conversations so we can move forward in the most productive way,” François says.
If you’re still struggling to fully love and embrace your natural hair, François’s advice is to start inward. “I always advise people to stop looking at magazines and other images of what they want their hair to look like. Instead, learn about the type of hair that you have—there are platforms like my website that share information so that you can start to understand the structure of your hair. This will tell you what sort of products will be beneficial for your hair to absorb.
“Start doing some background research to learn and understand your hair before you visualize an ideal style for your hair. It’s really important that you understand those basics and recognize the true value in what you have, versus trying to validate your hair by someone else’s image or curl pattern.”
Your hair education beings with good products. Not sure where to start with your curls? First up, try the Vernon François detangling mist. “It’s light, non-greasy, and doesn’t get sticky,” explains François. “It hydrates your hair in the most powerful way possible with its technology and amino acids. It shortens your time in the morning or evening because you can wet your hair instantly without drenching it and having to get in the shower and brush out your hair.”
“This leave-in conditioner is a universal product that I created for the new collection,” he says. “You can style with it, or you can throw it in just to lightly condition your hair throughout the day. It’s incredibly soft and silky. Everything in my line is weightless. So you can apply more if you need more for your hair texture, but the overall feel is that you can get anything you want by using the right combination of ingredients with modern technology. It doesn’t have to be so dense on the hair itself. Oftentimes, men and women with curly hair are told that they have to use heavy-induced products to essentially nourish the hair, which is false.”
“What happens if you wanted to treat your hair without washing out the product? I came up with this overnight treatment oil that has four small tubes you can travel with and just spray on the ends of your hair. It works on all hair textures and brings a beautiful shine,” he says.
What are your thoughts on embracing your natural hair in professional settings? We’d love for you to share with us in the comments below.