“Now I would never go into work with my hair in a full-blown Afro, because someone has reminded me that it’s not professional.”
Dami Yusuf (@DammyDays) is a Nigerian YouTuber and Pharmacy Student living in Scotland. Here, she talks about her relationship with her hair, professionalism and natural hair in the workplace, and her advice for building a natural hair routine. (Part 1 of 2)
So tell me about your hair journey and your relationship with your hair?
I was born natural, obviously, and then my mum relaxed my hair when I was younger; I believe before the age of five or something, I was relaxed. And then I didn’t really have much of a relationship with my hair when I was younger. My mother was in control of my hair until I got to the UK and I got into YouTube and stuff and then my hands kind of start working for me. So my mom was always doing my hair up until, mid-secondary school. There are four girls in my house and I’m the first so it was only going to be a matter of time before she was like, you need to do this yourself. It got to a point where I always had to chase her to do my hair. And I was like, you know what I’m done; I can do my hair myself. So I just started doing that.
And it was then that I was going natural as well. And because obviously back then it wasn’t as big a thing as it is today, so I was transitioning and she wasn’t sure about me going natural. But I was like okay, it’s fine. I’ll just do it.
I think when I went natural it didn’t help because everybody was still learning about natural hair. But I just wanted my hair to be thicker because relaxing made it so thin. I don’t have edges anyway so relaxers didn’t help. , So either way, either way being natural would work at some point. So yes, it was when I went natural that I had to now start dealing with my hair because I made the decisions. I had to take care of it. So it was about then that I started doing my hair.
So my hair is kind of like me. Me is my hair. It’s very important to my person.
However, last year, actually, I woke up one day and I was bald. There was a patch in my hair. I don’t know where the hell that came from (I actually need to do a video on that). But I woke up and I was braiding my cornrows to put under my wig, and I got to a point and I was like, hold on. Like, it literally felt like this table. I was like huh? I run downstairs like ‘somebody check my head’ because I don’t believe what I’m touching right now. I took a picture of it and it was bald. It was just this circle in the middle of my head.
How big was it?
It wasn’t too bad, thankfully, and it was inside my hair so unless you opened it up you wouldn’t see it. But that was when I realized my hair was very important to me. I found another one at the back of my head as well; it was little patches coming up from God knows where. I went to a doctor and they gave me steroids and thankfully it ended up growing back. It’s still shorter than most of my hair. But yeah, it kinda gave me a wakeup call. I felt so upset at that point. It came up again, a couple of months later in other places. So I was paranoid thinking I’m going bald.
But after a while, I was like, why do I put so much emphasis on my hair? I decided to change the narrative. And now, I think, I’m so done with it. It’s still cool, but I think in the future I want to try cutting it. And going for a low-cut and seeing you know what that looks like.
So now I think it’s just a creative avenue for me to express myself. That event really made me realise how much it meant to me, however, it also helped me to see it in a different way. I felt like I put so much weight on it, [weight] that wasn’t required. And now I feel like cutting it off would just be another style, another phase in my life. I feel like when I’m older, that’ll be my style.
Not some massive political statement, just something you do?
Yeah, exactly. So now I’m just like whatever happens, happens. My hair is kind of growing as I’m growing and it’s evolving as I’m evolving. So I can’t expect it to stay the same. Sometimes I want to relax it again because I’m just done with it. There’s no time for me to keep up with it and all of that. But it’s kind of like a relationship between myself and my hair. Yeah, we go through the tough times, but we get through it at the end of the day. When we have good times, we have good times but when we don’t we don’t. That’s my relationship with my hair so far.
So you’ve got your hair in braids just now. And there has always been this debate about Black hair and professionalism in the workplace. What do you make of it?
So, in the workplace, it’s very funny because like I said, sometimes I don’t care. I like being creative with my hair so if my hair is in cornrows for six months, you wouldn’t necessarily see me in a wig for six months, right? I could put a puff of my hair and then put a scarf on, no one ever knows. So, I went to work one day. And I think it was the first time I wore a puff. And my manager who also happens be Black … she was like, that’s not professional. And I was like, huh? And she says, you know, we can’t really define the standards of professionalism because it’s not a white man’s language, the white man’s concept so we have to go under the umbrella of what being professional is. She told me putting your hair in an Afro isn’t necessarily professional.
And it got me thinking. I actually was upset that day because it’s my hair you know? But the meaning of something to me is not the meaning of something to you. What’s professional to me is not professional to you. So if you’re in a workplace that decides what is professional – unfortunately, most people don’t see Afro as professional – they will tell you to either neaten it up or put it in braids or anything, and going against that is standing up for your natural self, or your right [to it].
However, you’re pushing against a lot of opinions that are their concepts, their world. They make up the rules and say this isn’t professional. So now, after that day, if I were going to a professional setting, rather than keeping my hair just full-blown Afro, now I’ll just tie it back, or something. So it’s not like I’m completely saying, hey, you have to take my Afro whether you like it or not, but still putting it in a way that is acceptable. So I definitely feel that pressure because my degree is highly professional, and I have to dress professional half of the time. So I also have to be very conscious of my whole look. I would never go into work with my hair in a full-blown Afro, because someone has reminded me that it’s not professional. However, if that was that never occurred, I think I would have thought it was okay.
It’s a tough one.
Yeah, it is. I don’t know how to put this without … It makes sense sometimes, because like we said Afros are not always the easiest thing to manage. So if you’re not … if you don’t know how to take care of your hair, and you just leave it, it might not seem like you can take care of it, it might not seem like it’s the neatest thing to present. So it depends on how we present ourselves. And we can say, ‘Oh, my hair is professional, I want to come into work this way and you need to take me as professional.’ But then we also need to present it in a way where it’s not… It’s like, you’re saying something was red, right? Or you’re trying to prove that is red. For you’re coming with like a different colour, a completely different colour. that’s the opposite of red if that makes sense.
So if they’re saying ‘Oh, an Afro isn’t professional, you need to either wear a wig or put it in braids’ I can come and say ‘Actually, I’m going to style my Afro in a way that maybe you might think is professional, but I’m not still going to change my Afro. I’m going to put it in a neater way. ‘ Because it makes sense, depending on how you see it, for it to be untidy, but I’m not going to completely say I’m not going to bring my Afro to work just because you say its unprofessional.
If I put it in a puff or if I put it in a bun and you’re still telling me its unprofessional, then we’ve got a problem. If I leave it in an Afro, and maybe I haven’t brushed it or something then maybe I would understand where you’re coming from because then I just didn’t present myself in a tidy manner. In the same way that it would be unprofessional if I didn’t iron my shirt. But if I’ve ironed it to the best of my ability and you’re still telling me it’s unprofessional then we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to talk.