Welcome to Academia: Just be yourself

Well, well, welcome to the next level bunnies.

We all know that first impressions and optics play a huge part in how people perceive us, particularly WOC, the stakes are higher for us.

Non-WOC can dye their hair any colour they like, style their hair in braids, and wear their hair in its natural state without worrying about if they’ll be perceived as ghetto or even if their hair will impact whether they get a job or not.

As WOC the standards are different.

A few months ago I was thinking of locing my hair but some family members recommended that I wait until I’ve gotten a job, until my employers had seen what I can do.

Even when I did my PhD interview, I wore a straight black wig and afterwards, I promptly changed into my curly pink one.

Same with my job interview. I wanted to give a professional appearance; I wanted them to take me seriously. However, after a few weeks on the job, I started to wear my natural hair out (again).

First time wearing cornrows out!
First time wearing cornrows out!

This summer,

I started to really consider my relationship with wigs and makeup. I was never one for either of these things until early 2017 but since I discovered it, I’ve been hooked. My hair was growing long in its protective style, my face was fleeky every day, and even simple outfits looked more glamourous. These two things started to influence how I saw my own beauty and hair; that’s when I realised something had to change. So I decided I would wear my hair out and go makeup free for an unspecified period of time until I could again embrace my natural beauty.

A few weeks later, I went to my first academic conference where I was to present my research; I wore a wig. I felt like a fraud, not because I didn’t deserve to be there but because of what was on my head lol. I wanted to take it off in the bathroom but I figured if I suddenly came out with cornrows, that would be a bit much.

After that, I was back to wig-free life until the last month of my dissertation for my Master’s.  Let me set the scene: my hair is looking a mess and I had no time, space, or patience to rectify it.  So I pop on my wig and cut it into a longish bob. This wig was literally a life-saver but of course I started missing my hair!

Cornrows and baby hair
Cornrows and baby hair

Sometime later (after submitting my disseration),

I’m wig-free and rocking fleeky cornrows with my own hair but I’m itching to try a new style or colour or something. I change my hair like we change clothes so I’m ready for something new. But at the same time, I’m conscious that I’ll be moving to a new place with less POC and more pedigree. I can’t lie, thoughts like, “I need a straight black wig to be presentable, instead of my now standard cornrow styles or a bomb coloured wig,” started running through my mind. My friend assuaged my fears, “just be yourself,” he said. Plus, he thought the cornrows were nice.

P.S. they are

Cornrows with natural hair
My cornrows with my natural hair, 3 on each side

Last night,

I braided my hair with the intention of wearing my wig. Because even though I love my cornrows, I thought I’d give a good first impression when I met with my new academic supervisor with my wig. But then I started thinking, why introduce them to a false you?

Not false because I’m wearing a wig but false because I’m giving the impression that this style is always me when in reality I change my hair almost on a daily basis, in addition to being quirky AF.

This is not saying that I won’t wear wigs (already plotting my next one), but that I’m not going to dim my personality for the sake of appeasing others or defying stereotypes. So yeah, that’s how I’m carrying it.

Really hoping I’m not the only one who felt this way, share your experiences below if you got’em!

p.s. I wore my hair in a giant puff when I met my supervisor #softblackgirl #natural4lyfe #cornrowmafia

Until next time,

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6 Comments

  1. Felt the same way as a mixed race man who likes to keep his hair long during a PhD. Also rocked cornrows for some time throughout.

    I’d also say the best thing to do is simply be yourself. Academia is still fairly progressive when it comes to appearances. And I was surprised to learn a lot of places of work are as well. It’s maybe only the more corporate places like banks that might take some issue.

    Do some people discriminate? Of course. But you probably wouldn’t want to be there if your hair is the first thing they judged you on.

    1. Hey Brian! Thanks for commenting. I’m sure your hair is lovely! 3 weeks in and I’m realising that you’re absolutely right. A PhD is stressful enough without trying to be somebody else as well. I’ve resolved to just do me. I’m surprised to hear that workplaces are so progressive in the UK.

      You’re absolutely correct, if that’s the criteria then is it really worth it? Unfortunately some people aren’t able to make that choice and have to stay in such workplaces. Hopefully in the future people can fully embrace diversity.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Dear Amira,
    Hair, Oh hair.
    I think our hair is like poetry. People try to make of it what they must. Say a sonnet with vivid imagery. As you walk past your hair paints a picture on the mind of whoever, a picture seemingly consistent with stereotypes and unconscious bias.
    But the hair does a trick, like cornrows it twine’s the mind of whoever such that when you open your mouth to speak & nod your head, your hair charts its way through the mind of the listener like amazonian winding rivers, changing perceptions.
    I think the secret of beauty is hidden somewhere in conrows.
    Your article is bold and real, I believe you can tell by now that I like it.

    1. Hey Darling. I would have to agree, maybe the secret is in the cornrows. You put it beautifully! Your comment has definitely brightened up my day! I’m so happy you enjoyed it; I’m going to remember these lovely words 🙂

  3. I can totally relate. I went through a no makeup period after not being able to leave the house without foundation or any form of makeup.Its so nice to see that I’m not alone in this great read 😘

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I’m so happy I’m not the only one that had to do this. You’re absolutely gorgeous 💖💖

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