Leave Your Natural Hair at Home – It’s Not Professional!

A recent podcast disparaging natural hair led journalist Tehila Okagbue to uncover internalised stereotypes of natural hair in Nigeria and the enduring impact of Western beauty standards.

Tehila Okagbue

There’s a popular saying that goes–”Invest in your hair, it’s the crown you never take off.” I know we hear it a lot but I’m not sure most people know what this means. For me, it’s not just about making your hair look good; it’s about embracing and celebrating the natural beauty of your hair. Your hair has actual beauty waiting to be discovered. So whatever its texture or style, you should appreciate and enjoy it.

Over the years, I’ve learned that this straightforward act of self-love is repeatedly faced with opposition and criticism, even within our African communities. I’ll share an example from a current event to help you understand what I mean.

In a recent viral video here in Nigeria, a woman boldly declared in a podcast, “Don’t bring your natural hair to my event.” Her message was clear: natural hair was acceptable for running errands or attending church, but not for special occasions or events. When I heard this, I was honestly taken aback, because to me she was screaming—’ Leave your natural hair at home, I don’t want to see it!’. And I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to see my natural hair. It is stunning, extremely surreal, and versatile! And this isn’t even me trying to brag. Okay, maybe a little. But my point is that everyone with natural hair needs to realise that they have a reason to brag. It’s the other way around. We’ve been blessed with beautiful kinky/coily hair, growing straight from our roots. Why would we want to hide it?

Source: Pexels

Sadly, this is a sentiment that goes far beyond the borders of Nigeria, which highlights a pervasive issue of natural hair discrimination that has existed and still exists within our community.

The important question we should ask ourselves is ‘why?’. Why is something as natural and beautiful as our hair met with such rejection? Do you realise that as an African man or woman, if you let your hair grow out without chemically relaxing or tampering with it, it grows into beautiful natural kinky, and coily hair or locs? Why should having this hair be a problem?

Source: Unsplash

These are questions that I’ve pondered since I started my journey to regrowing and embracing my afro hair. Growing up, I was led to believe that having straight hair was the standard, and if my hair wasn’t chemically relaxed, most stylists would advise getting it done before it was braided. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I began questioning these deeply ingrained beliefs and started to educate myself about the history of Black hair.

Just last Sunday, I was prepared to go on a date and I wore my hair out. My friend had asked me if I wasn’t going to wear a wig and had jokingly said that if it were her, she might not want another date with my afro hair out like that. Best believe I was an hour late to my date because I had to educate her!

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to wear wigs, but there’s everything wrong with doing it because you’re ashamed of your hair. I believe it’s the Eurocentric mindset. It’s deeply ingrained in us Africans, and it might take a lot to break free from these biases and embrace our natural beauty.

In light of my experience, I wanted to hear from others so I asked 14 African women to share their thoughts and experiences with afro hair discrimination. Here’s what they had to say.

14 African women on their thoughts and experiences with afro hair discrimination

One woman told me one time that I should make my hair. I looked at her in confusion because my hair was made. I’d just had twists done. She said she meant I should add extensions, and relaxers, not all this natural hair nonsense. That men don’t like it. I warned her sternly that if she ever mentioned my hair again, I would insult her.


I went to the salon on Sunday to make knotless braids. The hairdresser asked me if I was going to relax my hair before braiding. Every time I complained while she was braiding, she referred to the texture of my hair.


Natural hair salons are places where our hair is celebrated because it’s so annoying anywhere else. Sometimes I’ll pick a style and this hairdresser will be telling me how the hair would be better if I had relaxed my hair and that it will not last.


I think we’ve come a long way but we still need to do more work. Salons that will appreciate our hair will cost an arm, leg, and kidney.


I hate hearing “Won’t you relax your hair? Isn’t it too painful? Isn’t it hard to take care of?” I didn’t complain to you. I love my hair! Let it be! Let’s not forget the interview I had with my natural hair and the interviewer, a woman, said I looked unprepared and unkempt and that I should have made my hair.


This guy I’m talking to almost dragged me to the salon this morning to relax my hair. According to him, my hair is like a sponge. He likes his women with smooth, relaxed hair and looking classy.


The person who washes my hair is always asking when I’ll relax it. It’s so infuriating. She goes ahead and says something like “Soon you’ll come and tell me to relax it, and I’ll tell you I told you so”.


I dyed my natural hair ginger, and the amount of discrimination I’ve faced at hair salons is ridiculous. One time, everyone came to stand over my head to give opinions about my dyed hair. The second time, someone said she could not make my hair, that it was too stubborn and on top of it all it is now coloured. That I should relax it.  It really is something because it comes from women, as I am Muslim and cover my hair.”


People always ask me when I’m reloc’ing my hair and they say it’s “rough”. I’ve learnt to ignore it but it’s annoying. Not to offend the women who relax their hair, but ongoing research has shown that continued use of relaxers can lead to fibroids, and cancer and can even be a trigger for things like endometriosis and PCOS. Afro hair is beautiful. Locs are beautiful! It will never make sense to me that afro hair and afro wigs never receive the same gushing as bone-straight wigs. The wigs that actually look like our natural hair are seen as weird but it’s wigs sometimes cut from children’s hair in Vietnam that receive gushing from Black women. I think it’s okay to use straight wigs once in a while to have a different look, but I stand my ground when I say that if you always wear straight wigs all year round, a part of you has low self-esteem.


I was having a conversation with a supposed love interest, and I mentioned to him that I had been on my natural hair for a bit, and he went “That’s disgusting”. I was like, “Disgusting, keh?” I mean, I’ve been caring for my hair and it’s thriving and all. So the fact that I’ve not done my hair is a problem? Safe to say that was the end of that.


Since early February, I took down my hair extensions in a bid to wear my natural hair for as long as six months while I try different DIY Ayurvedic remedies. I’ve made my natural hair only twice since then and I get that they get old after a week because of my constant massaging, but my friends and classmates keep saying things like, “Ahh, I never see you like this. You look like you just dressed up anyhow. Ohh it’s the hair!”
“Vee, please go and make your hair”
“Hey, I always forget that you have bad hair.”
“You look mad, please go and remake your hair.”


I try to use the good compliments I get to block out the negative ones. I have gotten comfortable with my natural hair. It’s always clean, so even when it’s looking rough, I love it. It’s my hair, it’s a part of me. I have a few strands of white hair, so people always point it out and say “Oh is that dirt?”, but I don’t really care cause I’m at a place where I like my hair.


I once worked as a social media manager for a beauty supply store and a digital marketing agency. Both of them had issues with my natural hair. Due to just funds and not liking doing my hair at all, my natural hair was easier to maintain. We usually covered events and did front-facing content. I noticed that I was hardly chosen to go for these and any content I did was usually sidelined!

I worked up the courage to complain to my team lead and she used one yeye excuse of seniority to appease me, which didn’t even make sense. A new person’s content got picked over mine when everyone had voted for mine. Omo, I wan craze. She finally said with her mouth that I wasn’t quite fit for this kind of content. It really hurt me mehn.


I hate that we haven’t normalised carrying our natural hair anywhere we want, to any occasion or even just weaving it without hair extensions without being seen as “low-budget babes”. I love my natural hair with all its imperfections and I have not seen a reason that will make me relax it!

Source: Pexels

Final thoughts

Well, how do we free ourselves from the chains of natural hair discrimination so that we can confidently and proudly accept our hair? It all begins with education! We need to teach ourselves and others about the diversity and beauty of natural hair.

Also, charity begins at home! If you feel weird about seeing or proudly having Afro-textured hair as an African man or woman, then you should know that’s a problem.

Embracing our hair is a symbol of commitment to loving ourselves, just as we are.

Tehila Okagbue is a Nigerian writer and storyteller. She enjoys writing because, with it, she is able to weave her thoughts and imaginations into words. Stepping out of her bubble and embracing what she loves the most, she recently co-founded Lady Ink Society; a space for female creative writers to thrive. She’s writing natural hair advocacy pieces when she’s not writing articles of other forms, or fiction. She’s also a stylist and a hair-care consultant.
Catch her on Instagram @te_hi_la, Twitter @tehila_okagbue, and Medium @tehilaokagbue 

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites