Woman of The Week:(NATURA)LISTA Attorney Bisa Ajanaku
Bisa Ajanaku is more than just her hair!
Being a natural-haired woman can come with so many challenges. You have to learn how to stare self-acceptance in the face, you have to block any negativity from people who just don’t agree with, or understand your decision and most importantly you have to “stand in your truth,” and embrace the beautiful curly tresses coming from your head.
“Hold your head up darling, we would hate to see your Crown fall.” <<– A little encouragement for all of my natural-haired queens out there.
Attorney Bisa Ajanaku is an attorney, aspiring collegiate educator and daring natural-haired diva, who is determined to redefine the ideals of beauty for women of color– starting in the workplace.
One of the largest determinants for most women on whether or not they decide to go natural, is usually if they feel like it would be appropriate in “Corporate America.” A lot of times we as women think that we have to sacrifice the health of our hair to maintain our positioning at work, but with the recent explosion of the natural hair movement, that is becoming less and less true.
Natura had the opportunity to speak with Attorney Bisa Ajanaku,the Associate General Counsel, at the largest public academic healthcare system in the state of Georgia. We talked about natural hair, self-acceptance, stereotypes and how to be confident and natural in “Corporate America.”
Check out our chat below, and let me know your thoughts! Have you had any issues with wearing your natural hair at work? (Comment Below)
Malia: Can you tell me about your first experience with getting a relaxer, and why you decided to have one?
Bisa:The first time I had a relaxer I was about 11 years old. I had never had a relaxer before that time. I had locs from age 8 up until age 11, and when I went to live with my relatives, they shaved out my locs. When my hair grew out enough they gave me a relaxer. A Bantu as I recall. Which, if you know about relaxers, a Bantu is a strong one.
Malia:Can you tell me about your experience with wearing relaxers?
Bisa:I just remember that it burned. I was used to having my locs, and not having to have anything done to my hair. But I liked that my hair hung down long, just the way my locs did. I didn’t like the fact that you had to do it so often, but it seemed to make things easier for my aunt, so I didn’t complain too much.
Malia: What motivated you to return back to wearing your natural hair, when it wasn’t necessarily popular?
Bisa:When I was about 19, I shaved out my perm and grew my hair from that tapered little fro into a big fro. I did it because I felt a bit convicted about it all. My family had always been natural, and I didn’t feel like perms were me, and I wanted to be different. I saw myself as a person with confidence and it didn’t seem to fit how I saw myself with the permed hair. It was tough. I think I went natural in 1996, and there were very few women who were doing that. And so, I went through my ugly stage, where I felt so ugly and I had this big fro, and everybody else had these long weaves and these perms. But, I wanted to be authentic, and that has been the theme of my life. For me it was authentic to wear my hair as it grew out, I thought to myself how can I feel like what grows from my hair is not pretty? I just mentally couldn’t make that work. So, I thought this has got to be ok if this is how I came into the world, and this is what comes out of my head naturally. So, I had to find a way to love it, and eventually I did.
Malia:What has your experience been like, working in “Corporate America”, and wearing your natural hair?
Bisa:I have had an amazingly great experience with that. When I was hired for my first job at a big law firm, I had locs. And, nobody said a word. I never felt anything about it, and nobody ever made me feel bad about it. People didn’t even notice it, and if they did they didn’t say it. I always made sure to have my locs groomed, and I didn’t have any unusual colors or anything like that. People really seemed to embrace it. Once I decided to transition out of loc’s, and wearing a curly fro, I get nothing but compliments. People really remember you. You really stand out. But I think how you present it, and how you feel about it, is how other people are going to feel about it too.
Malia:What is the hair demographic in your line of work, but mainly at your law firm?
Bisa:The hair demographic is about 95-96 % of women wearing straight hair. None of my attorney friends wear their hair curly. I am the only one. A couple of my friends who work in government in D.C. do it, but I think the government can be a little more forgiving than the corporate world.
Malia:Do you feel like your friends won’t wear their hair in its curly form because they feel like they wont be accepted or taken seriously in the work place?
Bisa: I do feel that they think that they won’t be taken seriously. I have had people say to me that they want to have a professional look, and don’t believe curly natural hair is professional. I feel like that has been ingrained in us, and what we are supposed to be, and what we are supposed to look like.
Malia:What are you trying to do, break the mold of the way that black women look in the work place?
Bisa: I wear my hair curly 99% of the time and in all of my professional photos. I straighten my hair about 3 times a year. And get so frustrated when I do straighten it and people react like “oh it is so beautiful,” and it bugs me! I walk around with it curly everyday, and I don’t get as many compliments. But I will always stand in my truth. This is a professional look, and this is how I look. If it is ok for our white women to wear their hair straight—what’s natural for them, then it ought to be natural for me to wear my hair the way it grows out of my head. From meetings with my CEO to appearing in court, I embrace that this is me, and that ought to be alright.
Malia:Do you feel like there are overwhelming stereotypes about black women in high power positions, in your field of work?
Bisa:I do think there are. I think there is a stereotype that black women are angry, confrontational, lonely, and unable to be married. There are also stereotypes about how we look, and those to me have a lot to do with if your hair is natural then you must be militant.
Malia: What advice would you give women who are leery about going natural, because of their position at work?
Bisa: I think that it is a process. You should be forgiving and patient with yourself. Thank goodness for blogs like yours, where we can see ourselves because for the most part every magazine we pick up, the standard of beauty doesn’t look like us and the world doesn’t tell us that we are beautiful. So the first thing that I would say is to be patient with yourself. Be patient with the process of breaking down what you’ve been taught. Like I mentioned earlier, I had what I called “my ugly phase,” where I had to embrace everything about myself. What I realized was that people will see it too.
I’m fortunate to have a partner who hates my hair straight but I think that is because all he is used to seeing, is me curly. Then I said this is who I am, this who I’m going to be. It takes time to get there. Also, my advice would be to experiment, and figure out what you are comfortable with. Some women like to do twist outs, so that they can have more control. Some women like to wear their hair shorter, some don’t like wash-n-go’s. Figure out what works best for you so, that when you look in the mirror you begin to become more and more comfortable. I do think, in terms of being professional, one thing you have to do is, you can’t change your look every day. Because people do need to remember you. So, it is important to figure out what your look is. You can deviate every blue moon. I think even if it is a little wild like a color or style that is a little different, as long as it is your signature look. So just take your time, and figure out what works best for you.
Malia: What is next for you?
Bisa:I thoroughly enjoy the work I do at Grady Health System, in the future, however I really look forward to getting involved in education, perhaps as a part time professor. I’m currently involved in several programs that support educational initiatives around legal education for young attorneys.
You can reach her on Linkedin HERE