What is your name?
Sybil Sakle Thompson
Where do you live?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
What is your occupation?
I’m a lawyer by training.
What is your educational background?
My Bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto was in International Relations and Social Cultural Anthropology. I then did my Master’s degree in Social Anthropology at Oxford University. I studied Law at McGill University and was awarded both B.C.L. (Civil Law) and LL.B. (Common Law) degrees. I was called to the Bar in Ontario in 2010.
How long have you been natural?
Since the age of fifteen.
Why did you decide to “go” natural?
My hair has always been coarse and styling it was a constant source of pain and frustration, even in childhood when my mother would braid it once a week. As I got older I tried out Jheri curls once, then defaulted to regularly relaxing my hair by the age of ten and occasionally wearing braided extensions. Even though relaxing was supposed to be less painful than braiding my hair once a week, and less expensive and time-consuming than having braids put in, it didn’t make taking care of my hair any easier—occasionally the scalp burns I suffered from the relaxer were far more painful than having my hair combed.
Because I associated my hair with frustration and pain I neglected it and it didn’t grow. By the time I was in my teens, I was tired of fighting with my relaxed hair every day and dissatisfied with the way it looked—unkempt and uncared for.
Cutting it off and adopting a short ‘fro at age fifteen was a liberating experience, and I have never once regretted it.
What is your go-to natural hairstyle?
I keep my hair natural and very short, cut close to my scalp with clippers by my barber.
Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?
I have never had anyone confront me directly about my hair or offer any negative comments or criticisms. Inquisitive and sometimes dismissive looks have sometimes been directed at me from afar in some workplaces, but no one has yet had the courage to tell me that my hair is inappropriate or unprofessional.
I look forward to having the opportunity to converse with and educate anyone who in the future might offer negative criticisms of the way I choose to wear my hair. Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes that are associated with natural Black hair through respectful dialogue with parties who are interested in listening to and learning from my experiences as a natural hair “advocate” is always a pleasure.
What do you love most about your natural hair?
Natural hair to me means freedom. I always feel most beautiful when I have just had my hair cut short and my edges lined up with a straight razor. I find the very process of having my hair cut at the barbershop to be a restorative and cleansing experience.
I value the fact that wearing my hair cut close to my scalp means that there is nothing for me to hide behind. Everything about me—my face, my comportment, and my affect—is immediately visible to anyone who chooses to look at me and take the time to see me.
Short hair also means that my grey hairs, wrinkles and acne scars are as apparent as the shape of my skull. Each of these individual elements contributes to the unique whole that is me.
Accepting my self in my natural state encourages other people to consider the possibility that Black is normal and natural—and that it can beautiful as well.
In short, for me, keeping my hair short and natural affirms to myself that there is nothing about myself that I want or need to hide.
What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?
Because my hair is very short I don’t have the option of adopting lots of different hairstyles. I do sometimes tie my hair up with fabric when I want to try something different. Making different shapes and folds and carefully pleating the fabric of a head tie can sometimes be as time-consuming as styling longer natural hair—at least it is for me, since my fingers are not so nimble.
How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?
My hair stays the same no matter where I find myself—and that consistency of style contributes enormously to my efforts to maintain balance in my very busy life.
My short natural hair is very low-maintenance. I wash and condition it once each week with a plant-based, sulfate-free, unscented shampoo and conditioner. I also wash my hair whenever I exercise at the gym. I use coconut oil to condition my hair and scalp after they are washed. I comb it a few times each day with a fine-toothed comb. I have it cut every four to six weeks at a local barbershop. I use a lidocaine-based ointment to prevent razor bumps along my hairline. Otherwise, I leave my hair to its own devices.
What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?
Do it and don’t look back! You will be liberating others from the misconception that natural hair is inappropriate in any workplace.
You will also be giving yourself a gift. Your natural hair will require a different kind of maintenance than your current style, but that maintenance is a part of the self-care that is so important for every person to engage in. Never doubt for a moment that this self-care is something that you deserve:
Condition your scalp well with coconut oil and shea butter. Rinse your hair with water steeped with cinnamon, and soothe itchy spots on your scalp with drops of peppermint oil mixed with charcoal. Wrap your braids in soft fabric before you sleep, and pick out your ‘fro with a wide-toothed wooden comb in the morning. Use sweet-smelling cocoa butter to loosen any stubborn tangles and kinks.
Take pride in the glory of your hair, and don’t begrudge yourself the time spent taking care of it and yourself.
As well, please don’t be afraid to ask questions of other women (and men!) whom you see wearing natural styles about what their experiences have been, in reflecting on what style or styles might work best for you. Remember: in choosing to adopt a natural hairstyle you are in step and in solidarity with many other people who choose every day to make this transition!