I’m Natasha Sumner and I am from Santa Rosa, California.
Growing up, I was a rough and tumble kid. I loved to be out in the dirt, out in nature. It was the place where I felt most at home. My mom really wanted me to look girly. In her mind, “girl” equaled dresses, long hair and that sort of thing. It was unpleasant as a kid to have to do that. It was uncomfortable. I do recall one specific instance where I had to wear a white dress for communion with a little bridal-looking kind of headpiece. It was the most uncomfortable thing, and her praise around it was even more uncomfortable.
As I got a little bit older and dressed myself in high school, the comments then became more about my physical appearance, my face in particular, wearing makeup. Right after college, I had a boyfriend who really focused on my looks. I did have long hair at that time and I did wear makeup, and he often would make comments about the way that I looked. I recall one particular time where he made a comment that he said, “You should wear makeup all the time because that’s how you look pretty.” It was pretty devastating to me.
This carried through really all the way through my thirties up until my late forties, really, in my professional life. Being in court, showing up as what others would perceive as a straight, feminine… straight woman. Then COVID hit.
I was getting a new job at a new law firm, which was very exciting. So I took this even more as an opportunity to show up the way that I wanted to with people who I’d never met and they’d never met me. This would be how they would see me.
I had a friend who was a hairdresser. I remember that day. You know, we texted, it was COVID, we had to wear masks, but she was willing to do this for me. She got those clippers out and started shaving the side of my head and it was just… it was like freedom. But the car ride home even, it was like a new lease on life, I guess, in some way.
I remember just being at home sequestered as we all were, and looking in the mirror and seeing me. I felt so comfortable at my new job. I really enjoyed being on camera with all of the new people who I was meeting. It was going… you know, just going along and it just felt really good. And I over time would shift my hairstyle to something different, but it was always in a way that felt like me.
So one day I was on a video call with a prospective client. A few maybe days or a week or so after the last call, one of the folks who was on the call with me who works from the same firm mentioned to me that this prospective client referred to me as “the one with the short hair.” She said this to me not to hurt me of course. It was because of the nature of the conversation in terms of the work that they were looking to hire us for.
But it then just really brought me back to my childhood and this focus on how I looked. It really affected my self-esteem and my self-confidence in sort of how I show up when I’m talking to prospective clients. Initially, I wasn’t even sure that I really wanted to say anything to anybody within the firm. This is a prospective client and do I talk about this and maybe I just kind of shut up and just let it go basically. There was something in me that said, Don’t do that.
I really was hoping that I could get some support. So I first reached out to the colleague who had shared this initial statement with me. We had a really, really supportive conversation. That really allowed me to then reach out to an additional colleague, another person who was on one of those calls. We talked about the statement and how that impacted me and how I felt, but we also talked about going to the DE&I folks at my company and sort of how to do that.
It was a little uncomfortable even thinking about going and making even sort of a bigger deal out of this. I also felt kind of a sense of, I want to say the word pride, which is funny. I felt a sense of pride in that I was willing to kind of go outside of my comfort – my own comfort zone.
“I felt a sense of pride in that I was willing to kind of go outside of my own comfort zone.”
Today, as you can see, I kept my hair short and revel in it all the time and really enjoy it. You know, I can’t say that these fears of mine and these sort of belief systems don’t… aren’t there from time to time, but knowing that I have support within the firm, I have support in my personal life, I’m able to… the impact is different. And I don’t feel any desire to change how I look.
Being able to reflect on my childhood has actually… it’s just such an interesting thing that we come full circle. And then coming back to today at much older and really… I’m really back to that six year old again. And it… it just… it’s like, again, I use this term coming home, but that’s just what it feels like.