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Michelle Obama Shows Off Her Curls...Did This Moment Come Too Late?

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Of course not! I put that out right in the beginning because I know y’all was ready to come for me!!!! Lol. But all jokes aside this is an epic moment...period. Michelle Obama, affectionately thought of as our forever First Lady has finally given me what I’ve personally always waited for...wearing her natural hair out in public! I’m sure I’m not the only one...come on! Have you found yourself secretly wishing you would one day see a head of springy coils and kinks radiating from her regal head? Well, I have and I also have many, many questions like: who’s idea was it for her to wear her natural hair on the cover of Essence magazine? Was she nervous about the reaction she would receive, what products did she use...will this be the one and only time we get to see this new look? I can probably come up with some more but the most pressing question for me at this time is...why now?

Michelle Obama has been in the White House for 8 years and we didn’t see not one glimpse of a nap or a coil or a curl in that time...and especially not during any of the campaigns. It was straight smooth tresses...part in middle and straight, part to the side and straight, up in a sleek ponytail and you guessed it...straight. Even when she visited Liberia, on the Motherland, a few years back for the Educate Girls Around the World initiative. I hoped she would have taken a page out of Auntie Oprah’s book and sported some cornrows or braids or a nice luscious puff while she visited with the young girls but....nada!

Michelle’s hair was as sleek as ever and so were the strands of daughters Sasha and Malia who also accompanied Michelle on this trip to inspire young girls in the region. I couldn’t help but wonder what those young girls were inspired to?  Could it be that in order to be taken seriously and to get to Michelle’s status even or anything remotely close...your hair has to be straighter than straight? What could it have meant to those little girls if they could relate to Michelle Obama on a much deeper, fundamental level as their natural hair?  "Is it that deep?" you may ask. Hell yeah it’s that deep! 

I mean, yes, First Lady Michelle Obama came to visit them in their country to support them in their education and to let them know that they could achieve anything they put their mind to...but, could they also achieve freedom to be themselves naturally? Something that seemed to elude Michelle Obama for what we could argue are good reasons.

Image is very very important. So much so that even Michelle Obama dared not to show her natural hair for 8 years...and it wasn’t because she wasn’t natural. She was 100% natural according to her long time hairstylist Johnny Wright. I totally get it...Michelle’s job wasn’t to satisfy my wish of seeing her natural hair and I also get that she was terribly scrutinized for every little thing she did. If you thought the attention she got for getting bangs was a bit much imagine if she came out rocking a fro to one of the state dinners *gasps*.  The press would’ve had a field day… I on the other hand would’ve celebrated and most likely wouldn’t have been alone. We would’ve had a Michelle Obama parade and declared an international holiday in her honor!!  And I would’ve been right on board with all of it…maybe even on the planning committee!

But speaking of Afros, Michelle may have had good reason to not want to go there. Remember the cartoon in the New Yorker that was drawn of her and Barack...she was sporting an Afro, holding a machine gun with bullets sprawled across her chest and Barack wore a kufi and a dashiki.  The cartoonist who drew that image explained that he was trying to show how irrational people were acting about the Obamas by painting a ridiculous image that spoke to the very fears people held about what it would be like if the Obamas made it to the White House.  Even with that good intention from the cartoonist, that image stuck.  It struck a chord especially with Black women who have been called an ‘angry Black woman’. 

The New Yorker Cartoon

You can’t get no angrier than toting a machine gun.  But notice, the Afro was chosen to underscore her anger, her protest, her resistance.  It wouldn’t have come off the same if she had her straight tresses flowing in the wind.  He wanted to make a point so therefore he used the image of an Afro. So yes, I understand…there were some real things to consider coming into the White House as the first Black family…ever!  I can imagine that Michelle faced many battles in which she had to decide which ones to fight and which ones to let go. I imagine that choosing to wear her natural hair was one of the battles she felt she could let go of…at the time.  I would say that Michelle Obama is, and arguably always will be, the epitome of intelligence, grace, humility and sista girl realness…aka BlackGirlMagic!  I think as with anything, change is a process and we arrive in stages …I am fully convinced that Michelle and her time in the White House has moved the needle forward in many ways and her impact will be felt for generations to come.

Sadly, in this country, natural hair is political and as much as we hate to admit it, we aren’t able to get away from it that easily.   Michelle Obama not being free enough to wear her hair as it naturally grows out of her head speaks to the complexities of being a Black woman in America.  According to an interview Oprah conducted with Michelle about her newly released novel, Becoming, the Obamas were under an enormous amount of pressure being the first, First Black Family.  These instances leaves me wondering how do we decide on what we take a stand on.  Think about the pressure we feel as women when we decide to return to our natural hair, the questions of whether we will be accepted by our peers, our loved ones, our coworkers, and the world in general.  All of these questions are normal as we know that society deems straight hair as the standard of beauty. So much so that we have internalized these beliefs that have turned into hate and shame of our hair and we’ve told ourselves that our hair isn’t good enough, beautiful enough or just enough period.  We, however, also had the luxury of not being known by almost every human being in the world.  Imagine the feeling of your not so bomb twist-out being seen by your co-workers versus giving a speech in front of thousands of people!   Multiply all the potential worries and pressures we feel as everyday citizens by a thousand and I can begin to understand what Michelle Obama may have been struggling with.  If I think about it that way I can empathize…I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.  There does come a point when the shift happens…and it will happen.  For some it’s circumstances, for others its timing, but the common thread is a shift in our own mindset that challenges what we used to believe. 

At this moment in time, Michelle Obama has been out of the White House for 2 years now and have been in the media campaigning and now promoting her new book.  For all intents and purposes she still could have chosen to wear her hair straight on this Essence cover and no one would have blinked (except maybe But the point is she didn’t have to.  Michelle doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone…I would like to think that she made this decision for her.  Just like the hundreds of thousands of women who have made the decision to wear their hair in its natural state despite what is at stake.  Judgment, ridicule, stares, comments, people trying to touch it….it's a lot and it's a cost we pay for being our authentic selves.  We come to that decision because it's important and it is our right for us to be our true selves.  Everyone else gets to be themselves, although its more difficult in this society for some more than others but that’s where resistance comes in.  Resistance is what is necessary.  Anyone who wears their natural hair isn’t more Black than anyone else.  They are though expressing physically an ideal and ideology that is in opposition with the status quo and for that they all get kudos from me and the world.  They are the ones that sparked this natural hair movement.  They are the ones that are keeping it going and inspiring conversations, creating new images, and more importantly being a living example for Black and brown girl to see themselves. This is what makes it easier for that mind shift to take place in them too.  As long as this standard of straight hair exists there will be resistance. 

Michelle Obama is part of that resistance…she knew the risks, felt the fear and did it anyway.  I’d like to think that this act was one of the many that aides her in ‘Becoming’ more of Michelle Obama and that’s what we all go through as Black women.  Will we ever have a Black woman in the White House again, either as First Lady or even President…who knows?  Hopefully when we do, she will be empowered enough to do whatever she pleases with her hair. 

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