Question of the Day: Does Michelle Obama’s Hair Matter?

I’ve written a thing or two about Michelle Obama’s hair, but nothing to match what Erin Aubry Kaplan penned for in February and Jenee Desmond-Harris recent article for Time Magazine. For a lot of people (re: non-black people), black women’s hair is like the mystery of the Sphinx. How did it get that way? Why does it change from week-to-week? Is it real? But those are all much too rude and personal of questions to even ask someone. (Not that rudeness stops them, as I get my fair share of “Is it real? Can I touch it?” requests from white and black people alike.) Because of that perceived rudeness, these articles become necessary to answer the questions of the curious and the confused.

More after the jump.

But for African-American women like me, hair is something else altogether — singular in its capacity to command interest and carry cultural baggage. The obsession with Michelle’s hair took hold long before Inaugural Ball gowns were imagined, private-school choices scrutinized or organic gardens harvested. It’s not that she’s done anything outrageous. The new updo wasn’t really all that dramatic a departure from variations we’ve seen on her before (the “flip-out,” the “flip-under,” the long-ago abandoned “helmet”). Still, her hair is the catalyst for a conversation that begins with style but quickly transcends outward appearance and ultimately transcends Michelle herself — a symbol for African-American women’s status in terms of beauty, acceptance and power.

So you know it. I know it. Most of my readers know it. The author knows it. Hair is treated as a big effing deal by many black women. Sure, one could argue that hair is a big deal for all women and to a certain extent that is true. But white hair has not been as politicized as black hair. No one is going to accuse a white woman of trying to be something she is not because she got a curly perm that day. But if a black woman straightens her hair it can open up a wave of anxiety about conformity, beauty standards, racial pride and acceptance to self-esteem and cries of self-hatred.

Long story short, we got hair issues. But does the First Lady? In her article for Time, Desmond-Harris argues that Michelle Obama’s hair matters for the very reasons I listed above and because of what Ms. Obama represents as the first African-American First Lady.

Does Michelle Obama’s hair, and how she wears it, matter in the larger scheme of how black women view themselves? Do you secretly wish she would rock Malia’s twists one day while strolling out of the White House or do you fantasize about her being attacked by six feet of Yaki? Is it fair to use her hair as a jumping point to discuss black women and their hair in general? Are we asking too much of someone who already has a slew of historical firsts on her plate? And does it bother or concern you if the First Lady is reduced to her physical parts? Like a few weeks back when ever obsessed over her shorts being too short, or when people argue over whether she is classically beautiful or not. Do the aesthetics that make up the outside of Michelle Obama matter?

31 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Does Michelle Obama’s Hair Matter?

  1. She has enough on her plate already. Way more than one person should handle. I think Michelle is doing a good job at representing representing herself, Mr. President, and the family. That’s enough right there.

  2. Let Michelle rock a TWA just once and we will see just how much people "care." I’m more interested in her daughters’ hair. The oldest switches her style often. I like it.

  3. people like who? are the people who blog about her style in there as well? or as long as people aren’t critical or forming non-praising opinions, then it’s ok?

  4. I like that she matters period to a lot of people because that promotes diversity. I like having a strong female by the side of a strong male that I voted to put into office. I like that she encourages her children to rock natural hair styles and conforms only to her own wishes. I like that she ends up in style mags and news mags simultaneously because no matter how much we all act like we don’t judge books by their covers – many of us don’t read.I do love her though, and I would love her no matter what she wears or does to her style/hair. I think it might just be her confidence that makes me proud each time.

  5. Wow! The fact that we have a Black family in the White House must be the reason why Black women’s hair has all of a sudden become a part of the maintsream dialogue. I swear, in the last week I’ve seen aticles in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and now Time Magazine about Black women’s hair like it’s a matter of national security. Anyhoo, I think Michelle should be allowed to wear her hair and her clothes however she sees fit without being subjected to endless scrutiny. However, I will admit…… the fact that she relaxes her hair instead of wearing it natural, so to speak, does make her somehwat more palatable to non-Black people who may not have initially been comfortable with the idea of a Black commander-in-chief. It would be interesting to see how the world would have perceived her during the presidential campaign if she wore her hair in locks, a small afro or Malia-like twists. I think many non-Black folks would have been uncomfortable and would have tried to demonize her even more than they actually did. Heck, even some Black folks are still uncomfortable with natural hair. It is kind of annoying that our hair still carries so much political heft, but considering our history in this country, particularly that of Black women, I guess it’s understandable. For me personally, I am less concerned with how Michelle wears her hair and what designer frocks she’s sporting. What inspires me about her is her education, her professional background and the way she’s raising her family.

  6. I am unapologetically pro-natural* but I really don’t care what Michelle Obama does to her hair. I would be thrilled if she wore a TWA tomorrow, and I hope she keeps Malia and Sasha natural (I assume that’s what they are) but ultimately what she does with her hair and her kids’ hair does not affect me.What I want to know is why some people need the Obamas to be all things to all people. It’s simply not realistic and when it comes to US in particular I’m kind of bothered by this complex some of us have…I don’t know whether it’s a messiah complex or a savior complex or what. I don’t need them to be my role models; I don’t need them to do anything for me other than run the country in a responsible and hopefully progressive manner (and pass universal health care so I can get some, lol).*Everybody should have the right to wear their hair in its natural texture, even black women with Afro-textured hair. I think every black woman should at least know how to care for her natural hair even if she chooses not to wear it natural. (Spare me the argument about relaxed hair being "easier"…most black women have no clue about natural hair care because they’ve never tried it themselves.) Ideally I would like black people, regardless of gender, to stop apologizing for or being ashamed of having African features, including Afro-textured hair if they have it.

  7. @lamorena, I am with you. I’ve been seeing things about black women’s hair everywhere and everyone seems to have an opinion. I like to go to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ site and he wrote about it the other day and most of the commenters were white which was very interesting. One white woman actually had the nerve (in my opinion) to she always assumed black women were straightening their hair to purposely make themselves ugly (she called it deliberate uglification). I mean on the one hand she was saying that she thinks natural hair looks pretty and nice on black women but it really got under my skin that she was saying that those of us who straighten our hair (I’m rockin braids right now but it will be back to straight in a week) are doing it to make ourselves look bad and less attractive. It bugs me that she felt she had the right to go their and comment on something that has no impact on her and two that she would just right a whole group off as "ugly" based on their hair. In a way it seemed just as bad as saying that natural hair is ugly. Personally, I don’t think it is anyone’s business what Michelle Obama does to her hair but since they like to comment on Hillary’s hair too I guess we have to get used to it. Then again, I never heard anyone say too much about the Laura Bush helmet head or the Barabara Bush poofy thing. Why is it that Dem hair gets more commented on. I think she would look great if she say switched it up with some braids, or twists or even just doing a wash and airdry one day and let it be a little frizzy but I think it is her choice but that people would probably go nuts if she did and try to say she was radical, didn’t look first-lady like, etc, etc just as someone else pointed out. Probably if her hair had been natural they would have talked about it so much she would have eventually gotten a perm just to shut people up.Anwya, I like that the girls’ hair is sitll natural and hasn’t been permed yet and hope it stays that way until they are old enough to decide what they want to do with it. Then again, unless she did something really, really super weird, I’m in her corner so I can see no wrong in her actions.

  8. We have no idea what her hair is REALLY like because it is hard to see it through that "big ‘ol weave". Look at her pre-first lady pictures and it is obvious that her hair was neither "bouncin" nor behaving.

  9. I personally hate the discussion of her hair. First, with all that she has accomplished and with all she can accomplish in her position, it’s disheartening to see so much emphasis on her hair. Second, her hair is an assimilationist’s dream and a non-conformist’s nightmare. Can’t you hear the older black women telling you to get a good job and a good man you have to relax and press and curl your hair. Apparently no wants to hire or marry a nappy-headed black woman. Forget the whole idea that it’s what in your head, not what’s on your head. I hate it when a manager (black or otherwise) says that Michelle looks so polished and professional, as opposed to me with my J. Crew outfits and my afro.   

  10. I don’t like the fact the Mrs. O is and has been reduced to hair and clothes. We all know she’s so much more than that. But, I understand why this had to happen – she was frightening to some people and "they" had to soften her up a bit. I’ve never envisioned her as anything other than what she is. When I look at her hair, I think wow, how much time did it take for her to chi through that this morning. Then I start wondering if she has someone to chi it for her, lol! I’ve been natural for a while so I’ve forgotten these things!I think that since our first family is black we are just paying more attention to what’s being said about them. Yes, more is being said b/c they are the first blacks in that position. Barbara Bush received comments about her steely white hair and even had to address why she didn’t dye it. I don’t remember comments about Laura Bush’s hair but I do remember discussions about her clothing and what size she wore. Although she was a very conservative dresser (and boring at that), her suits were custom made by some top designers. Both of these ladies were boring so it was easy for me to ignore them. Last thing – I like how the First Lady is keeping her daughters’ hair natural – especially the older one. To me, this is her way of introducing the natural look to the masses. So the next generation (black, white, blue, and green) will be more comfortable with this look thus making black hair somewhat a nonissue.

  11. The First Lady’s hair? I’m not interested in how she wears it, as I don’t even spend that much time paying attention to my own However, I’ll admit that the first time that I saw her wearing her hair pulled back, after having camera-ready hair the night before, I really admired her even more. It spoke to me that her personal agenda is greater than trying to create some image of flawless cover girl perfection. She’s a real wife, and mother, who lives on her own terms, and just happens to be the First Lady. Mrs. Obama’s work with veterans, the White House edible garden, and her promotion of volunteer initiatives have more merit to me. I also like to see where she takes Sasha and Malia on cultural excursions, and her role in arts advocacy. Mrs. Obama’s independence, and confidence continues to inspire me.

  12. Its sadden’s my heart that we must battle the infamous question of the 21st century, "Is your hair real," as if to ask, "Can a Black woman have naturally full and healthy hair."

  13. I hate the ponytail. It implies no effort when she has a stylist. Her level of attractiveness would be relieved by well groomed hair. Her position as first lady demands it. Like my grandma always said, "Keep your hair fixed and a clean dress on and you can almost get somewhere." That is her hair by the way.

  14. Shelly I agree with your Grandmother, yet it’s not fair that in do so, we "almost" get somewhere, it’s never garunteed. In some cases we end up looking like we overdo things which can hold us back as well.

  15. Let me just say that I didn’t vote for Obama nor do I support him now. BUT, I think she is a very classy, beautiful, first lady and I honestly (being of the white persuasion) have no idea what it takes to get her hair looking the way it does but it really isn’t fair that any woman in government has to deal with this kind of thing. I can’t imagine dealing with that kind of scrutiny on a daily basis, And on something so ridiculous as her hair.

  16. Mainstream Ameriican has always been super-plastic and superficial,,,,,,,,,,is it really that surprising that they make it such a big deal?

  17. Michelle’s hair IS natural, she does not get perms or relaxers. I read an article last year about her not having a perm in over 10 years. Also, Malia and Sasha have NEVER had perms. Blow dry, flat iron, I go to her hairstlylist in Chicago.@noddsYou are ignorant, that is ALLL of Michelle’s hair. If you look at pre-white house photos her hair looks the same. When she was pregnant with Malia or Sasha she wore her hair longer, then she got it cut. Also, she has had the same hairstylist RAHNNI for OVER 20 years, he did her hair for her wedding to the President

  18. @ShellyYour grandma was wrong. This is why blk women have hair issues, they don’t give a sh*t about nothing else, but their hair. BLk women would rather not work out, so there hair want get messed up. Hair, hair,hair….. Hair comes and goes, one can lose their hair within seconds. Blk womens hair hang ups are sicking, watch "good hair" trailer makes blk women look crazy how much time they put into their hair.

  19. Every black woman with straight her DOES not have a relaxer. For example,Taraji p.henson said in EBONY MAG earlier this year that she does not have a relaxer, its just a blow dry, and ceramic flat iron.

  20. Lord, I can still hear my grandmother say "your hair is your crown and glory". Guess that’s why my poor mother has such hair issues even today – and she does not relax and doesn’t need a flat iron. Somehow I escaped. I cut all of my relaxed hair off and tadaaaa, hair becaome a non-issue.

  21. All of this because of Chris Rock’s decision to talk about the women that raised him, fed him, and bought his tickets to make him the rich, while he wears European clothing, goes to white owned restaurant to eat, drives German cars, and so on that he decided to use as the but of white America’s jokes. This "black man" who claims he did this to help us when we did not ask for his help (maybe he should help himself avoid more paternity law suits against him and put some balm on his ashy lips) – who gives his wife Malaack an unlimited amount of cash to give to master celebrity hair weavers, to order her Remy Indian hair for $1000 (because she has a lot of it on her tracks), and another $1,500 to her stylist, to cut it out, then remove the net, then undo her braids, then comb out the dirty flakes and knots, then wash it, cover the greys, then braid it back up in the honeycomb that he showed that poor unassuming woman in the trailer was filmed getting, then the net being sewn back on, then the brand new (cause Mrs. Rock aint using no old hair) packs of Indian hair, probably from the same Indian woman he told to run away if she saw a black woman coming, stich by stitch onto her net and braids, then she sat through the blow out, flat ironing and sprays. And while Chris Rock was outta $2,500 when it was all said and done and would be again in 4 weeks time, Malaack went back to their house at midnight while the nanny put her kids to bed since she was at the salon all day in a secret room for privacy but yet and still, she is not shown or mentioned in this film but the sistas at the Atlanta show are and black students, executives, mothers, wives and good women are now looking at themselves in this trailer saying they had no idea he was doing this "to them" not "for them" and it hurts terribly. I am all for a discussion in our own community about our own issues, but to take it to Sundance where we have no need to be there and have others judge us when they have their own secrets, outted by a black man that got his mansion off of our dollars…I say stop fighting among yourselves and look at who did this to you – today. If you dont like fake hair then dont use fake hair. I hate smokers around me and seeing them in front of their kids but it is not illegal, so its not my job to fight each one, or say something about their choice and we all need to be careful that we do not go attacking each other over things that are simply not our business any more than what kind of napkins you use or toothpaste you buy. "Do you" ladies, the rest aint folks business. For all those claiming they hate seeing sistas in weaves if we knew what you were saying about some of us we could say right back to you "Well we hate seeing sistas so outta shape, wearing skinny jeans that are meant for skinny people" but now…ya’ll don’t want nobody to go there right? So mind your business. I am sure in every dred – afro wearing woman’s closet is a man she should not have slept with, a bill she just never paid, a jacket she stole, a lie she told, so get out of the ring because you are fighting a ghost named Chris who is laughing at you – not with you. And though I sport dreds today, when I had a perm it was my business not anyone elses.If Mr. and Mrs. Rock show up at the Golden Globes, or any other television shows, soley because of his movie – um I mean documentary "Good Hair" and she is not wearing an afro, and he is not in a kinte cloth gown, I think we all need to really examine who got you folks riled up and "why" he did it, then just stop it, dont go see it and stop judging yoru sisters. Big momma back in the day took her jar of Dixie Peach out, greased your scalp and pressed your hair for church on Sunday right? Then made you change to your play clothes after church while you smelled the fried chicken and greens with fat back simmering, and the mac and cheese baking right? Then your big cousin rolled your hair with pink rollers and put a scarf on it to keep it smooth so you would be ready for school the next day for picture day right? Now is Chris saying Big Momma was a sell out, hated her race, hated her self and was a horrible black woman for spending her few dollars on grease, a new good tightly wound hotcomb and a pack of pink rollers? Na..I think Big Momma did what any woman wearing a weave today did..she just wanted to look pretty as she sees herself looking pretty. Period – end of report.

  22. I think her hair is fine. It looks like every other first ladies’ hair, boring and conservative. Whether or not she straightens it is irrelevant. Even if she wore it natural, I’m sure it would still be boring and conservative. And yes I do think she has too many firsts on her plates to be tossed yet another challenge about her looks by… god knows who. I think she’s an attractive woman, but not a supermodel. Just like every other first lady. I don’t remember any of them being gorgeous. Even Jackie was considered unconventionally beautiful.


  24. @Bella you're wrong. I work out regularly and I adjust my hairstyles to accomodate an active lifestyle. Yes, hair is important bc it's apart your physical presentation to the world as are clothes. However, there is no need to run around calling black women crazy in some anger infused haze. Check it girlie. By the way, didn't see Chris Rock's movie ni intentions I hate when men try to be the voice of something that effects women. We can speak for ourselves! Not attacking him, but sometimes the essence is lost in misinterpretation.

  25. i'm still trying to figure out why hair is a big deal with us black women. i tried to figure it out when girls at my highschool would make fun of me because i didn't have a relaxer and told me i had nappy hair. i'm still trying to figure it out now when other black females with natural hair assume i am white-washed because i now have a relaxer and don't tend to speak to me after i come back from the salon. Yes, straight hair is considered flattering by cultures all over the world and yes it is the "safest" hair choice for black women. I know Michelle Obama realizes this and that probably has something to do with her hair choice but who the hell cares? When you are in the political world, especially in conservative state like America it is NEVER acceptable to step outside the comfort zone of the masses. This means different things for different people and for black women this tends to include their hair. However, I hardly think that Mrs. Obama's hair choice can be used to asses her view of herself or anything else for that matter. Her hair looks great. That's it.

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