Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why Hair is Such a Big Deal

I just read the article "Why Michelle Obama's Hair Matters" on Time Magazine's website. (And no, Michelle was not named after her!) Most non-black people have no idea how important black hair is and how much controversy there can be over how women wear it. Over the past 1 1/2 years, I've been educating myself as much as possible on it. I've taken a class on it, I've read books and magazines and websites about it, and I have stopped many, many people in the store or on the street or at work to ask them about it. I also ask my own personal expert, Auntie E, whatever questions I have. (And she is very quick to tell me what I'm doing wrong!)

The biggest debate seems to be over natural hair--hair that has not been permed (straightened) or had anything else done to change the texture of it. Michelle Obama's hair is far from natural, as it most black women's hair. There is a growing movement that pushes for natural hair, but our society definitely treats women differently when they have natural hair instead of permed/altered hair.

The article explains that "the choice many black women make to alter their hair's natural texture has undeniable historical and psychological underpinnings. It has been attributed to everything from a history of oppression and assimilation to media-influenced notions of beauty and simple personal aesthetics. But one thing is certain. For the many who wear straightened styles like Michelle's, the decision is deliberate, and the maintenance is significant."

What caught my attention the most, though, was what several women said about wearing their hair natural in the workplace:

Some black women note that Michelle's choice to wear her hair straightened affirms unfair expectations about what looks professional. On a reader empathized with Michelle's playing it safe in the White House and outlined her own approach: "Whenever I start a new job I always wear my hair straight for the first three months until I get health care. Then gradually the curly-do comes out." Another echoed the practice: "I wait about four to six months before I put the [mousse] in and wear it curly ... I have to pace myself because it usually turns into a big to-do in the office."

Obviously, as a mother of a black girl, this is a very significant issue for me, but it also applies to all of us, even you. We always say that we aren't racist or at "color blind" (which really isn't a good thing, but that's another post), but how would we react if someone such as Michelle Obama went natural (aka kinky)? Our immediate reaction is that we wouldn't really have a reaction at all, but I guarantee that almost all of us would have some sort of reaction (and probably not a very positive one) if that did happen.


Blueberry said...

i think that picture (natural) you link to is stunning! she is beautiful and so is her hair! as long as you are taking care of your hair (it is clean and healthy) i don't think it should matter how you wear it- no matter who you are. that being said, you are right- for many people it really does matter.
i'm not a fan of "doing" my own hair (i'm a wash and air dry girl) so i can't imagine the time and effort some people go through to get just the "right look". it simply wouldn't do it myself so i can't expect anyone else to.

stephanie garcia said...

What a great article, very thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing this.

Brittany said...

Even if she were white, they would comment on her clothes and her hair... It's always been apart of being the first lady.

And I agree with Carey. What in the world is the big deal?! I hate doing my hair. I straighten it, yes... but merely so that I can dry it out enough to not wash it for two days. Seriously. lol It's laziness, not for a fashion statement. ;) Personally, Mrs. Obama could have purple hair and I wouldn't care.

Mary said...

Even though I have boys and don't have the same concerns that I would have if I had girls, I know that caring for their hair is more complicated than what my sister deals with. I want them to have nice looking hair and we struggle with it sometimes. As far as Mrs. Obama's hair, I think it looks nice. The article you linked to was quite interesting.

Life with Kaishon said...

I will just say this on the subject: I have worked with a great number of children since beginning my career. By 6th grade at the latest EVERY child has straight hair. Every single one. We are talking about very poor people. Interesting. I like Michelle's hair. Mrs. Obama's and also your Michelles.