Sometimes I wonder how I miss things. I refer to the comment that Michelle Obama made about her hair in a recent interview to promote her newest book. She said that Americans “weren’t ready” for her natural hair during President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House.
Really? Maybe I’m naïve, but I find that hard to believe. Other than some commentary about her “guns” – her well-toned arms shown off in short sleeve dresses – I don’t recall anyone suggesting that the First Lady shouldn’t wear her hair however she wanted. Or remarking on her hair at all.
In fact, Mrs. Obama appeared on the cover of Vogue three times within seven years and, as I recall, was thought of as a fashion icon during her husband’s term in office. I remember seeing a lot of press about this dress and that. All complimentary.
She had her photo taken by Annie Leibovitz, which is no small accomplishment. (My favorite Annie photo is the one she took of Sting, the singer, au natural, in the desert. But I digress.) People Magazine even wrote of the Versace gown she wore to her final state dinner “to much acclaim.”
I think Mrs. Obama had the kind of stature that would have allowed her to do whatever she wanted with her hair. I’m sorry that she didn’t feel comfortable in braids or an Afro if that’s what she desired. I know I wouldn’t have objected. Nor would any of my friends.
I guess that’s because braids and afros were part of our world long before Mrs. Obama came on the scene.
Bo Derek made Fulani cornrows popular in 1979 in the movie 10. Everyone, including me wanted to wear our hair in those kinds of braids. And some did. Although we never looked as good as Bo.
We all wanted afros when the musical Hair became wildly popular. I read recently that Hair put the counterculture of the 1960s on stage with its “bisexuality, interracial relationships and the rejection of monogamy in front of audiences who had previously been protected from such taboo subjects.” Those were the days. Wait. Those are our days now.
Today, my senior citizen friends and I would be criticized (and rightfully laughed at) if we had cornrows or attempted to wear something like an afro. My larger point is that gone are the days when imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. Now trying to look like someone who is different is considered cultural appropriation.
I don’t want to criticize the former First Lady, but it feels presumptuous of her to assume that we gave her natural hair a second thought or would have been opposed to her showing it off. It makes us sound petty and insensitive and other things that don’t apply to most of the people I know.
What was her point? Mine is that it’s time to stop making negative assumptions about each other and move forward.