We all know that Michelle Obama is an amazing speaker. From her speeches to her podcast to her books, you can always count on her to deliver powerful words of wisdom.
Part of what makes those words so powerful is that Michelle Obama doesn’t shy away from the truth, even when it’s painful. This was clear when she was doing a press tour for her latest book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times. During that tour, she mentioned how she was tempted to wear braids as First Lady but ultimately decided against it, fearing a backlash from the American public.
Why did she fear a backlash, though, and how have Michelle Obama’s ideas about wearing braids changed over time? Keep reading to find out!
Sharing her story
We grow up hearing that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, the simple reality is that society judges people by their appearance on a constant basis. This is true even for wealthy and influential people!
And this is something that Michelle Obama understands all too well. As reported by Pop Sugar, Obama was at a speaking engagement to promote her new book and said that she thought about wearing braids as First Lady but realized it would provoke a negative reaction. “I did not wear braids,” she said. “Yeah, we had to ease up on the people.”
Why, though, would braids promote such a strong, negative reaction? It all has to do with persistent racism in America.
Dealing with racist perceptions
During that speaking engagement, Michelle Obama didn’t really elaborate on her previous hair comments. However, in a later interview with Revolt, Obama talked more at length about her hair might have been perceived by certain people.
“To be honest, we were the first [Black president and first lady in the White House]. They gotta get used to us,” Michelle Obama said. She then elaborated on how other things she and Barack Obama did got blown out of proportion. “Now I could show up in braids and now that’s all we talk about. When we did a fist bump with each other, they turned that into a terrorist act.”
Eventually deciding the braids were more trouble than they were worth, Michelle Obama decided on a more conservative hair approach. “It’s just, who needs the hassle? Let me just straighten my hair. I wore weaves, extensions, protective styles, because you get your hair done every day and sometimes twice a day,” she said. “I would not have any hair on my head if I straightened it as much as I had to straighten it.”
Michelle Obama understands the hair dilemma
Michelle Obama’s words serve as a frank reminder that Black women are scrutinized for their hair to an insane and unfair level. How insane and unfair, you ask? According to the Dove 2019 CROWN Research Study for Women, Black women are 3.5 percent likelier to be thought of as unprofessional due to their hair and 30 percent likelier to be explicitly told about workplace appearance policies. Finally, Black women are 80 percent likelier to change their natural hair appearance to fit in and/or abide by the rules at work.
In other words, this is something that all Black women have to deal with regardless of social status. Then, as she is now, Michelle Obama was one of the most powerful women in the entire world. But she still faces this undue scrutiny over her appearance. And like Black women everywhere, she had to contend with the bizarre beauty standards internalized by society.
A different set of beauty standards
America may have fought a revolution to escape the grasp of England, but the country never really escaped the grasp of Europe. That’s because, culturally speaking, we absorbed many European standards for things like beauty.
What does that mean in practical terms? Basically, many people’s idea of what they think of as “beautiful” comes (even on a subconscious level) from European paintings and sculptures. But because these works almost entirely focused on white people, they made some of these features, including the appearance of hair, into what we think of as the norm.
Fortunately, Michelle Obama offered recent proof that you don’t have to be constrained by old-fashioned, European standards of beauty any longer!
It’s both profound and sad to hear Michelle Obama discuss how she grappled with racist hair perceptions during her time in the White House. However, knowing all of that makes her recent decision to rock goddess braids that much more powerful.
According to Pop Sugar, she wore these braids when she went to Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival and attended the premiere of “Descendent.” She was otherwise unflashy, wearing very little makeup and letting her jewelry and hair do the talking.
This was the moment that Michelle Obama decided to stop pleasing everyone else and decided to make herself happy. And her fearless approach to looking like a goddess is something all of us can aspire to!