If Michelle Obama Went Natural

Last week a photograph of First Lady Michelle Obama rocking a kinky, coily ‘do went viral. While I was overwhelmed by how gorgeous she looked with natural  hair, I knew not to get too excited.  I knew it had to be the work of Photoshop not her stylist Johnny Wright. 

But I’ll be honest. I really, really want my First Lady to go natural. For a few days I couldn’t exactly articulate why, but Patrice Yursik (a.k.a. Afrobella) explained it perfectly. Writing for xoJane.com, Yursik said:

“…many of us who wear our hair natural tend to look for validation on television, in advertising, in magazines and on blogs. We anoint celebrities as our hair icons. We’re looking for a Beyonce or Oprah or Michelle Obama to rock a fro to show the whole world what we already know — that our hair is indisputably gorgeous in its natural state.”

The hair placed on the head of FLOTUS in this faux photo is that of Maeling Tapp of Natural Chica. Yursik  interviewed her on the matter. Tapp addressed the fact that for years wearing a natural hair style has been seen by some as unprofessional or not formal or elegant enough. She went on to say: 

“With more women embracing and wearing their natural texture, many of these negative stereotypes are slowly being diminished. I believe that there were many people who saw this photo and thought of the major impact that Mrs. Obama could have had in further diminishing these negative ideas associated with natural hair.” 

Yes! That’s exactly why I wanted so badly for that photo to be real. 

Sadly, Yursik and I both doubt that the country is ready for a first lady who sports natural hair. And I’m not just talking about white Americans. There are still plenty of folks in the black community too who frown upon afros, dreadlocks, and voluminous curly coifs.  In fact, when I went natural about 10 years ago, my white friends and co-workers lavished me with compliments while several black friends and family members looked at my head and said, “You need to get a perm.” 

But I am hopeful that one day these attitudes will change. 



  1. Thank you for this post! The African American community is still afraid of what we were born with. I’ve been natural for about two years now and I am still bombarded with looks and comments of disapproval. I love my natural hair. I love to see others with natural hair. I have vowed to raise my daughter to love her natural hair. Who knows? Hopefully this picture was inspiring. Maybe some day soon we will have more of the women that we all look up to make the same statement with their hair.

  2. I left this on FB in response to someone’s comment, “Does the First Lady have the courage to break with tradition and political consultants?”

    Why is it about courage? Maybe the First Lady’s personal style preference is to have her hair relaxed. While I appreciate the post and think the Photoshop picture of Michelle Obama sporting natural hair is beautiful (and professional and elegant), I think she’s beautiful with straight hair, too. I think she’s even beautiful with a baseball cap on.

    All that drooling is to say, I think Afrobella, Natural Chica, and–at least in this post–Javacia, and many other black women who wear their hair natural, assume that black women who wear their hair relaxed are doing so only because tradition, work, politics, shame, or lack of appreciation for African beauty restricts their choices. For some, it’s about time management or just about what they like.

    Yes, we’re conditioned to prefer European features over African ones, and that influences our choices, just as seeing the First Lady choose the African style over the other would influence others’ choices. But naturals shouldn’t expect or even want women with relaxed hair to choose styles they don’t like or don’t want out of a higher calling to embrace blackness.

    • Mariam, I think you’re misreading the purpose of my post, Afrobella’s post and Maeling’s comment and conflating that FB comment you mentioned with what we were trying to discuss. We’re not saying that Michelle Obama wears straight hair because she’s afraid not to do so. I, like you, disagree with the sentiment that she lacks the “courage” to sport a curly coif. It may very well be her preference and that’s fine. She’s beautiful and admirable regardless of what her hair looks like. And I don’t assume every woman with a relaxer is somehow ashamed of her heritage. When I occasionally wear my hair flat-ironed straight I’m not doing so because I suddenly became ashamed of being of African descent. It’s usually just because I’m bored. The thing that we were all examining was why we natural women wanted so badly for the photo to be real and it’s because natural hair is still looked down upon by so many that it is reassuring to see someone you admire sport natural hair too. I don’t think it’s Mrs. Obama’s responsibility to go natural to make us feel better about ourselves and as Afrobella mentions in her post we shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on her. But the bottom line is as humans we do get a little confidence boost when the people we look up to are making choices similar to ours. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, it’s just how it is. And this post was examining that issue, not claiming that the FLOTUS needs to buck up and go natural.

    • And to add on to this, let me explain why seeing the ones we admire make choices similar to ours, especially with regard to natural hair is a big deal: it gives us a bit of hope. Just as Maeling says, seeing someone like Michelle Obama with natural hair could very well do a lot to change the way natural hair is viewed and change those ideas that natural hair isn’t professional, etc.

    • You’re right: I was conflating the purpose of your post with the FB comment. And I agree that it’s a big deal when big names go natural; I cheered when Viola Davis did it at the Oscars.

      But I also find the need for validation problematic. True, “as humans we do get a little confidence boost when the people we look up to are making choices similar to ours,” but because of black women’s history of not being seen as beautiful, that need for validation isn’t just about saying, “See? The consummate professional, elegant woman wears her hair natural, so why does anyone still have a problem with it?” It’s also about embracing us when we look like we naturally look and not seeing the curls themselves as a negative stereotype, which then points to the celebrity endorsement also being about embracing our heritage. The latter is not the point of your post, but I think it’s inseparable from the unprofessional/not formal or elegant enough conversation.

      The courage comment irritated me for the reasons I explain above.

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