First Lady Michelle Obama greets David Hall, one of eight citizen co-chairs for the inauguration, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House Thursday, Jan. 17.
As the nation stood still to witness the second inauguration of President Obama, one thing was firmly on the public’s mind. Was it the president’s historic comments on marriage equality, or his promise to address climate change and curb gun violence?
No — it was the first lady’s new haircut.
Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, assistant professor of communication arts at the University of Alabama – Huntsville, said hair in the African-American female community is an “identity marker” that portrays power and success.
“Who is more beautiful, powerful or successful than the first lady?” she said.
The media and public’s obsession about African-American female hair is not something new.
“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair? I just simply gelled it back, put some clips in it and put it in a bun. Are you kidding me? I just made history. And you’re focusing on my hair? I just want to say, we’re all beautiful inside out. I don’t think people should be worried about that. Nothing is going to change,” she told USA TODAY.
Douglas went on to win the gold medal in the individual and team all-around competitions.
Rhonda Lee, a former meteorologist at KTBS in Louisiana, was fired in November after responding to a viewer’s negative Facebook comment about her natural hair. The station let her go citing a violation in its procedures for responding to viewer comments.
Gilchrist-Petty said that notions of what is historically beautiful are based on traditional European white standards — “good” hair was considered long, flowing and straight, while “bad” hair was considered “kinky.” She says that since the first lady is highly esteemed in the African-American community, the power with this position makes black women take special notice of her hair.
“I will not be surprised if we see bangs popping up everywhere,” she said.
Kendra Davis, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, who is also biracial, said that messages sent by the media have shaped how she views her hair.
“I couldn’t use black products because they would gunk up my hair and I couldn’t use white products because it would dry up my hair,” she said.
Davis has just recently started “going back to natural” because she plans on joining the Peace Corps after college and travel to Africa. She says that on return to the United States, she will keep her natural hair because as more products become available for biracial women she will no longer have to use relaxants.
Morgan Dunn, Davis’ college roommate, said that she also felt pressured as a child to relax her hair and still faces pressures from the African-American community and media to fit certain standards of hair maintenance.
“I felt like I had to [relax my hair],” Dunn said. “Everyone else’s hair was straight and it fell down and it was long — just prettier than mine.”
As she entered college, Dunn said that she realized her natural hair was not something to be ashamed of.
“You want to be proud of you own hair, but it is frustrating when the good qualities in it everywhere you go are seen as bad qualities. You can do so many thing with [natural hair],” she said. “That should be a good thing.”
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