C.J. Walker, please. Elizabeth Johnson Lindsay Simmons Williams, Serena Numerous Black women have repeatedly shown that anything is possible. Black women have always and still do perform at a high level of excellence in the face of sexism, colorism, and racism, from leading the hair-care industry in an era of ferocious and overt discrimination to being the youngest full-time woman trader on the New York Stock Exchange. They are, however, speaking up more than ever about how this pressure has impacted their personal lives. Michelle Obama is a good example.
Obama revealed that she wanted to wear her hair in braids during her tenure as first lady of the United States but finally opted against it during a speech while on the press tour for her new book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times” ($17, initially $33). During the occasion, Obama stated, “I did not wear braids. In addition to the psychological toll that focusing on appearances so intently for eight years likely took on her, her reluctance to wear her hair how she truly wanted to is also a sobering reminder that society still has a long way to go when it comes to true equity. “Yeah, we had to ease up on the people,” she said.
The revelation shone a bright light on the fact that white European beauty standards continue to define how people are expected to exist in Western civilization, regardless of how affluent, intelligent, or revered Black women are.
According to the Dove 2019 CROWN Research Study For Women, Black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to conform to social norms or expectations at work, 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy, and 3.5% more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional” because of their hair. The idea that Michelle Obama, who is arguably one of the most powerful people on earth, nonetheless experienced the same pressure that Black women feel on a daily basis when it comes to hairstyling is simultaneously sad and infuriating.
To everyone who has made her or any other Black women second-guess their decision in hairstyle, watching her on stage recently in goddess braids felt like a middle finger. Obama’s new braided-hair era almost feels like licence to take up space; it feels lovely to witness, have modelled, and silently glorify. She wore them on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and in her braided half-bun hairstyles for official press appearances.
It’s time for Black women to feel secure and empowered to style their hair whatever they like, free from the conversation and think pieces that go along with it. It is unjust for a whole group of individuals to have to balance a decision about something as trivial as beauty against probable exaggerated reactions that could have an impact on their livelihood. Additionally, spending so much time on something that the majority of the rest of the country considers to be fairly inconsequential detracts from the things you can do to benefit society as a whole. So, even though Black women continue to accomplish remarkable things, it’s time for us to just be, in any fashion (and hairstyle) we see fit.