The September issue of O just hit stands, and the cover model is, as always, Oprah herself. But the joyous-looking photograph by Ruven Afanador is special: Oprah's hair appears in its natural state.
According to her website:
For the first time ever, Oprah's appearing on the cover of O without blow-drying or straightening her hair. She says that wearing her hair naturally — as she often does on weekends and on vacation — makes her feel unencumbered. But there was a time when she wanted to just cut it all off. "I wanted to wear it close-cropped a la Camille Cosby but her husband Bill convinced me otherwise. 'Don't do it,' he said. 'You've got the wrong head shape and you'll disappoint yourself.' I took his advice," she says. Although, never one to shy away from a style update, Winfrey is a firm believer that changing your hairstyle can change what we see and feel is possible. "I even notice a change in my dogs when they get their summer cuts: they're friskier and livelier, feeling more themselves once the weight of the hair is released."
This issue comes four years after the women behind Naturally Curly wrote an open letter to Oprah, disappointed that her Great American Haircut Makeover subjects with curly hair were made "better" by being given straight hair:
In case after case, beautiful waves, curls and kinks were beaten into submission with blow dryers, flatirons and extensions. In one of the most curious cases, a beautiful woman — who was wearing a gorgeous and undoubtedly hard-won afro — was given stick-straight extensions.
As previously discussed here, black women are socialized from a young age to believe that their hair is "bad." Ad campaigns call black hair uncivilized. Western standards of beauty are very narrow; the women most often seen as "pretty" or "beautiful" — models, celebrities, newscasters — rarely have kinky hair. (Celebs who start their careers with curly hair — i.e. Mariah Carey, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Leona Lewis and Beyoncé — straighten it out when they become more successful; a sign that they're made it. ) For every video encouraging black girls to love their hair, there are a million cues intimating that it needs to be fixed, straightened, covered, altered. Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair attempted to get to the root (heh) of the issue, but the fact remains that there is enormous pressure on black women in our society to conform to a non-natural norm. Failure to do so can sometimes seem drastic: Afros are considered corporate no-nos; Six Flags refused to hire two women because of their dreadlocks. So Oprah — a billionaire, the wealthiest black woman in the world — daring to showoff her natural hair is a notable occasion. It would be great if it were not; what is more banal than hair growing out of a head, just proceeding as usual? Unfortunately, seeing a woman with black hair in its natural state in the public eye like this is a big deal.