During the Obamas’ eight years at the White House, Michelle Obama’s hair, and how she wore it, was a point of interest. Now that she’s out of office, it continues to be.
You’ve probably seen this photo floating around of the former First Lady wearing her hair in a low ponytail, in its more natural state—it looks like she had it straightened and then either got her hair wet or faced humidity. Either way, seeing such a casual image of Michelle Obama without her usual straightened coif felt refreshing to many black women, and so, various outlets reacted to the reactions on social media. According to Michelle’s longtime stylist, Johnny Wright, the photo was likely taken at some point during the Obamas’ recent vacation.
For those curious, Wright also told Refinery29 that Michelle started the process of transitioning from relaxed hair back to her natural texture during Barack Obama’s first year in office. Wright says:
“I’m very particular about the health of her hair. I’ve always called myself a texture specialist, and I work well with keeping hair on the head. When your natural hair is growing out, that line of demarcation between the natural hair and your relaxer tends to break and pop. I made sure I kept it very soft and moisturized so she could keep her length as much as she could when she was going through that transition. I trimmed every four to six weeks, as I normally do, and that was it.”
Yes, once again, Michelle Obama is us. The other option, as opposed to growing out the relaxer, would’ve been to Big Chop and cut off all the relaxed ends, but imagine the criticism she would’ve gotten if she was seen rocking a small fro, among the many other ridiculous ways people found to criticize her. Chimamanda Adichie once went so far as to say Michelle’s hair would’ve affected the election—“I’ve often said that if Michelle Obama had natural hair when Barack Obama was running for president, he would not have won. Because her natural hair would have signified certain things to people.” According to Wright:
“She’s always embraced her natural hair. For the looks she was going for and the stories she wanted to tell, I styled her hair straight. There wasn’t any lack of embracing her curls. It’s just what she wanted to do... You have people who are going to love them, hate them, or be indifferent. You can’t dictate the way you want to tell your story through your aesthetic by what the backlash would or wouldn’t be. I don’t think that’s a conversation we would’ve had. We don’t think that way.”
Still, in many ways, being out of office will give Michelle a chance to breathe without conservative hyenas on her back. Wright adds, “I do think that a woman of her complexion, with her figure and her hair texture, has given a whole lot of other women a chance to look in the mirror and say ‘I am beautiful, too’ because I have somebody representing me.”