By Mazuri Colley

Michelle's Rules: Hair on her terms

Michelle's Rules: Hair on her terms


I was never considered “tender headed”, so as a youngster it was common for me to fall asleep while in the middle of an intense braiding session. My sisters and I would participate in the ritual of getting our hair braided into cornrows for trips to the pool, going on vacation and plenty of other low maintenance good times. Throughout the year our heads could be seen in an array of natural styles but when Easter rolled around we partook in another sacred ritual among Black women…that included a hot comb and sitting still.

I feel a special connection to the Obama children as I see pictures of them frolicking together in cornrowed hair in the summer and then prim, proper, and straight haired at the Inauguration. The similarities between decisions my mother made about my appearance and those made by Michelle Obama despite or perhaps because of the intense limelight showering down on her family are culturally comforting.

In one simple style choice Mrs. Obama pays homage to her upbringing, her culture, and this country’s history. When the First Children wear their hair in cornrows they continue a link to Africa that has survived centuries, the middle passage, slavery, and lasted all the way into today’s modern world. Previous to this administration, the last person to wear the style of cornrows in the world’s most famous residence was most likely in bondage there; today the braids adorn the heads of the offspring of the leader of the free world.

The appearance of black hair, especially for Black women, has been a source of contention since their arrival here in the United States. Michelle Obama has been profiled and re-profiled and can create a media frenzy by just pinning her hair back. The first lady seems keenly aware of the fact that her image is constantly being critiqued, in her position she has little chance to forget. She’s graced the cover of magazine after magazine from Vogue to People. Even the New Yorker had to rethink its infamous portrayal of her as an afro-wearing, gun-toting, and “angry Black woman” during the campaign. Subsequently, as the first lady, she was featured on the cover of its fashion issue. Michelle Obama is very much in control of her image and aware that it should be cultivated. In my opinion, based on her coverage thus far, this has been intimidating to the media.

The fact that Michelle Obama is a modern woman who has accomplished many things academically and professionally is not lost on the American people or the world at large.

It is also clear through her children’s appearance, Michelle is rooted in her own cultural reality. Traditional cornrows remain a hairstyle of the first kids despite or maybe because of the fact that they have all the accoutrements of White America at their feet. This is a testament to Mrs. Obama’s understanding that culture does not have to be left behind to play to a wider (Whiter)
audience.

Mazuri Colley is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, and an editorial intern at whatchusay.com. Express your thoughts on her first whatchusay blog below.

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