Michelle Obama and the Politics of Hair – A Personal Journey

We all beamed at the sight of our new first lady on the news. How beautiful she is? How poised and confident? How accomplished? How loved and admired she is around the world? We’ve ooohed and ahhed over her wardrobe, as well as her arms. As an African-American woman, I beamed with pride but I knew it was only a matter of time before the fascination spread to hair-her perfectly coiffed bob. And from what’s recently been circulating in the blogosphere, it seems like America has arrived on cue because with African-American women, eventually, it always comes down to hair.

Hair can often be a touchy subject in the African-American community. Do you braid? Do you relax? Do you weave? Do you wear naturally? And want does your hair say about you in your professional life and your community. Could you suddenly find yourself ostracized in the workplace because your hairstyle might be considered threatening to some in corporate America? Or could you find yourself criticized by in the African-American community for refusing to conform to the traditional standards of chemically straightened hair.

As an African-American woman pursuing a professional career, I had thought incessantly about the politics of hair before deciding to wear my hair naturally. After a lifetime of soul searching, I had finally come to peace with my hair. I began reflecting on my own spiritual journey precipitated by my hair texture.

Previously, I had worn my hair chemically relaxed, braided, weaved and everything in-between but had always wanted to wear it natural. The majority of my friends and family I spoke to at the time were not supportive of my desire for natural hair. As a recent college graduate, everyone voiced concerns about me being able to find a job, as well as a mate without chemically straightened hair. However, after years of the costs and pain of chemically straightening my hair, I had enough. So ten years ago, one hot summer day, I cut off all of my chemically straightened hair and began wearing my tight kinky hair in a short twisted afro cut close to my scalp.

It was freeing! No more chemical relaxers! No more pain! Two years later, I took an even bolder step and began wearing my hair in locs. I loved it. Every month, year after year, I would watch my locs, along with my own self-acceptance, grow inch by inch down my back. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my moments. There have been comments. There have been questions. There have been looks. But it’s been a small price to pay for the privilege of just being able to be me.

Like Michelle Obama and me, each African-American woman must make a personal decision about whether to wear her hair naturally or chemically straightened. I believe hair just like clothing, make-up, jewelry and even our bodies themselves are surface. You use them as a vehicle to express your spirit-who you are on the inside and who you are striving to be.

Why do I wear locks? I wear them because I like the way they feel. I like the way they look. I like the smiles I get and give to other locked people and others who have chosen to wear their hair naturally. I like what my locks represent to me-a symbol of my spiritual journey toward unconditional self-love and pride in my heritage.