Hair we go again…

Being the First Lady of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth cannot be easy, with the eyes of the world on your every move – but does being the first Black First Lady come with additional pressures?

Illustration by Nicole Fineman for Time (2009)

Like most females that hold positions in public office, Michelle Obama is scrutinised from head to toe on her choice of attire, whether she should bare her arms or not, which designer she was wearing etc etc – but where the similarity ends with her peers in the political class, is with the attention that her hair has garnered since her husband took office, and it shows no sign of abating if the reaction to the image below  is anything to go by.

I am not my hair... no really I am not !!

The image hit my Twitter timeline mid -week and since then the gained momentum and has gone viral – I have seen the image featured on the Twitter and Facebook timelines of friends and followers from America to Africa, Europe to East Asia!!

The image is courtesy of the powers of Photoshop, and it seems that the originator has yet to be identified….

Before and After (well sort of...)

…and the plot thickened when the photo in question came to the attention of blogger Maeling Tapp, author of Natural ChicaEssence.com reported that Tapp’s Twitter followers began sending her messages saying that Obama’s hair looked a lot like her own…and upon further inspection it does seem to be the case.

Tapp states in the Essence piece:

“A lot of people who follow my blog said, ‘I had a feeling that was your hair,… It’s kind of surprising that other people recognize my hair so well.” 

Hair today, gone tomorrow! Mrs O wears the blogger, Maeling Tapp's hair well.

Like Mrs Obama, I can relate to my hair being of extreme interest, especially in the professional and corporate environment.   This Time.com photo essay is a case in point – an international current affairs magazine painstakingly documenting the evolution of a First Lady’s hairstyle??!!  This is crazy!

My issue is not whether Mrs. Obama wears her hair curly or straight,  but that, in my opinion, her hair garners so much attention due to the fact that Black women in a prominent position is still a novelty.

In one sense, you can understand the fascination that people of other ethnicities have with our hair – I am currently working on a project that is addressing this particular issue, and  it has become apparent that our hair is a complete enigma – and  most questions and queries, to which one could take offense, are really asked out of sheer curiosity.

I have worked in the fashion and beauty industry for some of the world’s leading brands, and even here in London, one of  the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, I was often the only Black person, and almost certainly was the only Black woman working in the head offices of these brands.  Even within the beauty industry – which I expected be more enlightened – I was always being asked about my ‘ever-changing’ hairstyles, if my hair could be touched and how is it  that my hair grew so long over night!  

The long and short of it is (no pun intended)  that I and women like myself are still all too absent in many sections and areas of society.

We have no presence in countless offices  across the city, thus when we do make an appearance it can take our colleagues and peers a while to adjust to our normal hair and beauty routines…but in most parts adjust they do, and they come to the realisation that we have much more in common than that which makes us different.

Judge, Baroness, Entrepreneur...will you be next?

As more and more Black women secure positions of leadership, face the media and take their place in mainstream society, I am looking forward to the  focus being on what is in our heads as well as what in on it.

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Rock of Ages

I was flicking through the latest issue of Grazia magazine yesterday and was thrilled to see that yet again Grazia has used a beautiful black model for the main beauty feature!

Image: Grazia - March 2012

The feature is not colour specific, but focuses on the latest hi-tech, anti-aging products that are on the market – the no-surgery approach to holding back the years.

Image: Grazia - March 2012

I had to smile to myself though, because the choice of model and the content of the feature was somewhat ironic ….has the beauty team at Grazia not heard that ‘Black Don’t Crack’ ???

This widely used term refers to the fact that black skin tends to age very well and the ‘signs of aging’ that the beauty (and cosmetic surgery) industry target with a plethora of products, devices and procedures – crows feet, fine lines and wrinkles, dark under-eye circles and puffiness, loss of elasticity – are not a major concern for the average woman of colour.

I am sure that you have all heard about, commented on and have formulated an opinion regarding  the recent survey of 1,936 American adults conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that while black women are heavier than their white counterparts, they have higher self-esteem and a better body image.  I believe that this higher self-esteem can be also be partly attributed to the fact that the majority of black women do not abhor the aging process.

Now don’t get me wrong, aging is very much a reality for black women and eventually all of the ‘signs’ I mentioned above will begin to surface – however, in my experience, the onset of these changes in the beautiful, strong black women that have been a part of my life were never viewed in a negative light – in fact they was celebrated!

The leading ladies below typify the adage, ‘Black Don’t Crack’ , they are the essence of fabulosity!

Stacey Dash, 46 (45 in this image!)

Denise Lewis MBE, 39

Oprah Winfrey, 58

Iman,56

Diana Ross, 67

Now you may be thinking that if you were a celebrity -with stylists, facialists and personal trainers at your disposal, you would look fabulous too, right??

Well all I can say is that for me, the most stunning, resplendent black women that I was surrounded by as I grew up, were those with whom I attended church.

I grew in the Pentecostal church, and it was here in particular that I saw Black women of all ages – young women who were just blossoming and the matriarchs who had held the fort for decades – dressed to the nines and looking spectacular week after week after week.

An essential item of attire that conferred a regal finish was the indispensible church hat.

Oh happy day!

When these women were dressed in their matching hat, suit, bag and shoes –   you saw a confident, beautiful, representation of the black woman, one who celebrated her external appearance as she tended to her internal, spiritual being.

These women are our mothers and grandmothers, our aunts, our sisters and our friends.  As a young girl, and now as a young women,  women such as these continue to inspire me.

In 2009, just after the historical election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America, Essence magazine ran this cover of First Lady Michelle Obama and her mother Marian Robinson.

I still have a copy of the magazine on my coffee table, it is such a beautiful depiction of black womanhood and I love it so much!  Mrs Robinson was 72 at the time that this image was taken… she looks amazing!

Age ain’t nothing but a number – embrace your outer beauty – which can only be a reflection of your inner confidence and the love that you have for yourself.