News has reached us over here in England of Chris Rock's new documentary about to hit your screens called; 'Good Hair.' An exploration of the lengths black women go to achieve that long and straightened, relaxed look with their tresses. I was also surprised to come across the US media frenzy debating whether or not Michelle Obama should wear her hair 'natural' instead of the straight look she currently adopts. So, I suppose this is where I'm supposed to take a so-called moral high ground and say; 'I NEVER chemically straighten my hair, wear weaves or spend half my salary at the hairdressers,' But.... erm, I can't do that as I was taught never to lie. Instead, let me casually move the subject back to that of your First Lady Michelle Obama and how black women outside of the states view her look.
In England, we watched your election with awe, wonderment and eventual surprise when the Obama family took office. The proceeding fascination with the First Lady, although expected, added fuel to debates on black hair. Relaxed, twisted, braided, natural, straightened, we were bombarded with a gallery of terms to describe the family's ever changing styles, and to African-Americans and Black British people alike, a familiar way of styling that has been practiced for generations. But I suppose when you are the First Family, everything is scrutinized with a microscope - yet the good thing about this, is that it brings forward debate - or opinions from female bloggers with too much time on their hands... So I decided to find out what the ladies here in the UK thought about it via a grand scientific poll (erm, asking a few of my girlfriends) to assess what the current consensus was around this hot topic of natural vs relaxed vs weaves.
From my girlfriends' perspective, being able to change hair styles with the aid of hair extensions or weaves once a month has more to do with having the power to look different on a whim, than a deeper psychological reason. Oh and a lot to do with laziness as the thought of just giving the mane a quick run through with the hand before heading out for the day as opposed to a thorough comb job is quite appealing. Leaving them time to get on with other things (although one could argue that the eight hours a month spent getting it styled is just as time consuming).
We also discussed how differently strangers seemed to react to certain hairstyles. I recalled my funky afro a few months ago drawing comments as diverse as 'Right on Sistah' to 'edgy' whilst the straight and long look seemed to elicit less of a reaction. Perhaps this was because it was such a common style. A look that many women adopt, not least Mrs. Obama.
According to a recent NY Times article, there can be a belief that if you keep your hair natural, you are a rebel and perhaps more radical or dare I repeat - 'more in touch with ones Africanness,' whilst those who use a relaxer are, let's just say, not that into it. Of course we did not agree with such bold statements for two reasons: a) we have no such insecurities regarding our africanness; and b) whilst visiting Mums, aunties, nieces, cousins and second cousins in Africa it was normal to see a mass of straight hair at every turn. And their 'Africaness', could never be questioned.
We debated the historical and psychological factors many feel are responsible for the rise in women who relax or weave their hair and it all got a bit confusing and we were unable to reach firm conclusions. However, we did all manage to be united on one fact though: Just like we do not care if Mrs. Obama's J Crew Cardigans match or not, or if she should wear shorts, we are also unconcerned about whether her hair is cut into a Rihanna-type straight bob or twisted into natty dreadlocks. We are still just floored by the strength, intelligence and humility of your First Lady and the hope she has inspired within us. Living in England, where there are only a few politicians of color, we're just happy she and her family exist. The Obamas give us hope that wherever we come from, whatever color we (or our hair) happens to be - with self belief, hard work, determination and hope, we can be whatever we want to be in life.
Thanks for listening, America!