Michelle Obama has been praised endlessly for her bold beauty moments and sartorial choices, even if she’s been caught wearing some inappropriate outfits over the years. A big part of her appeal is that the former first lady always manages to radiate confidence — no matter what she’s wearing – but as it turns out, she’s not always comfortable in her own skin. Or, rather, in her own hair.
During her time in the White House, Michelle Obama mostly wore her hair straight or styled in light curls, like at the 2021 inauguration for President Biden. That hairstyle, courtesy of Yene Damtew, actually went viral for how sleek and fabulous it was. However, eagle-eyed watchers will know she didn’t start showing off more natural looks until after her husband’s time in office was up. That’s when she really embraced her locks, rocking natural curls on a 2018 Essence cover and choosing to sport braids for her 2022 White House portrait unveiling ceremony.
The decision was praised by many, including President Biden’s advisor, Adjoa B. Asamoah, who helped pen the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which prohibits employer discrimination based on natural hair. “I lift a beautiful @MichelleObama in braids, which means a lot to Black girls & women,” she tweeted. Obama looked gorgeous as always, but she’s since revealed that she never wore such natural ‘dos in the White House because she wanted the focus to be on her and her husband’s work — not her hair.
During both of her husband’s presidential terms, Michelle Obama actively chose to avoid hairstyles that might ruffle feathers. As she once told an audience at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., she thought America needed time to adjust to having a Black first family, and she didn’t want to give them more to talk about. And so, when she considered leaving her hair unstraightened, she concluded, “Nope, they’re not ready for it.” However, she quickly pointed out she was far from alone in her plight, noting, “That’s the African American experience.”
That same year, Obama also spoke about the choice to continuously straighten her hair while in office with Revolt TV. “I was like, ‘First of all, they’ve got to get used to us,” she said, quipping, “Let me just straighten my hair and get healthcare passed.” As she explained further, she didn’t want her hair to be a distraction, which it already was. Recalling how the focus would often be on her ‘do rather than her work, she critiqued, “I’m talking about nutrition, and the article leads with ‘But her bangs.'” As for the logistics, Obama had to rely heavily on weaves, extensions, and protective styles to spare her locks. “I would not have any hair on my head if I straightened it as much as I had to straighten it,” she said,
It’s clear Michelle Obama is a fierce, successful, confident woman, but as she writes in her 2022 book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” even she experiences self-doubt. In an excerpt published by People, Obama confessed to struggling with accepting her body and all the changes it’s going through as she ages. “I personally have plenty of mornings when I flip on the bathroom light, take one look, and desperately want to flip it off again,” she revealed. The former first lady also noted how society’s pressure on women to always look perfect is unrealistic and revealed her go-to hack for eliminating the negative voices in her head. “I try to find the things about me that I love and start my day a little more kind,” she shared.
It’s a sentiment she previously opened up about with Oprah in 2020 when she explained how race can also impact self-acceptance and self-love. “I’m a Black woman in America. And you know, we’re not always made to feel beautiful,” she mused. “There’s still that baggage that we carry.” Not to mention the double standard that exists based on gender. “I’m sorry, men you can look any kind of way. And it seems to be okay,” she quipped. As Obama concluded, the key is to accept how you look and embrace the fact that you’ll change with age — and that’s okay!