These Michelle Obama Tweets Tell Us A Lot About How People View Black Hair

April 5th 2017

A viral picture of Michelle Obama's life outside of the White House is causing a lot of discussion because of her hair, and the reaction reveals a struggle that black professional women face everyday.

A tweet by @meagnacarta shows the former first lady with her curly natural hair in a ponytail, instead of the usual straight hairstyle she wore while in the White House, and it's been shared more than 29,000 times.

The reactions to Obama's hair were mostly positive, with some users lamenting that she wasn't publicly seen with her natural hair until she left the White House. Other pointed out that Obama's straight hair was probably seen as more "presentable" for her position as first lady.

Natural or curly hairstyles on black women are often seen as unprofessional in the workplace.

In an interview published on Youtube in 2014, author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about the fact that the first lady, who Adichie said she "adored," and her two daughters straightened their hair to appear more respectable. She wondered whether they used chemical relaxers to manipulate their hair into straight styles, a process that can sometimes result in chemical burns.

"She fits all the definitions of black mainstream respectability. 'We have to straighten your hair,' and even the kids now have to straighten their hair and I wonder are they doing it with a relaxer or heat," she said. "You know I worry about how uncomfortable it must be for the poor kids."

However, Adichie said that former President Barack Obama wouldn't have won the 2008 election if his wife had natural hair during the campaign, a hair type widely seen as "unprofessional" by mainstream America.

"I think for me it was a larger question of, if Michelle Obama had natural hair, Barack Obama would not have won," she said. "He would not have won. It's true. It's sad and it seems shallow, but it's true."

"Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells Synne Rifbjerg how she thinks Michelle Obama's hair influenced the presidential election."Youtube/Det Kongelige Bibliotek - youtube.com

Although natural hair styles for black women have become more popular in recent years, with Pinterest naming natural hair the top beauty trend for 2017, the perception that black curly hair is unprofessional still persists.

Essence magazine's Sabrina R. Perkins wrote about the obstacles facing black women who want to wear natural hair styles to work.

"Natural hair may be beautiful, freeing and here to stay, but the perception of it being 'unprofessional' in the workplace is a reailty for far too many women of color, namely black women," she wrote.

The overwhelming majority of photographs that come up after a Google image search of "unprofessional hair" are pictures of black women with natural hairstyles.

Google Image Search of "unprofessional hair" on April 3, 2017.Google - google.com

A Google image search of "professional hairstyles," overwhelmingly, presents pictures of white women with straight hair.

Google image search results for "professional hairstyles" on April 2, 2017. Google - google.com

Another powerful black woman's hair recently became the focus of negative remarks.

On March 28, Bill O'Reilly said while on "Fox and Friends" that California Rep. Maxine Waters was wearing a "James Brown wig" during her anti-Trump comments on the House floor. The comments, which critics said had sexist and racist undertones, received strong backlash and O'Reilly later apologized.

The 78-year-old congresswoman responded to O'Reilly with a pointed message on MSNBC.

"Let me just say this. I'm a strong black woman," she said. "And I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O'Reilly or anybody."

RELATED: What Happened When The Today Show Gave This Black Woman a 'Summer Hairstyle' Makeover

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