Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Black is beautiful (at long bloody last)

Anna Wintour is booking Michelle Obama for a photo shoot for US Vogue. This is a tradition, to do a shoot (eek!) with the First Lady and Wintour was a long-time Obama supporter.

But as others have presciently pointed out, this may see the end of emaciated lanky bloodless blonde Latvian models and women of colour in every sense of the world becoming on trend.


phyllis said...

I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does with her hair. From what my African-American female friends tell me, hair style and hair care looms large in their psyche (to an extent that white women really can’t comprehend), and I think she’ll have a big influence there on women in the community.

Deja Pseu said...

And color aside, I think we're about to have a First Lady (gawd, I hate that term) who's poised to be a real style icon for the first time since Jackie Kennedy.

lagatta à montréal said...

Yes, but the difference is that Michelle Obama is a highly accomplished person in her own right.

The most high-profile Black Canadian woman who is also something of a style icon is Michaëlle Jean, who is Governor-General (Queen's representative - remember that HRM is official head of state here and Jean concretely carries out that ceremonial role). I was sad to see the change in former CBC/Radio-Canada's dress and hair. Before, she had a flattering, slightly-relaxed updated Afro. Now her hair is very straightened and her clothes are too dowdy for her youthful figure.

I think presentation of self remains very much a minefield for Black women in such positions in a predominantly white society.

And I hate the term First Lady as well. Perhaps it comes from the fact that US presidents are also heads of state and seen as quasi-royalty? But I've read it creeping into references to the wives (or husbands!) of heads of government in parliamentary systems as well.

In any event, this may herald a return to a more multicolour and global beauty. 'Bout time.

greying pixie said...

Lagatta, I don't see why self-presentation should be any more difficult for a black woman than for a white woman in this position. Obama and his wife are first and foremost Americans. Why should the colour of their skin make any difference to their self-presentation?

On the subject of advice and guidance, Jackie Kennedy sought the advice of the then editor of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, who introduced her to the designer Oleg Cassini. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Let's hope Anna Wintour can do the same for Michelle (although she seems to be doing quite well with whoever is advising her at present) - but not her plastic surgeon I hope!

lagatta à montréal said...

pixie, I'm not talking about what should be, but about the legacy of racism. Like phyllis said about hair, when "white people" hair is see as the norm. (My hair is actually rather curly kinky as well...and there is a Black ancestor, but I woudn't claim to be Black). I'm talking about being judged more harshly, or subjected to closer scrutiny.

Perhaps I'm overly affected by a horrific racist comment about Michelle Obama I read today in the "internet comments" at the Globe and Mail, a serious newspaper. Fortunately the thing has been deleted since.

phyllis said...

"I think presentation of self remains very much a minefield for Black women in such positions in a predominantly white society. "

Lagatta - this is so astute and is exactly what my fiends have told me. In their community hair is at least as significant (and maybe more significant) than shades of skin color; there is "good hair" and "bad hair".

BUT - as a white (and blonde) woman, I really can't illuminate this topic much more than that. It's just something I heard in conversations with African-American women, and it was real eye opener for me.

sable said...

Speaking as a black american woman I can say that Phyllis is absolutely right. It may seem a silly prospect that something as benign as hair can carry such weight, but it can have great meaning among black women and how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. There is often the overriding notion that you must fit in and not call attention that you are different from other (white) women. I have worn my hair in many styles from relaxed straight to curly afro or braids with extensions. I can honestly say that when I wear my hair relaxed straight I feel (operative word here, feel) that I am more like everyone else and more likely to fit in. However, I also feel less like my authentic self. It's as if I'm wearing a mask and I resent that I have to change who I am to fit in. Not to mention the damage that relaxers cause to the hair and scalp. Several years ago I chose to cut my hair short and wear a curly afro. A very good friend of mine, who happens to be white, asked me what kind of statement I was trying to make. She said that my hair made me look militant, like I was trying to make a statement. I explained that it was much easier and much healthier for me to not change the natural texture of my hair. I was not attempting to make any type of statement only to simplify my life. BTW, it was a very neat and well groomed afro. My guess is that a lot of white women don't realize what a difficult and politically and career altering decision hair can be.

Sorry for being long-winded and for the late post to the topic. I usually just lurk (love the blog!) but felt compelled to chime in on this subject.

Linda Grant said...

Thanks for that informative contribution. Which is what I guessed but didn't have the knowledge to say.

Anonymous said...

Not long-winded at all. I didn't know anything about this issue and would like to hear/read more about it.

And it will soon be the season for 'hat hair', people.

Tricia said...

Michelle Obama's hair is relaxed. I suspect that it is unlikely that she'll be transitioning to her natural hair texture. And so I wonder if that will make hair less of a political issue for black women in the US?

Here in the UK, Baroness Amos wears her hair natural, while MP Diane Abbott, and Baroness Scotland have their hair relaxed; Baroness (Lola) Young has locks and often wears head wraps.

While more and more black women in London are wearing their hair natural. I think that here in the UK it has become less of the political issue than it has has been in past years. Wearing your hair in its natural state or having locks, is more likley to part of a more organic/natural attitude to life, than making a political statment.

greying pixie said...

Yes, tricia, I agree with you. And I remember when Diane Abbott also used to wear her hair braided and beaded. Then as her career took off she changed to the more conventional style she wears today. My husband, who has never liked her trouble-making, used this as a rather weak proof of how she had joined the establishment, whereupon I pointed out that as a British woman she had the right to wear her hair however she wanted. It's too easy to make sweeping generalisations about such things. I'm not sure if we should even still be talking about the 'black community'. And I'm hoping that now that the 21st century has truly begun (ie. with a black US president) we can put all this polarisation behind us.

sable said...

Ultimately how one chooses to wear their hair is a personal issue and many factors enter the equation such as curly vs wavy vs straight, economics of upkeep, personal style, and convenience. For some women, other's perception may also be a factor. For example, one might decide that the fuschia mohawk might not be a good idea when interviewing for a job at a bank. These are factors trump ethnicity. Beyond the hair issue, I think that Michelle Obama has shown grace, style and intelligence throughout the whole campaign and I am confident that she will be a model for many women regardless of skin color. She has achieved much coming from humble beginnings. However, one of the things that I admire most about the Obama's is their obvious affection for one another and devotion to their daughters. They are role models for many and I am looking forward to their success in the White House and positive influence on our young people.

Anonymous said...

I can't really add to the great comments by sable and others, but here's a link to relevant discussions:

I once read an article by a white beauty editor with frizzy hair who was reviewing curly hair salons. She said, and she was not the first, that the obsession with straight hair, especially straight blond hair, in America reflected a desire for features that were as far away away from "Negroid" as possible. I don't think she's wrong.