michelle-obama

via @meagnacarta

For the past eight years, the nation witnessed as Michelle Obama displayed class, elegance, and style while serving as First Lady in the White House. But while the former First Lady pushed boundaries, she was never photographed without her hair being straightened.

All of this changed several days ago when a picture emerged of Michelle Obama wearing her hair natural. Appearing to be outside for a workout or relaxing walk, Obama sported her hair in a natural puff.

The statement was huge considering how natural hair is viewed outside of the Black community. According to a recent study by Perception Institute, Black women often face a form of discrimination when they wear their hair natural. The study included 4,000 participants who viewed a multitude of photos. The majority of the participants, regardless of race and gender, held a bias against Black women who wore natural hair.

Although millennials were the most accepting of Black women with natural hair, White women demonstrated the strongest bias against it. White women viewed Black women with natural hair as “less beautiful,” “less sexy/attractive,” and “less professional.”

Furthermore, a 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judge made it easier for employers to discriminate against Black women. In a 3-0 decision in Sept. 2016, the court ruled that it’s not illegal for a company to fire an employee over natural hair.

The discrimination reveals how America remains divided when it comes to cultural understanding. For Black women, the choice to go natural is a matter of health. The chemicals that are used to straighten Black women’s hair can cause severe damage. Black women have recently walked away from perms and hair relaxers and the industry has suffered. According to a report by Mintel, hair relaxer sales dropped from $206 million in 2008 to $152 million in 2013.

Celebs such as Solange, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Janelle Monae and Viola Davis have all embraced natural hair while in the limelight.

But while Michelle Obama’s natural hair picture deserves praise, hopefully it will open the eyes of others who have chosen to discriminate against the look.

A.R. Shaw

A.R. Shaw is an author and journalist who documents culture, politics, and entertainment. He has covered The Obama White House, the summer Olympics in London, and currently serves as Lifestyle Editor for Rolling Out magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter @arshaw and Instagram @arshaw23.