Michelle Obama says Americans were 'not ready' for her natural Black hair as First Lady

'As Black women we deal with it, the whole thing about do you show up with your natural hair?'

Michelle Obama
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Michelle Obama is opening up about the pressures of serving as First Lady in the White House, revealing in a candid chat that Americans were “not ready” for her natural Black hair. 

Over the course of promoting her new book The Light We Carry, she sat down for a Q&A with host Ellen DeGeneres. In a social media video shared by CNN This Morning, Obama said, “As Black women we deal with it, the whole thing about do you show up with your natural hair?”

“As First Lady, I did not wear braids. Being the first – yeah, we had to ease up on the people. I thought about it. I was like, it would be easier,” she continued. “Nope, nope. They’re not ready.”

According to CNN’s Don Lemon, she additionally said she chose to keep her hair straight so that her husband Barack Obama and his administration “could focus on other issues.” According to The Independent, the former First Lady also explained Americans were “just getting adjusted” to having their first ever Black president.

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While Michelle Obama mostly wore her hair straight over her tenure as First Lady, she’s since gone onto rock natural hairstyles since leaving the White House. She’s additionally been more adventurous with her personal style, famously wearing a pair of sparkling Balenciaga boots for a chat with Sarah Jessica Parker to promote her memoir Becoming in 2018.

During her appearance with the Sex and the City Star, she explained, “Now, I’m free to do whatever.”

Black men and women have historically faced prejudice for how they have chosen to wear their hair. According to a 2022 study conducted by Dove UK, nearly half of Black and mixed race women have faced discrimination based on Afro and textured hairstyles, while one in four Black adults have been disciplined or dismissed from work for wearing a natural or protective style. 

The Enact Equality organisation also launched a national campaign to bring an end to Afro hair discrimination in education, which has prompted an agreement on the government’s behalf to revise its guidance on Afro hair discrimination to educators across the nation.

Michelle Obama’s new book The Light We Carry is out in bookstores now. 

Megan C. Hills

Megan is a freelance journalist who covers entertainment and all things lifestyle, with a particular passion for fashion, beauty, travel and Keanu Reeves stories. She has previously worked on staff for titles including Marie Claire UK, CNN Style and The Evening Standard and has written for titles such as Bustle UK, Wallpaper*, Forbes and Hong Kong Tatler. She splits her time between London and her hometown Hong Kong, where she currently lives with the love of her life - an elderly dog named Poppy - and her husband.