The September issue of Oprah’s magazine, sent in by YetAnotherGirl, features the woman herself on the cover wearing her hair in a “natural” (that is, real and non-straightened). The O website announces that this is the first time in its 12-year history that Oprah has appeared on the cover without “blow-drying or straightening” her hair.
Black women’s hair is a touchy issue wrapped up deeply in racial power struggles. The appearance of White people — in this case, the hair White people are more likely to have (that is, straight or slightly wavy) — is often considered the most beautiful or normal. Black women who have tightly curled hair are faced with deciding to push back against white supremacy and wear their hair more-0r-less naturally (and face being seen as a “political” or “non-assimilating” Black person) or straighten their hair (and risk being accused of capitulating to racism). Whatever they do, it’s sends a message.
What I think is notable here is that Oprah, of all people in the world, has never until now appeared on the cover of her own magazine with “natural” hair. Lest we’ve forgotten who Oprah is, here’s a reminder (from wikipedia):
Winfrey was called “arguably the world’s most powerful woman” by CNN and Time.com, “arguably the most influential woman in the world” by the American Spectator, “one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th Century” and “one of the most influential people” from 2004 to 2011 by TIME. Winfrey is the only person in the world to have appeared in the latter list on all eight occasions.
What I mean to say is, when even Oprah largely avoids being seen as she really is, we know we are seeing a powerful cultural force. In this case, a racist and sexist one demanding that women of all races conform to an unreasonable White standard of beauty. I’m glad that Oprah decided to appear this way for the cover, but I’m saddened by why it took this long.
Via Jezebel.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.