Why Michelle Obama's Hair Matters

For African-American women, hair commands great interest and carries a lot of cultural baggage

Illustration by Nicole Fineman for Time

When the First Lady attended a country-music event in July without a single strand of hair falling below her jawline, the blogosphere exploded with outbursts ranging from adoration to vitriol. Things settled down only when her deputy press secretary clarified that there had been no First Haircut. In the aftermath, a didactic post on MichelleObamaWatch.com proclaimed that anyone "familiar with the amazing versatility of black hair" would have known that the new summer look was simply "pinned up."

Many Americans have dismissed this hair hubbub as simply more media-driven noise...