In the latest news story proving that hair isn’t always some superficial topic, even the president of the United States just acknowledged that the pressure women feel surrounding their hairstyles can be real. In a new filmed interview with Time magazine, Barack Obama and famous ballerina Misty Copeland—a 2016 Glamour Woman of the Year—talk race, gender, and success, and their conversation veers into beauty-related territory when the topic of black women’s hair choices comes up.
Obama says that as the father of two daughters, he’s finally fully appreciating “the enormous pressure that young women are placed under in terms of looking a certain way. And being cute in a certain way. … And is your hair done the right way,” he states in the video. “And that pressure I think historically has always been harder on African American women than just about any other women. But it’s part and parcel of a broader way in which we socialize and press women to constantly doubt themselves or define themselves in terms of a certain appearance.”
Truth, President Obama. On the bright side, he goes on to say that he feels that young women today have new sources of empowerment and inspiration that can help them realize they don’t need to conform to some arbitrary, universal, and unrealistic standard of beauty. “I do think that culture’s changing for the younger generation a little bit more,” he says. “You see Beyonce or you see some of these pop stars and what both white, Latino, black children are seeing as representative of beauty is much broader than it was when I was a kid. You just didn’t see that much representation. And that’s healthy and that’s encouraging. But it’s still a challenge. I mean Malia’ll talk about black girl’s hair and will have much opinions of that. And she’s pretty opinionated about the fact that it costs a lot, it takes a long time, that sometimes girls can be just as tough on each other about how they’re supposed to look. And so it’s, as a parent, that’s a constant learning process that you’re trying to hold the fort.”
He adds that he appreciates there being strong role models like Copeland who have a powerful presence on social media—and she acknowledges that this is playing a big part in helping young black women break free of historical pressures regarding their appearances. “It’s so important for this generation,” she says. “And to use social media to have a positive impact on our generation is huge. … But to have movements like #BlackGirlMagic, I think it couldn’t be more positive for a young black girl to see that it’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to not have to transform and look like what you may see on the cover of a lot of magazines. That you are beautiful, that it’s possible to succeed in any field that you want to, looking the way that you do. With your hair the way it is. I think all of that is so extremely important and something that I’m constantly celebrating. That something that I fought so hard for throughout the beginning of my career is I didn’t want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the…ballet. I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner. There are just—it’s important I think with this generation of young minorities, children especially, to feel comfortable and confident in their skin.”
All we know is, if this is one of Misty Copeland’s goals, then she’s going to find a way to make it happen—cue her viral “I Will What I Want” video for Under Armour. (And for more on why she’s one of our favorite influencers, read our October interview where she shares the secrets to her breakout success.) Oh, and the President opening up about this topic isn’t too shabby either. Overall, this interview was one giant leap for young-womankind. And we have no doubt Malia and Sasha Obama will grow up to be role models on the same level—no matter how they choose to style their hair.