The September 2013 cover of O magazine has sparked a conversation, with opinions flying about the super ’fro Oprah Winfrey rocks on the cover of the Hair Issue. One comment around the internets is, “Is that her hair?”
Of course, hair can be purchased in all textures. One gentleman said to me, “I don’t like it. It’s just not her.” Looks like her to me. Another comment, from a woman this time, “I think it’s stupid.”
Sure, it would be stupid to wear this look in a small car or to lean up against a wall for too long without a pick in your purse. But this is a photograph. Let us allow for creative direction. The art here makes sense, and it stands out among years of O covers with the same safe hairstyle worn mostly for the comfort of the general public.
I think it’s pretty, unexpected, and strong. It's the Hair Issue, folks. There’s no bigger conversation around hair than the Black, natural one. Let’s say the amount of hair on its wearer is initially jarring, however, three-and-a-half pounds of Afroed hair is a commanding way to project the theme of your issue. And let’s be honest: an Afro is powerful image.
Perhaps it’s Oprah’s role as the wife in next week’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler that gives her the permission or confidence to wear a natural style on her cover. In the film, she plays Gloria Gaines—a woman who drinks, smokes, dances… many things that perhaps took Oprah out of her comfort zone. She also hired a new acting coach.
On Live with Kelly and Michael this week, Oprah said she stopped acting for a while because when director Steven Spielberg commanded her to cry for a scene in The Color Purple in the early ’80s, she could not cry on cue; her confidence waned. Her latest acting coach made her cry within minutes of meeting her, perhaps affording Oprah to feel herself in a way that she hadn’t before. For her talk-show appearance, too, her hair was in a long natural style perfectly suited for her. It’s revolutionary to be a woman who explores the many sides of herself. It is graceful to engage those sides in your own time.
In the late-’90s, my sister (whose hair was natural at the time) was on the Oprah Winfrey Show for raising $75,000 for Oprah’s Angel Network during her recovery from breast cancer. After holding my sister’s hand up and cheering her name, “Miriam! Miriam!,” Oprah quietly confided, “When I stop doing this show, I’m going [go natural] too.” So perhaps this is a bold revelation of a woman’s many sides.
Or maybe this is just a magazine cover with an awesome creative team and a fearless cover subject to go with it. Knowing a little something about magazine publishing, I think the cover is almost too edgy or sophisticated for a mainstream audience. But part of a print publication’s job is to enrich and inform visually.
On Oprah’s Lifeclass, Winfrey makes a statement to the effect of, “All I am is this big brain and a whole lot of hair.” Extremes and provocative ideas should not shock us. Like her hair or not, the cover of O is the talk at newsstand. Oprah’s hair will surely be bone-straight next issue, but this is the cover that we’ll remember.
Joicelyn Dingle has been known to sport a pretty mean afro herself. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.