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Whether she inspires criticism or compliments, debate over Michelle Obama’s hair has not ceased in nearly a year and a half, nor is it likely to soon.

When the First Lady of the U.S. attended a country-music event in July without a single strand of hair falling below her jaw, the blogs went bonkers.

Her press secretary had to issue a statement that there was no Michelle haircut, just a new hairstyle. A summer look, simply “pinned up.” Obviously.

Many dismiss attention paid to Michelle Obama’s hair as mere celebrity gossip fodder, not unlike chatter over her sleeveless dresses, J. Crew cardigans, stocking-free legs or stunning decision to wear shorts to the Grand Canyon.

Michelle Obama on a Stage

But for women, and African-Americans in particular, Michelle’s hairstyles “command unique interest and carry cultural baggage,” according to Time.

Media and pop cultural obsession with Michelle Obama’s hair is nothing new.

Widespread interest in Michelle’s hairstyles took hold before her husband was even elected, and the First Lady hasn’t even done anything outrageous.

Heck, her new updo wasn’t really all that dramatic a departure from variations we’ve seen on her before (the “flip-out,” the “flip-under,” the “helmet”).

Still, her hair is now a catalyst for debate that begins purely with style but “quickly transcends appearance and ultimately transcends Michelle herself.” 

Michelle Obama is, like it or not, the “preeminent African-American women’s status and style symbol in terms of her beauty, acceptance and power.”

All in all, we think she thrives in that weighty role. Click to enlarge the Michelle Obama pictures below and see which hairstyles you like and dislike …