It’s no secret that Oprah has a flair for the dramatic. From the lavish giveaways for her studio audience to her weight-loss transformation reveal wearing an old pair of size 10 jeans and pulling a wagon of fat behind her, the former talk show queen can’t be accused of being subtle.
So it’s no surprise that Oprah—who graces the cover of her O, The Oprah Magazine every month—shook things up for September’s makeover issue by showing off her natural hair and that people are taking notice for better and worse.
This is the first issue in 12 years of publication, according to the magazine, that her hair hasn’t been styled—no blow-drying, no straightening—for a cover shot. Oprah says that this is what it looks like when she lets her hair down on weekends and vacation and that allows her to feel “unencumbered.”
Readers have expressed both inspiration and skepticism over Oprah’s latest ‘do. Regardless of ethnicity, some women posted on message boards that this was like validation of their choice to go natural—whether it was to cut out the processing or to cut their hair super short.
Many other commenters raved about the no-frills hair look, saying she looked even more beautiful and more radiant than before. Which would reinforce Oprah’s belief, according to the magazine, that “changing your hairstyle can change what we see and feel is possible.”
But, of course, there were the skeptics who questioned everything from whether Oprah’s hair color was natural, whether the curls were natural, whether the hair was even natural and, getting slightly off topic, whether her eye color was natural.
Even among the criticism of the authenticity of Oprah’s au naturale look, some had to admit it was at least a step in the right direction, a move that would hopefully and ultimately inspire others to embrace their natural beauty.
Of late, it seems celebrities aren’t as shy about embracing the natural look in other ways too, as several on People magazine’s most beautiful list this year were photographed sans makeup, including actresses Lily Collins, Paula Patton, Zooey Deschanel and Jessica Pare.
And teen magazines are being challenged by their young readers to forgo Photoshopping in an effort to showcase real girls.
All are noble efforts and powerful reminders that true beauty might be rarely found in a magazine, thanks to airbrushing and photo editing that yield impossibly perfect skin, makeup and hair.
But to whatever degree you believe Oprah’s hair is really natural, there’s no denying she’s an iconic and influential force for many women and whatever little steps she takes can have a bigger impact. And for her to finally shrug off the products and the tools for her first magazine cover photo, the only criticism should be: What took you so long?