Tuesday, March 10, 2009

MICHELLE OBAMA’s Beautiful Brown Biceps are Controversial?!! What the #&@k?!!

First Lady Michelle Obama is helping military families adjust, performing community service at homeless shelters, making standing room-only speeches to federal agencies, showing Americans how to shop inexpensively for the home, and for your wardrobe. She is supporting increased education funding and college affordability, giving high-profile celebrations of Women’s History Month and Black History Month, and is a role model to working parents everywhere.

But, the story about Michelle Obama that has gotten the most press is the ridiculous controversy about her wearing sleeveless dresses. Yes, this is true. Mrs. Obama's signature fashion style is being debated by pundits on all the major networks, and is being given the same amount of coverage as the foreclosure crisis.

It is much ado about nothing. If anything, Michelle Obama is continuing a fashion tradition that has been embraced by many first ladies for over two hundred years. First Ladies like Dolley Madison, Marry Todd Lincoln, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy and even Nancy Reagan have shown some skin in the White House. This is all well-known to politicians and journalists. But it didn't stop New York Times writer David Brooks from saying, “Sometimes I think half the reason (President) Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps.” And even journalist Sandra McElwayne took a disgusting shot at the first lady in an article in The Daily Beast: "with all due respect to her, someone should tell Michelle to mix up her wardrobe and cover up from time to time. I’m beginning to think she has an Arnold Schwarzenegger complex."

It would be easy to dismiss these as the rantings of jealous individuals: jealous of the fact that the Obamas have the discipline to exercise and lift weights every day, and, jealous of the great, loving relationship they have and that so many Americans are now trying to imitate. This is entirely possible. But, I can't help believing that something else is at play here: race. Yes, race.

I believe this flap about her showing her biceps springs from a fear (by some) that millions of white kids will grow up to at least respect the beauty of black women in ways that many books, magazines, tv shows, and movies have failed to do. Michelle Obama has broad hips, full lips, and dark chocolate skin - which is not exactly the portrait of "ideal beauty" American mass media likes to promote. Throw in the fact that this woman is 5'11" tall and, easily the most educated first lady in history, and you can understand why her lovely, toned biceps are unsettling to some people.

Let me put it bluntly: there is still a subset of whites in this country who did not vote for President Obama (and never will), and is equally likely to believe that Michelle Obama's success means black beauty standards will replace white female beauty standards. But this is not about replacing any beauty standard with another one. That's a false choice. In this multi-cultural society, I believe there is (and should be) enough room on center stage for the beauty of every racial and ethnic group. To be clear, this is about making sure this country has a central and functional concern for non-white beauty instead of the marginal and peripheral concern that it has historically had. Michelle Obama's presence as a woman walking rhythmically, powerfully, even confidently in her own skin will begin a sea change in the right direction.

So Mrs. Obama: keep flashing those chocolate guns!

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1 comment:

  1. Well, I can't say if I complete agree about the race perspective.

    First of all, I think it's fantastic that they're talking so much about Mrs. O. They're doing it because she is so wildly popular and people can't get enough. The public would rather hear the pundits debate about Mrs. O than the economy, and they're giving us what we want. Score 1 for Michelle.

    Also, The First Lady's clothing has always been controversial. Poor Jackie had to hire a private designer and get her French designs through an underground network because of all of the hoopla surrounding her wardrobe. Nobody ever bothered about Hillary's much because she's just so dreadfully boring, but anyone who ever showed flair or style in the White House has always garnered attention. It's what we do.

    Maureen Dowd's article in the Times last week was probably the best commentary that I've seen on this "controversy", but really, they're just talking about her because we're all so obsessed. Even the folks who didn't vote for the President.