Should Michelle Obama Lose Weight?-- oh Come ON!

The unfailing ability of feminists to discredit the potential of the new First Lady (and burn down our own agenda in the process)

The Huffington Post recently posted an opinion piece entitled “Should Michelle Obama Lose Weight?”[1] The very imposition of this question today is not only insulting to all women but utterly absurd! For only the second time in recent history the First Ladyship is occupied by a woman who has the potential to change the feminine paradigm in two ways: first, she can act to change the role of First Lady from passive (traditional feminine) support to an Office and in doing so, in a secondary capacity, shift the paradigm of the feminine roles as wife, mother, and hostess—thus, effecting the overall perception of women’s equity in society.

Examining the national visibility of recent first ladies

The Bush Ladies chose the paradigm of what I’ll call debutante society wives: pet cause promotion and charity work, not to be taken too seriously or make too much noise so as to obscure or threaten their husbands’ agendas/profiles. What they lacked, and what Hillary Clinton attempted and Michelle Obama has the potential to change, is to act in a more advocatory capacity. It is true that First Ladies aren’t elected, but they do hold an important nationally symbolic position.

Hillary Clinton was vilified via the media for attempting to play a more active role in her capacity as a national symbol: Clinton held health care meetings and was criticized for treating those meetings as government functions and told she could not continue because First Lady is not a government office—she had no authority to explore policy. However, de facto, the First Lady could be perceived as a government role by combining the important traditional, matriarchal role with the role of women as professionals. This role must be defined in practice, through evolution by example. Michelle Obama has the potential to do this. With Clinton, she shares several traits: highly educated, a professional (and successful one at that) and an advocate in her own right.

But despite the increasing number of women present in the media, the majority of the coverage of Michelle Obama has been limited to her fashion sense and her weight. To the extent that women in the media have a responsibility to effect the way other women are portrayed in society, women in media have tripped over themselves both when they failed to stand up adequately for Hillary Clinton during the campaign when her outfit was criticized as “inappropriate” because she showed too much cleavage and for portraying Michelle Obama only in the traditional feminine capacity. The Huffington Post article about Obama’s weight concluded something to the effect “Michelle Obama is a size 12, which is appropriate for her height,” and her health adds to her husband’s potential to set an example for America. What about her ability to set an example as the embodiment of modern American femininity? Alas, her superficial qualities are all that seem to be relevant—very seldom was she quoted on the campaign trail, deemed worthy only as arm candy for her husband’s campaign and speculatory rhetoric about how she will help the fashion industry survive the economic crisis.

Lady Obama’s Potential

It is curious in this age with women in the workplace all but a forgone conclusion, that the role of the nation’s First Woman remains “traditional” in the wife/mother/hostess sense. While her husband gets props for introducing an equal wage bill, Michelle Obama has the potential to take women’s equality even further through active advocacy. To place “active” in juxtaposition: passive advocacy can be understood to be what the Bush Ladies did: make statements about the importance of women’s rights. A prime example occurred in the last month of Laura Bush’s husband’s presidency: Afghani school girls were attacked with acid and Mrs. Bush responded by making a strong condemnatory statement. Where active advocacy would be more like Hillary Clinton’s health care meetings during her husband’s first term; the First Lady, in effect, becomes an active participant (as all Women are) in the perpetual forward motion of society, whether or not forward motion (i.e. reform) is delegated to the First Lady to further her party’s agenda, or one of her own. Why should presidential wives be side-lined when as non-political wives they actively shape society anyway?

Michelle Obama has the potential to transform the role of First Lady. Obama’s husband’s campaign broke paradigms (which are obvious and I won’t go into here because quite enough has been written about him), and the American establishment is primed for “Change.” Additionally, an important argument was made for Elizabeth Edward’s husband’s presidential ascendancy based upon her education and medical public policy prowess: “two for one,” argued some pundits. Lest we fail to make a big deal about Obama’s husband considering Mrs. Edwards for a cabinet position!

Drawing on honorable traditions of the wife as cultural preservationista and moral center, Michelle Obama has the potential to historically redefine this social feminine paradigm. This paradigm is of the wife as active partner in both society and marriage—where the roles in both cases equalize (finally) between men and women. Not only does Lady Obama stand as an equal with her husband welcoming foreign diplomats and domestic leaders to the seat of American government, representing the women of America, she does so as an educated professional and equal.

Dwelling on superficialities like weight and designer clothing is not only self-defeating for the evolution of American women but sabotages Obama before she has the chance to get going. Admittedly, Mrs. Obama has not yet made much indication of her agenda as First Lady, beyond her commitment to Military families. However, the point is worth making—the time has come to change the role of First Lady of the United States of America. The previous examples set by the First Ladies of the free world is more akin to the paradigms US Presidents have attempted to change through foreign policy than an example that feeds that foreign policy. Michelle Obama has the ability to rise to this challenge and it is our responsibility as Women (and men) of America to support her. So let’s please cease with this self-defeating superficial discussion of weight and clothing, shall we!


Ann said...

Still at it-- reduction of wives to arm candy. You'd think Ariana Huffington would know better (or not?). Literally NO coverage of her visits, her full speeches not available.

Fashion and first ladies might be a fair discussion if we could talk about the fashion of male world leaders as well. I mean, those drab suits all the time? Black or grey suit, white shirt, red or blue tie! I would feel a lot more positive about government leadership and the future if Obama and Brown and Sarkozy (for instance) would adopt the British fashion sense-- flamboyant colourful shirt and tie. Yes, times might be bad, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a sense of humour and optimism!

How's that for fair play?

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Ann is a freelance new media journalist, educated in Finance Economics. She considers herself to be a citizen of the world, though she is American by nationality, and a legal resident of the state of Wisconsin (yeah, go ahead and chuckle). See her other blog: Missing The Bear.
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