Pop Culture
Nov 18, 2008, 11:02AM

The Wrong Type of Michelle Obama Commentary

A recent piece from Salon does a massive disservice to Michelle Obama by discussing, in depth and in all seriousness, her butt.

Sometimes, I come across an article that is so astoundingly ridiculous that the only reaction I can seem to muster is a perplexed “huh?”

In an essay featured today on Salon, Erin Aubry Kaplan extols Michelle Obama not for her admirable career or obvious dedication to her husband and children, but for simply having a butt that won’t quit. That’s right.

Of the November 4th election, Kaplan writes:

[W]hat really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack’s better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and—drumroll, please—a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I’m going to talk about the first lady’s butt.

While at times Kaplan’s piece seems entirely tongue-in-cheek—“it turns out that Sir Mix-A-Lot, he of ‘Baby Got Back’ fame, was not a novelty but a prophet ... Give that guy a Cabinet post”—she writes about the historic nature of Michelle Obama’s ample posterior with the same sincerity as those who have written about Barack Obama’s history-making election.

Lord knows, it’s time the butt got some respect. Ever since slavery, it’s been both vilified and fetishized as the most singular of all black female features, more unsettling than dark skin and full lips, the thing that marked black women as uncouth and not quite ready for civilization...In modern times, the butt has demarcated class and stature among black society itself. Emphasizing it or not separates dignified black women from ho’s, party girls from professionals, hip-hop from serious.

Thanks to Michelle, looking professional and provocative in a distinctly black way will become not only acceptable but also part of a whole presidential look that’s more, well, inclusive.

I appreciate Kaplan’s sentiment and can see why having a prominent White House figure with whom one can personally identify politically, culturally and physically would feel especially liberating. But Kaplan’s focus the First Lady elect’s physique to is absolutely absurd—and a bit ironic, really. In attempting to exalt Michelle Obama as a much-needed change to how we think about women, Kaplan focuses solely on Obama’s appearance, reducing the first lady—just as women so often are—to nothing more than a body to be admired or admonished.

In his campaign, Barack Obama claimed that his presidency would be the change our country needs. While it’s wonderful that Michelle Obama represents the kind of woman that we rarely see in Hollywood or fashion, and have never seen before in the White House, maybe the change we really need is to stop reducing our first ladies to nothing more than their fashion sense and physical appearance. To return to the Gandhi quote I heard repeated endlessly throughout the campaign season, “we must become the change we want to see in the world.” If Kaplan really wants Americans to broaden their ideas of what it means to be a woman, then her article isn’t helping.


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