Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Fat Butt Michelle Obama?"

In light of our discussions and readings about how the struggle for civil rights was mapped on women's bodies, I thought this article was really interesting.

Michelle Obama's body has become the subject of public debate and criticism. Is it because, as the article suggests, "her presence as first lady challenges the historic view of a black woman’s place and notions of beauty," or is it something more political, less racial? In some ways it seems overly simplistic, and almost offensive in itself, to immediately link such comments to her race. However, there are clear historical antecedents to such devaluing of black women on the basis of their physicality.

In your opinion, do white first ladies and public figures have to endure the same type of insults? Is this more an issue of sexism or racism?


  1. Modern social media is obsessed with appearances, especially in the critique of women's bodies (both white and black). This is rooted in the sexual inferiority which dominates the history of American women. Although politically incorrect to say that women are still seen as objects of male desire, this article (along with tabloids and other media mediums) suggests that this ideology is still deeply rooted in American cultural beliefs and practices. The idea that different body types exist is foreign, and there has been no real acknowledgment that what is healthy for Woman X is not necessarily a healthy weight or body shape for Woman Y. Female celebrities are criticized based on their appearance on a daily basis, and Michelle Obama definitely qualifies as a celebrity. Why would she be exempt from the atrocious name-calling and deprecation of the media?

    However, I do think that Michelle Obama has received an unfair amount of criticism, and has been a victim more than many other first ladies. In my opinion, there are a few different factors to explain this. Firstly, Obama's presidency has been more high-profile than most. As our first black president, he has been thrust into the spotlight, along with his young family, which is also a unique aspect of his presidency. It has been many many years since the White House has had a true family in it, with young children, which in my opinion, makes Obama's presidency more important (and relatable) to the general American citizen because they are interested in him as a person, in addition to his political role. more interesting as a person rather than just a political figure.

    Secondly, Michelle Obama has been very involved in her duties as first lady, especially in regards to childhood obesity and nutrition. While perhaps unfair and unimportant to the cause, it is only natural for a spokesperson speaking about weight to be personally observed as well. Because some Americans are unhappy about her proposals for lower-calorie lunches and healthier options in schools, they choose to sink low and attack what many women are so self-concious of in an attempt to prevent Michelle Obama from continuing on her fight for health in America. (Note: this doesn't seem to be working)

    Thirdly, highlighting a different problem in American society and social media, is the obvious fact that Michelle Obama is black. And she is not nearly as light-skinned as her husband. Unfortunately, racial tensions are still present in America, and many citizens may be more critical of this presidency (and the first lady) because of their personal doubts and beliefs regarding African Americans.

    The insulting social media is horrible to women of all races, but adding in a racial component, in this case, only adds fuel to their already blazing fire.


  2. Another article (http://www.policymic.com/articles/24936/why-are-white-men-obsessed-with-michelle-obama-s-posterior) explains that criticisms on Michelle Obama's body show that the racial issue in America is still alive. White men devalue black women's bodies because they were used to do so during the time of slavery. During that time, the black body was the property of a white man. It was a mere object. Even after the end of slavery, black women were still regarded as sexualized and sexual objects, as the numerous rapes of black women until the 1960s testify. However, is this only a matter of race?

    Even though I believe people are more critical vis-à-vis black women, the target here is not the black woman but the woman. As Molly stated, the media has a great role in modelling the image of the perfect woman. In every commercial or advertisement displaying a woman, one can see a tall and skinny woman. There is no room for another model. To be happy you have to be skinny. To be desired by your boyfriend/husband you have to be pretty and be at his service. This is what most commercials and advertisements convey.

    For example in France, the former First Lady Carla Bruni, was the center of attention because of her beauty. The fact that she is a celebrity (singer and fashion model) gave popularity to her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy. I think that first ladies are often seen as accessories for the President. They are like purses: if they are fancy and good-looking, they will highlight the person's arm (=the President). This summarizes the importance of appearance for women who are in the media spotlight. If they do not fit the unique model the society created for them, they will not be able to be integrated in this society and therefore will be criticized.

    The Occidental society is clearly sexist and criticisms like that should not be made banal. In 2013, it would be time to consider the woman as a full-fledged human being, not only as a body.

  3. Appearance seems to be everything in society today. It's not what you're doing to help change society but it is how you look trying to change society. This is not just true for black women but I believe its true for all women. You see in media the most attractive women are stars in ads, movies, and tv shows. Appearance is a key component of societal norms. This is even particularly true when it comes to body image. Times have somewhat changed but typically we see the small figured woman with what is considered the "perfect" body.

    However black women have had to endure worse issues with their images. What I have seen from my own personal experiences is that if a black woman has a bigger posterior than the "norm," she is considered to be fat. Despite the tone of the rest of her body, she may be considered overweight just as they stated for First Lady Michelle. Of course, body image has been an issue for other first ladies, as stated in the article, when talked about First Ladies Hilary Clinton's "chubby ankles" and Nancy Reagan's head but for a black woman I see it to be a little bit different.

    Historically, black women's bodies, in particular their posteriors, have been of public discussion. As the article states, it traces all the way back to Sarah/Saartjie Baartman, most known as "Hottentot Venus." She was a South African woman from who's body was used for entertainment purposes in England and France during the early 19th century. She was used due to her body image, chiefly her large posterior. Here one can begin to see the beginning of the focus on a black woman's posterior. Even as we progress on into present 21st century society, the legacy of focus on a black woman's posterior is still a focus as we look at the many music videos which focus on the posterior of a woman and the media which focus on the posterior of the first lady of the United States.

    Despite all that First Lady Obama has done to continue to help with fighting childhood obesity and improving nutrition, her body image has been the subject of criticism. Instead of focusing on the fight that she is putting up or engaging in aiding in the movement, most sit back and criticize the image of her posterior. It does not cease to amaze me the focus of some people's thought process. After my extensive comment, I do believe that it is a matter of both racism and sexism, as the criticism focus not only on the image of a woman, but particularly the posterior image of a black woman, which has been the case historically for black women.

  4. As stated by several others above, appearance is enormously emphasized in social media and our entire culture today. Celebrities are idolized based on their hair, makeup, body type and the clothing that they wear, rather than for their particular talents or abilities. Take, for example, stars of various reality television shows. Kim Kardashian is practically a household name, but only because she is viewed as incredibly attractive. With no offense intended, what has she produced of value that is worth celebrating? I can't come up with anything, but the point is that it doesn't matter - she'll continue to be popular anyway.

    I also agree with Molly that Michelle Obama has been thrust into the spotlight more often than many other first ladies, and is subsequently subject to more criticism. This is partially due to the fact that Obama is our first black president, but it is also due to a generation that is obsessed with technology. It is far too easy to obtain videos, photographs, and all sorts of other information regarding the First Lady, and it is simultaneously far too easy to extend our opinions onto the internet. People will judge other people much more harshly from behind the safety of a computer screen. Comments can often be made anonymously, with no fear of negative consequences, so people will say whatever they please, regardless of whether or not it is disrespectful. And, because of our technological advances, what we say can reach a VERY wide audience - sometimes all the way across the world.

    Conclusively, I do not believe that this particular criticism is due merely to racial discrimination, but is simply a negative effect of being in the spotlight in a generation that is obsessed with outward appearances. Though more attention may be placed on Michelle Obama because of her skin color, I do not doubt that a white woman in the same position would also be subject to such harsh observation (perhaps as testament to this, Google search Kate Middleton - the number of news articles critiquing her appearance is overwhelming). However, I do believe that race plays a certain role: people are apt to be more critical of something that they are not familiar with. Thus, the stereotypically different builds of African-American versus white women probably contributes to the judgement.

  5. In my opinion, this is more of an issue of racism. As a young African American woman, I have witnessed numerous accounts of the portrayal of African American women in the media. Because of our country's history, it is not surprising that African American women are portrayed so negatively in the media. Throughout the media, the posteriors of African American women are put on display due to its massive size. This is something that white women are not subjected to.

    Yes, First Lady Obama is African American with a decent sized posterior. However, it does not make it acceptable to bash her for the size of her posterior. Simply discussing her posterior shows a lack of respect towards our First Lady. In the past, other First Ladies have been criticized for ankles and minute body parts. They have not been called overweight because of the size of their ankles.

    It is confusing to me why the size of her posterior was brought up in comparison to her campaign on obesity. I know the comment of the football coach can be attributed to his ignorance; but I believe that if you do not know, do not comment. Anyone with eyes can see that Michelle Obama is not overweight. Naturally, African American women are generally "thicker" than white women. Curves does not signify being overweight.