Since the inauguration in January, ‘Obamania’ has become less about the President himself, and more about coverage of the First Family. America has watched with rapt attention as Michelle Obama planted a White House vegetable garden, as Sasha and Malia started school in D.C. and as the Obamas decided on what type of dog to get the girls. Of course, it’s not surprising that the Obamas are subject to the nation’s curiosity. Not since the Kennedys has such an appealing young family resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There is, however, one aspect of the Obama family fascination that strikes me as truly problematic. From her wardrobe to her biceps, Michelle Obama’s appearance, rather than her agenda as first lady, has received an excessive level of media coverage.
It started out innocently enough. People liked the purple sheath dress Mrs. Obama wore when Barack claimed the Democratic nomination in June. In July, she made Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed List and later graced the cover of Vogue. But more recently, Mrs. Obama has garnered a ridiculous amount of attention for her outfit choices. Her official White House portrait was criticized because she donned a sleeveless black dress, which some deemed too revealing. Others thought Mrs. Obama should hide her toned, muscular arms, as they could be seen as daunting. “Sometimes I think half the reason Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps,” New York Times columnist David Brooks said of the matter. Next, Michelle’s fashion choices during the Obamas’ recent trip to Europe inspired articles like “Michelle Obama’s Lost Her Mind! 3 Reasons She’s Suddenly A Fashion Disaster.” Earlier this week the Huffington Post published a piece, “Twice As Nice: Michelle Obama’s Repeat Wardrobe” that featured a slide show of instances where Mrs. Obama wore the same articles of clothing on multiple occasions.
But enough is enough. Though popular press might have you believe otherwise, Michelle Obama is so much more than her fashion choices. Think for a moment, if you will, of her non-sartorial accomplishments. With a B.A. from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, Mrs. Obama is certainly more educated than most of the people writing stories about her pencil skirts. When she and husband Barack met at a prestigious Chicago law firm, it was because she was assigned to be his mentor, not the other way around. In subsequent years Mrs. Obama went on to work in a variety of prominent positions, serving as the founding executive director of a non-profit organization, the associate dean of students at the University of Chicago and the executive director of community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals.
Now, as first lady, Michelle Obama finds herself in what is easily the most influential role of her life. The media is doing Mrs. Obama and the American public a complete disservice by focusing so heavily on her clothing. Jennifer Donahue, Political Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, put it best when she wrote that Michelle Obama’s success as first lady should be measured, “not in what she wears, but in the potential she has to be a role model for young women and men, and what she can teach people of all ages and cultures.” Michelle Obama never claimed to be a fashionista, but by involuntarily thrusting her into this role, the press only reinforces warped societal notions that a woman’s worth revolves primarily around her physical appearance. Fashion scrutiny belongs on the runway, not in the White House.