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Why America is up in arms about Mrs. O’s sleevelessness

Is the First Lady flashing her toned triceps as a way to get Americans to the gym?


 

Let’s just cut to the chase about what’s really fuelling Sleevegate: the primary reason America is up in arms, so to speak, about Michelle Obama’s penchant for sleeveless clothing has less to do with decorum than the fact it’s her one look most of the nation can’t imitate—or at least imitate and look good doing it. Sure, women can buy knock-offs of her oversized pearls or order some of her more affordable outfits from J.Crew. But, as any woman over 35 knows, the First Lady’s arms didn’t sculpt themselves. It takes daily discipline and countless reps to achieve that kind of definition. And there’s nowhere you can go to order it. No cosmetic surgeon has yet figured out a procedure that offers the same effect (and whoever does will be set for life). So who can blame the First Lady for wanting to show her toned triceps off?

But clearly the act of showing them off is problematic—at least symbolically. First, it suggests vanity, a trait First Ladies shouldn’t have. Secondly, it conveys strength. As has been endlessly pointed out, Jackie Kennedy also wore sleeveless dresses as her signature. But there’s a big difference: Mrs. Kennedy’s arms appeared as unthreatening as her breathy little-girl voice. Michelle Obama looks like she could arm wrestle with her husband and win. Evidently that’s discomfiting for a lot of people who expect the First Lady, the role model for a nation, to be domesticated and docile. Consider the fluffy “Life in the Obama White House” story in the current issue of People, on whose cover Mrs. O appears flashing bared arms. Repeatedly, the First Lady is referred to as husband’s “helpmate,” an archaic term that’s been replaced by the more equalitarian “partner.”

Predictably, the flap has spun out into a discussion of female rights internationally, with Islam becoming the basis of comparison. On Huffintonpost.com, Bonnie Fuller asked: “Is Michelle Obama supposed to wear a burka?” Writing in the Guardian, Natalie Hanman spins the fracas into a discussion of the ongoing attempt to control the presentation of women’s bodies: “With International Women’s Day this Sunday, it’s a timely reminder of the limitations and risks in an imperialist (or, indeed, imperialist feminist) view of gender equality, which not only ignores the contextual and complex reasons why some women wear the hijab and why other women resist it even when it is a legal requirement – it also fails to interrogate the west’s own role in inhibiting women’s rights, not least when it comes to the control over women’s bodies and what they wear.” .

Really, it’s a lot more simple: in going sleeveless, Michelle Obama, who from day one has used clothing as a political weapon, is telegraphing a message to a public that seems to analyze her every costume change with more rigor than it does her husband’s policies. And that message says: “I’m dressing as I please, folks.” And if her toned triceps serve as inspiration for women—and even men—to hit the gym so than can imitate her look—and look good doing it—all the better.


 
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Why America is up in arms about Mrs. O’s sleevelessness

  1. This is awesome! They are both great examples of how to stay healthy. Except for Barack’s smoking problem… But nobody’s perfect right?

  2. I’m wondering, what about a completely different angle to this pointless story. It’s the beginning of March and American fashion is dictating that it is time to wear something you’d find in the summer? What time of year did Jackie O wear her summer dresses? You only have one guess and can’t call a friend.

    • I totally agree a pointless story. Good grief don’t you have anything positive to say about this intelligent woman?

      • I didn’t mean you Hems, I meant Macleans writer.

        • With respect I think you both miss the point of the article. The writer IS being positive about Michelle Obama. The point is that people ARE obsessed about the issue (which says a lot about the expectations society still harbours about women, even if unwittingly so). The writer is suggesting that by knowing this and continuing to wear what she pleases, Mrs. Obama shows that she IS intelligent, confident, strong, and… has the physique to pull it off, too :)

          • Perhaps the point of the article was to get the discussion going about the vanity of the system and expectations on woman with political power.

            Perhaps it was just meant as a silence breaker.

          • And where is the evidence that people are obsessed with this issue, aside from journalists?

          • Where is the evidence that people are obsessed about the issue, journalists aside?

  3. Michelle Obama is simply “excercising” her second amendment right to “bare arms”!

  4. OMG! There are SO many more important things to worry about right now – if you’re into worrying! Stop sniping at people, people! What Mrs. Obama wears and whether or not she exercises are NOT YOUR BUSINESS! More power to her – wish I could look that good! Off to the gym I go! (tomorrow….)

  5. Oh, my goodness. An attractive healthy woman is daring to go sleeveless! What will America do?

    Good grief.

  6. SO WHAT???
    I HAVE YOUR BEAUTIFUL FAMILY PICTURE HANGING IN MY DINING ROOM.
    DRESS THE WAY YOU WANT……AND KEEP “BOSSING” THE PREZ. AROUND.
    WE JUST LOVE YOU & YOUR TRICEPS IN CANADA…GUSTO!!!!

    • I TOTALLY AGREE!

      THERE IS NOTHING HERE ABOUT “VANITY”!
      A WOMAN CAN BE PROUD OF HOW SHE LOOKS WITHOUT YOU, MACLEAN’S
      CALLING IT “VANITY”. i RESENT THAT.

  7. GOOD FOR HER!

    IT SHOWS SHE IS HUMAN AND A REAL WOMAN!

  8. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that Michelle Obama uses her clothes as a political weapon. What I believe is that journalism is bankrupt. It’s not the public that analyzes her every costume change. It’s desperate journalists.

  9. The right wing is so desperate to find anything to criticize the Obamas that they’ll turn how great she looks into a negative. In so doing, they are causing their own irrelevance. You go girl! Keeping changing America!!

  10. mo
    That is generalization; in Canada, and I believe, in the USA as well, there are countless honourable journalists.
    As usual, some stir the pot to help sales.

    • You’re right Faye. I guess the pot stirring kind of stories fuel more baseless commentary, and that’s unfortunate, and doesn’t serve journalism well. I stand corrected.

  11. She knows she’s going to photographed endlessly for the next 4 (hopefully 8) years. At a time when Americans (and Canadians) are facing an obesity epidemic, I salute her for communicating to the public “eat right and get off your arses and get some excercise.” She’s leading by example, not by lecturing.

  12. Jackie O went sleeveless too.

  13. WHO CARES????????????????? MAYBE americans should be spending more time at the gym instead of McDonalds.

  14. Carrissa
    I tottaly agree with you……………. same also go for the Canadian Obesity…………

    Reply

  15. Bunch of nonsense although I will say it seems a rather odd time of year to be wearing sleeveless dresses, something usually reserved for spring and summer.

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