Sep 29 2012

Does Michelle Obama not act and look like a First Lady should?

You may recall I wrote last month about the minor flap that occurred when NPR reporter Ari Shapiro broadcast a short interview with a woman named Bobbie Lussier at an American Legion meeting in Indianapolis. Referring to the Obamas, Lussier told him, “I just – I don’t like him. Can’t stand to look at him. I don’t like his wife. She’s far from the first lady. It’s about time we get a first lady in there that acts like a first lady and looks like a first lady.”

There was no follow-up, leaving listeners to speculate on what she might have meant, with most people drawing the conclusion of color being a factor in her disdain. Yesterday, Shapiro had an opportunity to clarify things when he was approached by the same couple at a Romney event at another Legion meeting, this time just outside Washington DC. Lussier and her husband had recognized him from the previous meeting and approached him.

Struck by the coincidence, he was able to ask her what she meant by her earlier comments. Here’s the relevant part:

LUSSIER: Can you imagine, you know, Kennedys or the Bushes or anybody doing push-ups on the floor? I mean, you know, that’s just not a first lady.

SHAPIRO: A lot of people wondered if there was a racial undertone to your comments.

LUSSIER: No, it’s not. I don’t care what color she is. It’s just she doesn’t act and look like a first lady. I mean, she’s more about showing her arms off and, you know, I think that’s very inappropriate for a lot of functions that she goes to.

SHAPIRO: So do you mean it’s an issue of modesty?

LUSSIER: Well, yeah. I mean, you see her walking around in shorts and, you know, just real casual wear. And, to me, that’s – I mean, when I go to functions, I kind of dress up other than, you know, today. But you just got to look the part.

So what she objects to is Michelle Obama doing athletic stuff. And again with the disdain of bare arms, which I hear a lot with respect to Michelle Obama. What’s with this obsessive frowning on women showing their arms?

For the record, here is a photo of Jackie Kennedy showing her bare arms in both casual and formal settings.

And here’s one of Laura Bush in shorts.

I am not sure that I buy Lussier’s explanation that there is no racial undercurrent. Nowadays few people will come right out and say that they don’t like someone because of their color. They may not even consciously think that way because it has become such a taboo. But we would be kidding ourselves if race does not influence the way we all think. But the feeling surfaces in subtle ways, when people take either an unreasonably hard line on something trivial, like a woman showing bare arms, or when it is vague, expressed in sentiments like the person ‘doesn’t look or act right’ or ‘doesn’t fit’.


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  1. 1
    TGAP Dad

    Mano! Jackie Kennedy had white arms. Geez, you think you’d have noticed!

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    Sounds to me like someone lacks the courage to stand up for her own beliefs. I wonder why not? Could it be that she knows they’re repugnant, and rightly so?

  3. 3

    I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t KNOW they are being a racist tool and that they don’t KNOW they view black or brown bodies differently than white.

    Still–it’s racist. No doubt. And a damn shame because the Obama’s are classy as all get out. I think Michelle is amazing and I love seeing them together because they are obviously over the moon about each other.

  4. 4
    Jeff Johnson

    Good article. This has been my belief from the start about the birther conspiracy: a stand-in for racism. It allows people to name a reason for hating him, because they know better than to reveal their racism. In fact, I suspect many who hate the Obama’s on sight don’t quite understand it’s subconscious racism. “Something about them bugs me” they say.

    I don’t care about having someone who looks like me in the White House. I like having someone who thinks like me in the White House, someone who can articulate the things I feel are important and too often go unspoken. Eight years of Bush felt like a stifling misery for me, just worried what he would do or say next to enrage me. Who needed to invent stories about him? His publicly acknowledged words and deeds were bad enough to condemn him.

  5. 5

    Someone in the comments section of my local paper was going off on Mrs. Obama’s sleeveless gown which she wore to some function. “No one EVER wears sleeveless gowns to the White House! No First Lady would EVER do that!” Blah, blah, blah, etc. “Really?” I said. “Tell it to Queen Elizabeth II and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.”


    They can’t stand having a gorgeous, successful, black woman as First Lady. It makes them crazy. I think Michelle Obama is terrific, and it makes me so sad my country has such racist clods. I hope she never wastes one moment thinking about them.

  6. 6

    Oops, see image #4 for Queen Elizabeth II and Mrs Eisenhower. http://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha_photographs/whitehouse_british-visits.html

  7. 7
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    I mean, you see her walking around in shorts and, you know, just real casual wear. And, to me, that’s – I mean, when I go to functions, I kind of dress up other than, you know, today.

    Michelle Obama is always dressed “appropriately” … if she’s out with a bunch of kids in the veggie garden, she’s in casual clothing. But if she’s visiting the Queen of England, she’s dressed up.

    And her liking for sleeveless dresses may have more to do with the difficulty an athletic woman has finding dresses with sleeves that don’t fit like a strait-jacket than wanting to flaunt her biceps.

  8. 8

    Formal dresses for women Michelle Obama’s age often don’t have sleeves, much less long ones. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this woman thinks that’s unusual. I bought a formal dress for a wedding once and had a difficult time finding one that wasn’t strapless, much less one with sleeves.

    Anyway, I rolled my eyes when I heard this the other day. She’s being hard on her over this completely petty issue because Michelle Obama black. She wouldn’t, and didn’t, even notice it on any other First Lady. Why now? What reason could there possibly be?

    Maybe she doesn’t know she’s doing it, and we are all prone to making mistakes like this, but she’s still a petty a$$hole for even bringing it up. The fact that she said she can’t stand looking at them makes me think she probably knows exactly why she doesn’t like them and it ain’t their clothes.

  9. 9
    Anonymous Atheist

    Speaking of lack of courage to stand up for their terrible beliefs, how about the guy who hung a chair from a tree to represent Obama, and then tried to say he really only hung it from a tree because it was the only place he could ‘put the damn thing’ while mowing his lawn! http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/09/26/no-noose-is-good-noose/

  10. 10
    Anonymous Atheist

    “Formal dresses for women Michelle Obama’s age often don’t have sleeves, much less long ones. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this woman thinks that’s unusual. I bought a formal dress for a wedding once and had a difficult time finding one that wasn’t strapless, much less one with sleeves.”

    Heck, even in short-sleeved (not sleeveless) women’s-department shirts/dresses these days, you’d generally have to make a special effort to find some where the sleeves aren’t so short that your arms would be almost as exposed as in something sleeveless. E.g. http://www.jcpenney.com/dotcom/xersion%25e2%2584%25a2-short-sleeve-v-neck-graphic-tee/prod.jump?ppId=pp5001700060 is the norm.

  11. 11
    Anonymous Atheist

    Another thought: If Barack were a ‘secret Muslim’ as the right-wingers like to obsess over, he wouldn’t allow his wife to ‘expose’ herself so much. ;)

  12. 12
    Mano Singham

    That is a really good point. Alas, logic is wasted on them.

  13. 13
    Trickster Goddess

    This is really stupid. Don’t they realize that all Americans have a constitutional right to bare arms?

  14. 14

    Don’t the Obamas represent the ideal (in conservative opinion) family? A marriage between a man and a woman–neither of whom had previous marriages–and two children. Pretty much the facsimile of George and Laura Bush’s family. Yet I can’t recall any similar criticisms of Mrs Bush or the Bush family.

    The Bush daughters had a few youthful indiscretions, but they were mostly written off as nothing more than that–rightly, in my opinion. The Obama daughters are a bit younger, but they may make similar mistakes in the future. If so, it wouldn’t change the fact the Obamas, like the Bushes, are a loving, functional family. Not that there aren’t other models of loving, functional families, but here, the only difference seems to be race.

  15. 15
    Mr Ed

    I don’t doubt that racism overt or subconscious is at play here but I also think the sexism plays a part. First ladies are supposed to be shrinking violets that are helpmates to the president not strong independent people in their own right.

    They hated Hillary because she wasn’t the stepford wife and now they hate Michelle who refuses to stand in the background and serve iced tea. I think the Obama administration was sensitive to this early on giving the first lady a nurturing cause like childhood obesity.

  16. 16

    I absolutely believe she has no conscious racial intent to the remark(s). Well, it’s possible she does, but my money would be on not. She probably really believes her reasoning is all that stuff about push-ups and bare arms, but of course all of that is almost certainly being driven by racism. This is a very common pattern.

  17. 17
    Corvus illustris

    Don’t the Obamas represent the ideal (in conservative opinion) family?

    Let’s not forget Mrs Robinson. This is even a multigenerational family rather than a purely nuclear one, with everybody seeming to get along, at least in public, and the daughters having a loving grandmother whom they see at other times than Thanksgiving and Christmas. You’d think this would give the lady from Indiana a warm fuzzy feeling–but–but–they’re==you know …

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