Full disclosure: like a lot of people, I simply adore Michelle Obama!
She has been the subject of past posts on The Gaily Planet and the objet of my unabashed affection since stepping into the limelight as then-Senator Barack Obama’s better half nearly a decade ago.
On her journey to becoming FLOTUS, I admired Mrs. O for her sure-footedness in kitten heels on the presidential campaign trail. Even when under fire– her intelligence, composure and poise never foundered, but served to elevate her above the flotsam and jetsam of political discourse as it ran aground. Remarkably, her charisma superseded that of her husband. She came across as sincere in a sea of also-rans whose every move was studied. She conveyed the message that her family came first without sounding preachy or judgmental. And her statuesque physique combined with her C-Suite bona fides commanded attention and respect in equal measure, regardless of her surroundings.
I’ve also been captivated by, of all things, her exquisite hands.
Always manicured, Obama’s long, tapered fingers appear better suited for pursuing a fine art— practicing calligraphy with a quill, plucking the strings of a harp, or playing a harpsichord springs to mind— than toiling in her vegetable garden at the White House. I don’t know how such an accomplished woman, wife and mother of two has managed to maintain such beautiful hands into her sixth decade of life, but they rank high among her many assets.
Not since Jacqueline Kennedy charmed the nation (if not much of the world) over 50 years ago has a figurehead lived up to the honorific with the star-quality and natural grace of Michelle Obama. Which is why I was horrified when a video dubbed #GimmeFive FLOTUS-style debuted this week.
Released to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Obama’s Let’s Move! physical fitness campaign, #GimmeFive is meant to “encourage Americans across the country to give out high-fives when they see someone making healthy choices,” and to list five things they are doing to lead healthier lives, according to the Let’s Move! website.
Far be it from me to quibble with women like Mrs. Obama, whose guns rival those of Linda Hamilton’s in The Terminator…
…or Angela Bassett’s in What’s Love Got to Do With It— the undisputed alpha and omega of feminine badassery in the history of modern cinema— but I’m just saying…
If I googled “savoir faire,” I’m fairly certain moving pictures of my beloved first lady busting a move in the gym would not pop up on the search engine.
Defenders of the video claim the sight of Michelle Obama pumping iron, doing explosive squats and delivering round house kicks to a body bag has inspired them to follow the leader. Yet all I could claim after watching the video was nostalgia for ‘70s funk as interpreted by the Ohio Players.
“You are a bad bad Mrs.
In them skin tight britches
Runnin’ folks in ditches
Baby about to bust the stitches, yeah”
How did it come to this?
First of all, if the sight of MO’s toned, slender arms in a sleeveless dress has not motivated folks to hit the gym over the past eight years, I doubt anything will. So let’s table any rationalizations about the greater good the video may inspire for now. Secondly, it’s hard to imagine more unflattering, unimaginative camerawork than what viewers of #GimmeFive were treated to by whomever shot the video. Crotch shots of the first lady in her skin tight workout britches? Mon dieu! Thirdly, whatever happened to a woman’s prerogative to maintain a modicum of mystique?
Again, Jackie O comes to mind.
When Pakistan’s governor, Ayub Khan, gifted the first lady with a horse named Sardar in 1962 (talk about the height of elegance in diplomatic relations!), she nicknamed the jet gelding “Black Jack” and referred to him as her “favorite treasure.” Black Jack went on to serve as the ceremonial rider-less horse during John F. Kennedy’s funeral. But back to my original point…
Although pictures of Jackie Kennedy astride her horse have been burned into our collective consciousness, she was lucky enough to have lived in an era where no one dared ask her to demonstrate exactly how she maintained the kind of thigh, back and abdominal muscle strength required to make riding a thousand-pound beast at full gallop look so effortless. She was never required to divulge her beauty secrets for maintaining such a trim figure postpartum. Nor was she ever asked to give the ThighMaster a whirl for the cameras, thank goodness. Thus, we get to treasure snapshots (like the one below) of elegance in motion, without getting too literal, when remembering the wife of the 35th president of the United States.
Sadly, such considerations are a thing of the past for the wife of the 44th president of the United States.
I fear our populist inclinations have shattered whatever semblance of cultural refinement and propriety we’ve managed to retain since the era of Camelot. I don’t know which White House advisor thought it would be a good idea to level Michelle Obama– and, let’s face it, nothing levels a lady like watching her struggle to hoist 35lb weights under the non-nonsense gaze of a personal trainer in some drab gym– but the inclination dovetails nicely with a larger pattern among politicians, celebrities and authority figures who are eager to convince the rest of us that they (the public figures) are “are just like us,” when, in fact, we might have less in common with them than our egos would allow. Moreover, given our country’s complicated history with black bodies being sexualized and held up as paragons of athleticism, it rankles when the usual rules of feminine modesty are not extended to women of color. I don’t want people ogling Mrs. Obama’s bare underarms or the contours of her derriére as silhouetted in leggings (lovely though they may be). Never mind a first lady of color who, for all her physical strength, also possesses the long-lost qualities of a damsel.
So why am I so distressed?
It’s not logical, but my friend Bill put it best when he said: “There is something viscerally disturbing to me about seeing women kicking, hitting or screaming.”
A wonderful hybrid of thoroughly modern man and chivalrous Southern gentleman, I should mention Bill also has an aversion to seeing women “changing tires, mowing lawns or doing anything that causes them to break a sweat.” And though he has the self-awareness to acknowledge that his views are “far from politically correct,” he also has my vote for speaking truth to a change I can’t believe in.