Thursday, November 20, 2008

So Michelle Obama Got Back? or Introducing the Venus Hottentot First Lady Elect

So, according to Salon.com, Michelle Obama has a "donkey booty," some "thickness," some "sweet cheeks," "a phatty," "a badunkadunk," some "booty meat," a nice, big, sexy, powerful butt. Hmmm....
First lady got back

I'm a black woman who never thought I'd see a powerful, beautiful female with a body like mine in the White House. Then I saw Michelle Obama -- and her booty!

By Erin Aubry Kaplan

Nov. 18, 2008 | Free at last. I never thought that I -- a black girl who came of age in the utterly anticlimactic aftermath of the civil rights movement -- would say the phrase with any real sincerity in my lifetime. But ever since Nov. 4, I've been shouting it from every rooftop. I'm not excited for the most obvious reason. Yes, Obama's win was an extraordinary breakthrough and a huge relief, but I don't subscribe to the notion that his capturing the White House represents the end of American racial history. Far from it. There is a certain freedom in the moment -- as in, we are all now free from wondering when or if we'll ever get a black president. Congratulations to all of us for being around to settle the question.

But what really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack's better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and -- drumroll, please -- a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I'm going to talk about the first lady's butt.)

What a bonus! From the ocean of nastiness and confusion that defined this campaign from the beginning, Michelle rose up like Venus on the waves, keeping her coif above water and cruising the coattails of history to present us with a brand-new beauty norm before we knew it was even happening.

Actually, it took me and a lot of other similarly configured black women by surprise.

The piece continues here.

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I usually post a few paragraphs of commentary on my "found" news items. For this piece, I will instead post some questions.

1. Should we be at all disturbed or disgusted that a black woman is being reduced to the charms of her body parts? Is this made even more troubling by the facts of history and how raced bodies have been sexualized?

2. Why wasn't George Bush's wife sexualized in the same fashion? Are we overreacting?

3. Could it be that Michelle Obama is simply more attractive than many of our recent first ladies? Random thought: I do have to admit Carter's wife was pretty sexy.

4. What of Sarah Palin? Are the folks who are upset about Michelle's booty being a topic of conversation among journalists and the punditry hypocrites for not complaining about Sarah Palin's "MILF" status and the upcoming adult title, "Who's Nailin Palin"?

5. The Salon piece was actually praising and embracing Michelle's figure as one that women of color (and others can embrace). Apparently, Michelle Obama's endowment is empowering for some women. Perhaps, Michelle will usher in some type of gluteal feminism?

6. Maybe I just don't get "gender" and "body" politics? I am still working on this race stuff, so maybe I am just behind the curve with my thinking about intersectionality at the site of Michelle Obama's behind.

7. Do you all "get" the gender and race politics at work in the Salon piece on Michelle Obama's backside? I ask, because I need some help working this one out.

9 comments:

glory said...

I don't think you're overreacting. I'm annoyed at all the comments, especially from black women, that rejoice in Michelle's not being light skinned or having a flat butt, because besides objectifying her, it continues the "what qualifies as REALLY black" meme, which I find to be petty and divisive. I'm glad Michelle doesn't try to hide her behind, but I think a whole article about her butt is just doing too much. It seems to me that in an attempt to celebrate physical characteristics that aren't celebrated in the mainstream (read: associated with whites) people often overcorrect.

Kim said...

I read the article and I was dissapointed and disgusted that of all of Michell Obama's accomplishments and class that the writer indentifes mostly with her behind. I just have to shake my head.

southernsepia said...

As a Black woman with an big but I think you are reading too much in to this. Michelle is obviously accomplished and intelligent, but she is also physically attractive.
And yes I think it is a bonus to have a brown sista with a booty representing in the white house. Part of being comfortable with our Blackness is celebrating our culture and differences. Lets face it on the whole - we got back! I think what people are commenting on is the affirmation she gives that traits once ridiculed and maligned for being "too black" are now going to be front and center as the feminine ideal of the first lady. Whats wrong with that?

glory said...

"I think what people are commenting on is the affirmation she gives that traits once ridiculed and maligned for being "too black" are now going to be front and center as the feminine ideal of the first lady."

No.

Michelle Obama isn't affirming traits, she's just being herself. And believe me, being first lady is not going to make her the "feminine ideal" in this culture. Not one first lady we've had during my lifetime has been regarded as a "feminine ideal," and Michelle, though I love her, will not be an exception. The problem isn't that she has brown skin and a full shape, it's that pointing out her brownness and fullness are being seen as celebration instead of objectification, just because we know we've been ridiculed and maligned for too long. I don't even have as much of a problem with the conversation about her booty being had, so much as I am annoyed that someone thought this was appropriate for print.

Statements like "we got back" are more appropriate for girlfriend-to-girlfriend, mother-teen, blog commenter to blog commenter conversations. Not so much supposedly earnest musings by a journalist in print about what it means to have a sister in the White House. And - this talk about Michelle's skin and shape make me wonder if she looked like Sondra from the Cosby Show, would people still celebrate her? Or would they just complain, again, about that stereotype that successful black men want the closest thing to a white girl they can get? I suppose that black folks aren't any more obsessed with appearances than the non-black culture in our country, but I don't think we are still addled in the head about it on a unique level.

I think that what I'm getting at is that the way Michelle Obama looks has nothing to do with whether or not she's a black woman, or whether or not it's amazing that she and her husband are going to DC. Nobody was sitting around thinking, "what if they don't let them in 'cause her butt is too big." They were thinking, "what if they don't let them in 'cause he/she/they are [too] black." They would have been asking the same question regardless of her booty shape.

I'm concerned that some of us are reaching so hard for affirmation that we are acceptable for who we are that we have to write and read odes to the derriere of the future first lady to make ourselves feel good. I think it's immature and disrespectful.

VOD said...

glory and Kim said it all for me. Well said.

gordon gartrelle said...

I can see why some find this piece insulting. But the author wasn't denying that Mrs. Obama is smart, serious, and successful; she was seeing affirmation in a body type that is maligned by mainstream America.

Basically, the author wasn't saying "Michelle is ONLY her ass;" she was saying "Michelle's ass is a part of her."

It's relatively harmless in my opinion, but I do have a problem with the desperate need for external affirmation, whether it's about skin color, body type, or anything else.

I think that glory's words are interesting:

"I don't even have as much of a problem with the conversation about her booty being had, so much as I am annoyed that someone thought this was appropriate for print."

See, I don't get this. Is this about the white gaze? Is it about putting out the best black public face? The internet has rendered the "dirty laundry" model obsolete. The number of spaces for "in house" black public speech are decreasing every day. Can you shed some light on this, glory?

Reagan said...

Okay, I had to laugh at this hilarious phrase: "gluteal feminism."

I've actually been thinking about this topic a lot, lately. Here we have a well-educated, smart, classy, fashionable woman who has kids, a husband, and her own career. And yes, I like her dresses, but -

Really? All the stories the media carries on Michelle Obama are about her "first mom" status, or the fact that she's a neo-feminist because she's comfortable both with a career and also with giving it up for Barack's White House win.

I'm convinced that Michelle Obama has more to say than platitudes about picking up socks and flute lessons.

But I can't figure out what her voice is: her voice, not the media's interpretation of her, or the campaign's rendition of her, or the D.C. elitist perspective of her. Her voice, so far, has been primarily interpreted through her fashion, which is modern, chic, and confident.

Perhaps she's more shy than I would imagine, or perhaps the leftist illuminati simply are afraid to proclaim to loudly that a strong, vocal black woman inhabits Pennsylvania Ave. alongside the first African-American president.

In any case, I wish I had more opportunity to hear what she thinks about things - important things, like education, or whatever social issue gets her really fired up.

I do have to admit, that while I roll my eyes at an article about First Lady Booty, I do understand how important it is for women to see someone front and center who look real - who look like them. Not everyone is twiggy, and I think black and Hispanic women alike will enjoy seeing someone like Michelle walk down White House corridors with confidence.

glory said...

" Can you shed some light on this, glory?"

Certainly. This is not about the white gaze, though I can see why you might wonder if that's my motivation. The white gaze horse does tend to get beaten to death. Michelle's physique was going to get brought up, 'cause it was going to get noticed. I think it was inevitable for somebody to say something about it, so how can I have a reasonable problem with the conversation happening? I just don't think it's printworthy, even if in a fantasy world, no non-blacks would ever see it.

I think it's an article with a point that wasn't worth making - something silly and "extra," and unnecessary. I liken it to a discussion in print of whether Barack Obama has a nice bulge in the front of his trousers, as a way of finding solace in the stereotype that Black men have larger sex organs. As if a bulge would matter to Obama's worth. As if black men should be looking to Barack Obama for affirmation of their physical characteristics. The premise is just so dumb to me that I wouldn't have published the article. I think people call it "fluff." No, we don't always have to be serious about everything. Shoot, maybe some levity would have helped that article - to show some recognition of how silly thinking about Michelle's anatomy is, but she's actually writing in an earnest tone. Spare me. It's doing too much.

And it's about the future first lady, no less. Call me old-fashioned, but it struck me as disrespectful in that way, though I'm sure no disrespect was intended. You know, in a "Nice knockers, Laura," "Nice ass, Michelle," kind of way.

Also, to correct a typo in my last comment, I DO think some of us ARE addle-minded about appearances on a unique level.

jack said...

I agree with you 110% and meaning no kind of dissrespect, First Lady Michelle Obama do have a badonkadonk on her, and she's the first First lady to have one, i don't see anything controversial at all about that, and another thing, i'm not a pervert not by far, but uhhh, their oldeest daughter Malia starting to get one too, keep it real Miss Michelle, i love you.