Just when I was beginning to think our national obsession with women's looks was over, we have the ongoing discussion about Michelle Obama's arms. In Sunday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd told of discussions with her fellow columnist David Brooks and quotes him as being unhappy about the fact that Mrs. Obama frequently goes sleeveless. Her appearance and choice of dress at the president's speech to Congress last month apparently put Brooks over the edge. Naming her arms "Thunder and Lightning" (naming her arms!), Brooks feels displaying these body parts is somehow unseemly and unbecoming of anyone inhabiting the role of First Lady.
Calling Laura Bush, Hillary Cinton and Barbara Bush!
Brooks needs to get a grip and the rest of the country needs to start looking at what goes on with women above the neck just as we are accustomed to doing with men. I didn't hear Brooks or any other male opinionator complain when the president-elect was photographed bare chested in Hawaii. That was clearly unusual and well out of the ordinary for a head-of-state. But choosing beautiful, sleeveless dresses as a problem? Give me a break.
Dress and adornment -- all the choices we make from clothing through accessories through hair and makeup -- communicate information about us. So what do Michelle Obama's choices communicate?
- Confidence and self-assuredness: The woman knows she looks good and does what she can to enhance it.
- Modern sensibility: I have not seen Mrs. Obama wear a boring suit once and thank heaven for that!
- Willingness to take risks: Trying out new and even unknown designers naturally is her right and job as first lady; there is a bully pulpit aspect to it that is admirable.
- Creativity: Her fashion sense is very different from what we've seen in the past. There is an art to choosing clothing. I admit I don't like everything she wears, but I will defend to the death her right to dress however she wants to.
- Energy and vitality: The first lady is in vibrantly good shape, which conveys a level of energy necessary to get jobs done.
- Connoisseurship: Mrs. Obama is an appreciator of fashion. She has a practiced eye, knows what she likes, yet is no fashionista.
- Intelligence: We already know this, but the fashion term, looking "smart," never fit anyone better.
- Change: She's advancing her husband's agenda by upending some closely held beliefs and traditions.
There is more, I'm sure, that I'm missing so would love to hear from readers. But I'll tell you this: I'd kill for Michelle Obama's arms. Even lifting weights religiously does not do the trick (perhaps, as has also been reported, she just does it more than I do). Furthermore, Obama's arms are not particularly muscular -- she's no Mrs. Universe -- they are slender, well-defined, smooth and contain no flab. In other words, they're very attractive and appealing.
Perhaps all the tongue-wagging is just jealousy. Whatever it is, it's time to stop. And it's well past time we got over our national obsession with powerful women's looks and the double standard it engenders.
Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High Stakes Communication / www.ruthsherman.com